The nine-hour trip. The jet lag. The passport regulations. All worth it to get Calvin Klein and Levi jeans for just $14 in Orlando. The same pair would have cost Giovanna Brezolini about $300 in Brazil.
The 24-year-old traveled to Central Florida from Sao Bernardo do Campo in Sao Paulo, Brazil, for 12 whirlwind days of theme parks, dining and, of course, shopping.
“I bought everything – perfume, a watch, bags, shoes, clothes, accessories, sunglasses,” Brezolini said. “It’s hard not to buy everything.”
We’re talking labels like Nike, Prada, Armani, Ray-Ban and Gucci -- the good stuff.
Those are brands that would be way out of Brezolini’s price range in Brazil, so she and several family members boarded a plane for Orlando in hopes of finding great deals.
The expenses of hotel accommodations and air travel to the United States work out to be cheaper than staying in Brazil and trying to buy new electronics, accessories and clothing there. That’s because Brazil’s economy has been plagued by inflation and a weak currency, prompting Brazilians to look abroad for retail relief.
“I think people in Brazil started doing the math and could see it was really worth saving money for a while and then going shopping in Orlando,” Brezolini said.
And Orlando grandly rolls out the red carpet for Brazilian shoppers, with stores aimed at them, shopping tours geared toward them, salespeople who speak Portuguese and dining establishments that make them feel at home. Many of the shopping adventures lie right on International Drive, the heart of Orlando’s tourist district.
In 2012, more than 1.6 million Brazilians traveled to Florida. But shoppers from Brazil, the second-largest international visitor market for the Sunshine State, aren’t just looking for deals – they want the best quality.
“In Brazil, name brands are very expensive,” said Fernanda Vanetta, chief financial officer of Pegasus Transportation, a tour bus company based in Orlando. “Brazil is a very name-brand-oriented society. It’s very important to them.”
Pegasus is one of several tour-bus companies in the area that offer multi-day packages, with shopping expeditions and theme park trips all planned out. Tours offer a certain level of comfort for international travelers, she said.
“Brazilians are sometimes limited by language,” Vanetta said. “They like the tour packages because it’s like having a point of reference, someone translating, giving them tips.”
Peak travel times for Brazilians are June and July for winter break and December to February for summer. In one recent year, 440,000 Brazilians booked shopping tours with Pegasus alone.
“They like to shop all day,” Vanetta said. “We’ll drop them off at 9 o’clock in the morning and they don’t leave until 11 o’clock at night. They will forego the (theme) parks to go shopping.”
The many outlet malls dotting International Drive, including two large Premium Outlets, are popular destinations because big-name brands, such as Coach and Nike, are all in one location. Two popular shopping stops for Brazilians outside of I-Drive are the Florida Mall and The Mall at Millenia.
Malls work hard to welcome Brazilian shoppers, some of them offering translation services, currency exchanges, even an on-site post office so newly purchased items can be shipped back home.
“A lot of our stores really cater to Brazilians,” said Christine Haughney, tourism marketing director for The Mall at Millenia, which is home to the likes of Michael Kors and Emporio Armani stores. “We try to make Brazilians feel welcome and give them more of a VIP experience.”
Electronics stores, such as Brazil Center Electronics on International Drive and Orlando’s two Apple stores, are as big a draw as the clothing and accessories stores.
“The Apple store always has impeccable service and being the Apple-maniac I am, I felt at home and happy,” Brezolini said.
After a long day of shopping, Brazilians who work up an appetite can stop for a variety of international fare at restaurants along International Drive, including Fogo de Chao, which offers Portuguese cuisine.
Shoppers often swing by the packed Pao Gostoso Brazilian bakery on International Drive for some cheesy deep-dish-pizza-like esfirra and breaded chicken-cheese coxinha balls, futbol on the TV and a copy of the Nossa Gente newspaper.
Sitting down offers a chance to take inventory of the day’s purchases and come up with a plan for the next round of shopping.
“Who does not like good things?” Brezolini said. “In Orlando, it is just much more affordable.”
SHOPPING TIPS FOR INTERNATIONAL TRAVELERS
1. Pack an empty duffel bag or plan to buy a suitcase while you’re in town. A suitcase on wheels also can double as a shopping cart, advises Brezolini, so you aren’t loaded down with shopping bags.
2. Shop bargains. If your trip allows, do some extra work to look for sales.
3. Have fun shopping but don’t forget to see all the sights Orlando has to offer. Sometimes you can combine the two passions.
4. Take advantage of the unique shopping opportunities Orlando offers by visiting malls as well as smaller shopping centers and independently owned stores.