Penthouse Ocean View Suite of Rio's historic Copacabana Palace
Brazil’s diverse landscapes and culture have always drawn tourists, but now the country is gearing up to welcome a new wave of visitors following the International Olympic Committee’s final vote for Rio de Janeiro as the host city for the 2016 Olympics.
The city is abuzz with what this will mean for its tourism industry. All signs are pointing toward major long-term advancements for both Rio and Brazil as a whole.
Michael Eiseman, president, VIP Tours
A longtime popular destination, Rio de Janeiro is also the “gateway to the rest of Brazil,” says Michael Eiseman, president of VIP Tours, a Brazil luxury tour operator that is the Brazil Destination Specialist for the ALTOUR collection and the Signature Network.
But while the city is already well on its way to being able to maintain the expected capacity of new tourists, there is much to be done and much that agents need to know to capitalize on this historic event—the first Olympic Games to be held in South America.
According to Embratur, the Brazilian Tourist Board, the nation plans to pump in an estimated $14.4 billion into Rio before the Olympics. Seventy-two percent of that will be used to set up infrastructure, including public roads, transport and hotels, and construction of sports venues. The plan for Rio is to follow in the footsteps of Sydney and Barcelona, both of which saw their tourism industries skyrocket after hosting the Olympics. Currently the world’s 10th largest economy, Brazil is anticipated to be the fifth largest after the Games.
The events are expected to take place in gaming clusters in four neighborhoods of the city—Barra, Copacabana, Maracanã and Deodoro. President of Embratur Jeanine Pires says Rio is expecting the number of tourists to increase between 10 and 15 percent for the events. This number is based on projections for 2015.
In order to be able to handle the tourist traffic, the city has decided to create its very first monorail. This will be Rio’s first above-ground rail system, which will continue to have a positive impact on city traffic long after the Olympics are over. A network of Olympic highway lanes is also in the works, and Galeão International Airport is planning to increase its capacity to accommodate 25 million passengers per year.
Rio is a sound tourist destination. In 2008, it attracted more than 5 million foreign visitors. “Hotels in Rio have always been great,” Eiseman says. “But it is getting more luxury-oriented since a lot of boutique hotels have opened. This is only going to get better with the anticipation of investments.” The three- and four-star hotel options have always been available, but the city is using the Olympics—and the anticipation of U.S. travelers—as an opportunity to improve its luxury options.
Keeping Agents in the Loop
Before the final votes had been cast in Copenhagen, safety in Rio had some eyebrows raised. Drug and gang violence in Rio’s favelas (slums), for example, is a big concern facing agents. But city officials are looking at the Games as an opportunity for improvement. Authorities are being driven even harder to improve security before the Olympics. And even though the government has promised a safe 2016, there are a few things to consider.
“Personally, I have never felt unsafe [in Rio],” says Katie Cadar, general manager of TravelStore Platinum and a member of the Signature Network. “But I always arrange a car and driver for clients and I do not recommend walking around alone at night.”
Another issue agents need to keep in mind is that clients must obtain visas for travel to Brazil. And lately, the country has been incredibly strict with regard to U.S. visitors. Obtaining a visa to Brazil is time-consuming and expensive, so many people opt for hiring a visa service, but because of Brazil’s restrictions this can take up to two weeks.
Price gouging at hotels is another concern that agents need to keep in mind when booking clients. This is true for any major event held anywhere, but especially for the Olympics because it generates global interest. Travel Agent was not given exact numbers about how much rates will go up, but both Eiseman and Cadar predict a similar pattern to the famous Carnival festival. During that event, it is typical for hotel rates to increase 400 percent. “This is the moment when hotels can make money because everyone is interested in the Olympics,” Cadar says.
Since clients will probably need to spend a lot for even a mid-level hotel, they may as well go all out and experience the best. Among hotels of note are the Copacabana Palace, a historical luxury property on Copacabana Beach, in the heart of Rio. A member of the Orient-Express, this property has 245 rooms with either pool, city or ocean views. The hotel also has a new spa, opened in 2007, two restaurants and two bars. For reservations, agents should contact Reservations Manager Tais Nunes Garcia (011-55-212-545-8787, [email protected]).
Fasano is another luxury property on Ipanema Beach. The hotel has 81 rooms and 10 suites, all with private balconies. Guests have access to the infinity-style swimming pool on the roof, as well as a fitness center, two restaurants and a bar. Agents should get in touch with Reservation Supervisor Joane Gomes (011-55-213-202-4000, [email protected]).
Clients who are not planning on the luxury route will be happy to know that the organizing committee of the 2016 Olympics has guaranteed the availability of 50,000 hotel rooms, says Embratur.
Rio’s exposure through the Olympics will keep it popular even after the Games end. But it will also open travelers’ eyes to the rest of the country.
“Normally our agents in the U.S. treat South America as one market. Brazil is such a huge product that it is most important for agents to play catch-up,” says Eiseman. Both he and Cadar agree that clients traveling to Rio for the Olympics are likely to also travel to other locations in Brazil.
“Even after the Olympics, Brazil will become a very important destination and will probably go jumping to the top. Agents need to educate themselves about Brazil as a market,” adds Eiseman.
“It’s very hard to fulfill the promise [of Olympic travel],” says Katie Cadar, general manager, TravelStore Platinum. “Tickets to the events are on a lottery system. Travel prices are higher. It is difficult to get people in the door. Hotels have blackouts and are pre-booked by tour operators. If people want to go, I say get your requests in early. Get your flights done as soon as possible.”