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The big events may not take place for a couple more years, but Rio de Janeiro is already showing signs of excitement as it prepares to welcome thousands of visitors for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. Savvy travel agents and tour operators, meanwhile, are gearing up for new sales opportunities.
The allure of Rio de Janeiro — the so-called Cidade Maravilhosa, or “Marvelous City” — is nothing new, of course. It was decades ago, after all, that Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers tapped across town in the 1933 movie “Flying Down to Rio,” helping to cement the city’s reputation as a glamorous urban hot spot. But landmarks such as Sugar Loaf and Christ the Redeemer are now overlooking a city on the verge of renewal, as billions of dollars pour into new attractions, hotels and infrastructure.
“We definitely see an opportunity for additional business to Rio de Janeiro due to the World Cup and Summer Olympics,” said Olga M. Ramudo, president and CEO of Express Travel in Miami. “In fact, we are already receiving requests.”
Ramudo said that business travel bookings have already been on the upswing, thanks to Brazil’s booming economy, which is one of the largest and fastest-growing in the Western Hemisphere. And now, she predicts, “the sports events scheduled will definitely help grow the leisure market, with a great opportunity for Brazil to be seen as the world-class vacation destination that it is.”
Marcelo Pedraso, director of products and destinations at Embratur, Brazil’s tourism organization, agrees.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity to share our dynamic country with the world,” said Pedraso. “These are also great opportunities to expand our international promotion, allowing more consumers to visit Brazil and increase international revenue, leading us closer to our goal of bringing 10 million foreign tourists each year [before] these major sporting events.”
Indeed, Rio is already attracting press attention for its wide-ranging infrastructure upgrades as well as public and private investment in new museums, attractions and hotels — all with the goal of preparing the city for a major influx of visitors.
“The goal of Embratur for the 2014 FIFA World Cup is to bring 600,000 foreign tourists to the country within the four weeks of the tournament, with an additional goal of encouraging 25 percent of these visitors to extend their stay for travel throughout the country,” said Pedraso.
For the Olympics, he added, “Embratur is expecting 380,000 international tourists to visit Rio de Janeiro for the games, in addition to the 10,000-plus athletes from 205 countries worldwide that will participate.”
Growth ModeWith two global sporting events that will attract large numbers of visitors and participants, Rio has plenty of work to do in order to accommodate everyone and transport them efficiently. According to Embratur, $20 billion is going to infrastructure improvements, including public transportation, airports, cruise ports and stadiums.
Paulo Senise, executive director of the Rio Convention & Visitors Bureau, said lower crime rates — the result of police units in the city’s favelas (slums) and increased police in tourist areas — have played a role in attracting more investment.
“The safety policy implemented by the current government has become the determining factor in investment decisions for all economic segments in the city,” he said.
Long before the World Cup kicks off in June 2014, clients will be able to start putting new activities on their itineraries. Estadio do Maracana, the soccer stadium built for the 1950 World Cup, is undergoing a massive renovation effort that is gutting the interior to create a more comfortable and modern venue. The visitor center is remaining open throughout the entire project, providing a glimpse of the worksite as well as preview videos and models of what’s in store. The revamped facility will have nearly 80,000 seats, with a massive, polycarbonate cover to protect spectators from rain, as well as luxurious box seat lounges and new exits for faster evacuation in case of an emergency. The visitor center also has an array of memorabilia, photos, artwork and video that highlights the history of soccer’s greatest moments.
Newbuild attractions in the works include the Museu do Amanha (Museum of Tomorrow), a 134,000-square-foot venue designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava that is slated to open on the downtown waterfront in 2013. The facility likely will be the most photographed element of an extensive urban waterfront restoration project called Porto Maravilha (Marvelous Port), which will bring new retail, entertainment and hotels downtown, as well as a new Museu de Arte do Rio (Rio Art Museum).
In the legendary neighborhood of Copacabana, on a plot of land once occupied by a disco, the Museu da Imagem e do Som (Museum of Image and Sound) is now rising, an attention-getting piece of architecture devoted to Brazil’s rich musical and visual creativity. In fast-growing Barra da Tijuca, an area south of Ipanema where most of the Olympics activities will take place, the Cidade das Artes, a cultural complex originally called Cidade da Musica, will become the home of the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra when it opens within the next few months.
Across the bay from downtown Rio de Janeiro lies the city of Niteroi, a destination popular with foreign visitors mostly because of its other-worldly Museu de Arte Contemporanea (Museum of Contemporary Art), designed by one of Brazil’s most famous architects, Oscar Niemeyer. The final touches are under way on yet another Niemeyer-designed museum in this city: the Centro Petrobras do Cinema, which will focus on Brazilian film.
Rooms for MoreWith tens of thousands of new visitors and athletes slated to land in Rio in the coming months, hoteliers are moving quickly to prepare new accommodations for them. Some 47,000 hotel rooms will be needed for the Olympics, according to Riotur, the city tourism office, and only about 30,000 are currently accepting reservations.
Among the biggest players in Rio’s hotel boom is Accor, which plans to debut 2,200 rooms in the city, including the 236-room Novotel Barra da Tijuca, as well as a 406-room, two-hotel complex in Barra da Tijuca, a budget hotel in Copacabana and three hotels in downtown Rio de Janeiro’s Porto Maravilha waterfront development.
Also slated in Barra da Tijuca are offerings from Brazilian hotelier Windsor Hoteis as well as Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, which plans to open a 408-room property. Long-established names such as the Copacabana Palace and Hotel Gloria, meanwhile, are undergoing extensive renovations. The Copacabana Palace is closing its main building for a few weeks this year, while the Gloria is currently closed and will reopen in the first half of 2014 as the Gloria Palace.
Sales PotentialPedraso predicted that U.S.-based agents will find more sales opportunities than ever for Rio de Janeiro.
“The U.S. is the second largest source of tourists to Brazil,” he said, noting a 15 percent increase in February 2012 over the year before, which he said was an all-time high. “We only expect those numbers to increase as it gets closer to the dates of each event.”
Pedraso noted that agents can translate growing enthusiasm about soccer to sales.
“Over the years, the World Cup and soccer in general have increased in popularity in the U.S., and more and more people are looking to experience the global event firsthand,” he said.
Senise said that the events and new developments in the city make this an ideal time to suggest Rio to clients.
“It is always easier to sell a trendy destination, as is the case with Rio at this time,” he explained. “We foresee a good future for all involved in selling travel to Rio de Janeiro.”
To provide travel agents with the proper tools to sell Rio, Embratur has been increasing its presence at travel trade shows, according to Pedraso. In addition, the Rio de Janeiro Convention & Visitors Bureau and Riotur, the city tourist office, have been conducting a series of meetings and seminars to educate tour operators about new travel and tour products.
ChallengesAccording to Vera Joppert, director of Turismo Classico, a Rio-based ground operator, the city’s potential for growth in U.S. arrivals is very good, as long as there is more promotion and less bureaucracy in the visa application process.
“As everyone knows, progress has been slow and I am certainly not pleased,” Joppert said. “Nobody in Brazil is pleased. Government bureaucracy and other problems, such as the recent resignation of the president of CBF [the Brazilian Football Confederation], have slowed down the pace of key projects, but I still believe Brazil will be ready for these two major events.”
Galeao, Rio de Janeiro’s international airport, is among the targets of criticism when it comes to upgrades.
The airport “is a weakness in our structure,” noted Senise. “At the present moment, the airport is far behind international standards. However, there are plans to privatize its operation in time for all the required improvements to take place and deliver what is expected by all segments that depend on its operation.”
Clearly, tourism officials, as well as many private investors, expect both the World Cup and the Summer Olympics to have a positive effect on Rio de Janeiro that will last long after the events.
“The Brazilian government expects that the 2014 FIFA World Cup will bring nearly $90 billion to the local economy, and a partnership between the public and private sectors will have invested about $16 billion in the country ahead of the event,” according to Pedraso. “These investments intend to prepare the country for the increase of international visitors as well as create a legacy for future generations with more qualified professionals, better airports and roads and so on.”
Rio Convention & Visitors Bureauwww.rcvb.com.br
For clients interested in attending the 2014 FIFA World Cup or the 2016 Summer Olympics, Senise, of the Rio CVB, advised that “both events demand a good deal of planning, and I suggest the sooner the better.”
Match Services AG, based in Zurich, Switzerland, is the exclusive vendor of tickets and hotel rooms for the FIFA World Cup, which takes place June 12-July 13, 2014.
Tickets are not yet available, but more information is available online: www.match-ag.com or www.fifa.com.
The 2016 Summer Olympics take place Aug. 5-21, 2016. For details about the event, visit the Olympics website: www.olympic.org/rio-2016-summer-olympics.