RIO DE JANEIRO - For those who think Rio's hotels seem a tad expensive at the World Cup, there are always alternatives -- perhaps a room in a "love hotel" or in a "pacified" slum. Brazil's picturesque former capital will welcome some 400,000 of the 600,000 foreign tourists expected to throng the country during the June 12 to July 13 football championship, said tourist office Embratur.
Embratur ranks Rio the world's third-most expensive city for hotels, after New York and Paris, with average prices of $247 a night. During the World Cup, hoteliers have ratcheted that up to $484 -- and even higher in the tourist haven of Copacabana, where prices reach $693, according to a TripAdvisor report published in March. But the high prices won't keep visitors away from the city, a perennial tourist favorite with its Christ the Redeemer statue, Sugar Loaf Mountain and its beaches, Rio's hotel association said. Rio will have "the highest hotel occupation in the country, at more than 90 percent and 100 percent for the final," predicted association president Alfredo Lopes.
Brazil has invested $4 billion in the country's hotel infrastructure, $1.5 billion of which is for 250 new hotels in Rio, alone. "In 2010, we had 29,000 rooms and there will be 6,800 new ones for the World Cup. In 2016, for the Olympic Games, there will be another 13,000 or 50,000 in total," said Lopes. Bolstering the total are 12 of the city's 60 "Love hotels." Usually rented by the hour to amorous couples, they have been "reconverted" and added to the World Cup mix.
"The ceiling mirrors have been taken down and the round beds swapped for traditional ones," said Lopes. But at least one "love hotel" is cashing in on adventurous tourists who want the rooms to stay as they are. "Our 87 rooms have already been reserved -- even our thematic suites -- Sado-masochistic, Hollywood, Versailles and the Japanese one. They've not been remodelled as they are very much in demand," revealed Antonio Cerqueira, owner of the Villa Reggia establishment.
The "Sadomasochistic" room boasts black walls, leather-covered round bed and chains dangling from a high ceiling. Its Hollywood counterpart features walls covered in photographs of film stars. Cerqueira, vice-president of the Association of Love Hotels, said 1,000 rooms will be available for World Cup fans at prices ranging from $100 to $375 a night: cheaper than many traditional hotels.
Although Rio's favelas are infamously bastions of gang violence and drug trafficking, the past six years have seen police move in to "pacify" an increasing number. Coinciding with that process has been a growth in small hostels in the earliest "pacified" favelas -- ones overlooking Copacabana Beach. They are a draw for budget-conscious backpackers.
The view is spectacular; access somewhat less so, as the slums are often only reached at the end of perilous climbs and steep stairs. Cristiane de Oliveira, 42, opened the "Favela Inn" at Chapeu Mangueira in 2010. She offers three rooms with bunk bed, bathroom and Wi-Fi for $20 a night per person in the low season, and $25 in the high season. "During the World Cup, it will be $45," she said.
After "a very good 2013" she has noted a "fall-off in tourists" since November, when drug traffickers started to attack the police pacification units (UPP) sent in to deal with criminals. "The media only reflects the violent image of the favelas and never shows the good side: Samba, joy, people helping one another," she lamented.
Pablo Gomes, 35, last year opened the "Green Culture Hostel," which can accommodate 25 people. "During the World Cup, it will cost between $54 and $63 per day -- the same price as during Carnival," he said. "Here, everyone knows one another. There are many good little restaurants and bars; it's really friendly and we are close to nature," said one satisfied customer, Myriam Glare, a 25-year-old Swede. She added visitors feel "completely safe."
A third option is living like a local, in an apartment or room rented out by the owner. "Supply has spiralled 900 percent in a year in Rio, with 9,000 apartments available for the Cup," revealed Fabio Nahon, who is managing the rental of around 30 apartments. "The average cost is $112 to $135 per person, compared with $538 in a four-star hotel," said Nahon, who will pocket $25,000 for renting out his own flat in Copacabana for 45 days to eight Argentines.
But Brazil's government, which aimed to use the Cup as a means of developing tourist infrastructure, vows it is keeping an eye on price gouging. "Otherwise, we'll kill the golden goose for decades," Embratur president Flavio Dino warned last year.