GLOBAL ECONOMY

With dollar signs in their eyes, Rio officials and businesses wait for Olympic windfall

  • Rio Scenarium – a multi-story nightclub in Lapa, a historic bohemian district near the center of the city, that relies on tourists for much of its clientele – expects a 70 percent increase in international visitors and 100 percent in domestic ones. Courtesy: Rio Scenarium

    Rio Scenarium – a multi-story nightclub in Lapa, a historic bohemian district near the center of the city, that relies on tourists for much of its clientele – expects a 70 percent increase in international visitors and 100 percent in domestic ones. Courtesy: Rio Scenarium

  • Rio Scenarium – a multi-story nightclub in Lapa, a historic bohemian district near the center of the city, that relies on tourists for much of its clientele – expects a 70 percent increase in international visitors and 100 percent in domestic ones. Courtesy: Rio Scenarium

    Rio Scenarium – a multi-story nightclub in Lapa, a historic bohemian district near the center of the city, that relies on tourists for much of its clientele – expects a 70 percent increase in international visitors and 100 percent in domestic ones. Courtesy: Rio Scenarium

Never mind the Zika epidemic, Brazil’s economic crisis, the political turmoil or the increased violence.

None of that will scare the tourists away from Rio de Janeiro during the Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer. At least that's what official representatives and businessmen from the city are saying – and hoping.

According to the Tourism Ministry, the population of Rio de Janeiro is expected to "thicken" by a million or so people, who will come to Brazil’s cultural capital to see the biggest sports event on the planet.

Fernando Blower, vice-president of SindRio – the union that represents the city’s hotel, bar and restaurant workers – believes the Games are an opportunity to start recovering from the economic slowdown. Bad news from Brazil should not discourage people who want to come to the country from showing up.

"Rio is a very hospitable city, with knowledge in how to welcome tourists,” Blower told FNL. “Since the World Cup [in 2014], we have been working and preparing for this moment, and I believe that foreigners and Brazilians who come here will have a positive experience. We have problems, like any great city, but we have many cultural qualities, natural beauty and adequate infrastructure, "he said.

The union estimates that business revenues should grow by at least 50 percent in restaurants and nightclubs – an underestimate according to the expectations of many business owners who stand to gain from the influx of guests.

Rio Scenarium – a multi-story nightclub in Lapa, a historic bohemian district near the center of the city, that relies on tourists for much of its clientele – expects a 70 percent increase in international visitors and 100 percent in domestic ones.

"Our revenues should rise by 200 percent,” manager Plinio Froes told FNL. “To receive these new people, we are expanding spaces, offering new services and also improving our service."

João Ricardo Moraes – who owns a restaurant called Ziper in Botafogo, in the southern, tourist zone of the city – has produced a whole new menu in anticipation of the throngs of summer visitors.

"We project a revenue increase of at least about 40 percent a day,” Moraes said. “We have a team trained in other languages ​​to personalize service, and we will also offer delivery in English for those who do not want to leave the house or hotel."

Rio’s Hotels expect 100 percent occupancy during the period. In the 12 months leading up to the Olympics in August, 30 hotels will have opened in the city.

"We are ready,” Philipe Campello, the city’s undersecretary for tourism, told Fox News Latino.

“Since the announcement of the Olympic Games in 2009, Rio's hotel capacity has doubled. And more than just having larger hotels, the city now has a more modern and diverse assortment of accommodations that now have a better geographical distribution,” Campello said.

The city has already comfortably topped its promise to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) of having at least 40,000 rooms to offer to spectators, athletes and members of the sports delegations.

And that doesn’t take into account unofficial guest accommodations.

Mariana Torre – who lives near Maracanã Stadium, where many soccer games will be played – is going to stay with her mother during the Olympics. She rented her apartment to a group of Canadians who previously rented it during the 2014 World Cup.

"I think, way beyond having or not having hotel rooms, many people prefer to stay at home, because it is cozy, especially if the period of time in the city is long. The two months of rent will pay for my international travel next year," Torres boasted.

The economist Caio Vital lives in Glória, a middle-class neighborhood near the airport. He’s renting his two-bedroom home to an American tourist while he travels to the interior of the country.

"Usually I don’t stay here during tourist seasons like New Year’s and Carnival, as the city gets too full. I prefer it when it’s empty."

Felipe Barbosa, who owns a hostel in Lapa, has already filled its rooms for almost the entire year, despite having expanded to accommodate Olympic tourists. He believes that, even beyond September, the investment will be worth it.

"If all goes well, Rio will show its best, and the Olympics will attract more tourists for many years afterward.”

Carolina Torres is a freelance journalist living in Rio de Janeiro.