As Brazil readies to host the world, the Marvelous City’s legendary hospitality is getting a makeover
The kickoff of the 2014 FIFA World Cup is but weeks away, a month-long sporting frenzy in a dozen locations across Brazil from June 12 to July 13. While matches are scheduled across the country, arguably the focal point of the world’s football universe during that month will be Rio de Janeiro.
The city is gearing up to be the World Cup’s media center, beaming the games around the globe, and the Estádio do Maracanã will host three of the 64 matches, including the World Cup Final on July 13 – a mega-event that’s anticipated to draw a billion viewers.
With over 3.3 million tickets projected to be distributed to Brazilian fans and international visitors, the Brazilian Tourism Board says it expects the month-long World Cup to add $10.9 billion to the country’s economy, with $1.5 billion flowing into Rio alone.
The influx of tourists coming to Rio is spotlighting the need to accommodate visitors in numbers the city has never seen before. And beyond July, Cidade Maravilhosa – the Marvelous City – is
looking forward to another world event, the 2016 Olympic Summer Games, requiring even more infrastructure buildout, both public and private.
More Than Sports
It’s little wonder that Brazil, and Rio in particular, is in the midst of a hotel building boom. According to industry tracker Lodging Econometrics, the country’s hotel pipeline – new project announcements together with those already under construction – reached a record high 401 projects as of Fall 2013 anticipated to add over 67,000 rooms. Of those, the count of hotels actually under construction has also set a record with 175 projects underway that will yield nearly 30,000 additional rooms, even if all the other projects suddenly vaporize.
The alignment of two global events, the World Cup and the Summer Olympics, may have been the catalyst for this building boom. And for corporate travelers to the region, the added capacity should be a welcome relief to the cost of accommodations in this “under-hoteled,” high-demand market.
But it’s not just the one-off sports attractions that are drawing hoteliers from all over the globe. Demand from business travelers in Brazil is driving costs upward. Total spending on Brazilian business travel is projected to hit $35.8 billion in 2014, a 12 percent jump from the previous year, according to a Global Business Travel Association analysis.
Brazil is the world’s 7th largest economy and the sheer number of public and private infrastructure, industrial, mining, manufacturing and service sector projects underway across the country will transform hotel development for years into the future.
The hospitality industry is seeing a boost all across the region, making Brazil the undisputed driver of hotel pipeline development, accounting for 78 percent of all pipeline rooms in South America. These new-build hotels range from high-end properties like Hilton and Grand Hyatt, down the scale to value brands such as ibis and Holiday Inn Express.
Getting the Picture
To get a spectacular view from a hotel window in Rio is no problem. Stunning vistas abound in Brazil’s second-biggest city. The necklace of brilliant beaches that frame the Atlantic vie for attention with the lush, steep hills to which colorful favelas cling precariously, and it’s all looked after by Christ the Redeemer, standing arms outstretched on the summit of Corcovado Mountain.
However getting a big-picture view of the changing hotel scene, with all its
variety and spirited growth, is a bit more challenging. So we’ve put together a choice sampling of a few of the properties that currently grace the iconic Rio skyline, together with some of the exciting new projects that are either promised or already under construction.
The French hotel group Accor is a huge presence in the city, with over a dozen hotels flying the ibis, Novotel, Mercure and Sofitel flags. For example, a dualbranded Novotel and ibis hotel complex is under construction a mile away from the Olympic Stadium. It’s being developed by Host Hotels, one of the biggest owners of upscale hotels in the US.
InterContinental Hotels Group has announced its return to the Rio market with two new-build properties, the Holiday Inn Porto Maravilha and Holiday Inn Express Porto Maravilha. The 32-story hotels will offer a total of nearly 600 guestrooms – the Holiday Inn will offer 244 rooms while the Holiday Inn Express is a 350-room affair. They will be located in Rio de Janeiro’s revitalized downtown area of Porto Maravilha (“Marvelous Port”), and are both expected to open by July 2016 in time for the Olympic games.
Over the decades, the strategically located port area had fallen into decay. But beginning in 2009, spurred on by the impending World Cup and Olympics, the city launched a series of projects to reclaim the historically significant area. With time, Porto Maravilha will welcome museums, parks and new restaurants as the area undergoes restoration.
Porto Maravilha is also the home of the “biggest urban office complex ” of all the BRIC countries, according to real estate billionaire Donald Trump, who’s developing the project. Trump Towers Rio will consist of no fewer than five 38-story skyscrapers worth over $2.5 billion, two of which should be ready by 2016.
On the Beach
Possibly the hotel that most immediately conjures up Rio’s beach scene is the historic Copacabana Palace. This elegant property, situated on Avenue Atlantica alongside Copacabana beach, opened in 1923 and has been a magnet for royalty and the notoriously rich ever since, everyone from Marlene Dietrich and Orson Welles to Elton John and Madonna.
The majestic art deco Palace was saved from the wrecking ball in 1989, when it was bought by the Orient Express hotel group, and underwent an extensive $20 million renovation between 2011 and 2012, during which time the hotel was closed completely for four months. Today it boasts 216 rooms, two excellent restaurants, a great outdoor pool and a 3-story spa.
In addition to the aforementioned Porto Maravilha project, Trump has also announced a 13-story, 171-guestrooms beachfront hotel located in the Jardim Oceanico. This borough is in the Barra da Tijuca, the district that will host most of the venues of the 2016 Summer Olympics. As is typical of Trump hotels, the property will be loaded with amenities including a spa, an infinity pool, a nightclub, fitness center and more.
Also under construction on the stunning seven mile Barra da Tijuca beach, the 408-room Grand Hyatt Rio de Janeiro will join Hyatt’s Sao Paulo property as the group’s second hotel in Brazil. The hotel will feature two restaurants, a lounge, pool bar, patisserie, fitness center, spa, a 9,600-square-foot ballroom and a further 14,000 square feet of meeting and function space. The property is slated to premiere mid-2015.
Another hotel in the famous Barra beachfront is the Radisson Hotel Rio de Janeiro. The converted landmark beachfront property will offer 292 guestrooms and suites, a restaurant, two bars, a spa, gym, squash court and heated pool. The hotel also has nearly 12,000 square feet of flexible meeting space. The hotel, the eighth Radisson in Brazil, missed its opening in January. No word yet on a firm debut date.
Then there is the 245-room JW Marriott, also situated on the Avenida Atlantica in Copacabana. The property features complimentary WiFi, an outdoor pool, a sauna and a fitness center. Business amenities include 12 meeting rooms, exhibit space, secretarial services and audiovisual equipment.
The Barra da Tijuca is the district that will host most of the venues of the 2016 Summer Olympics
More or less at the south end of Avenida Atlantica is another of Accor’s properties, the Sofitel Copacabana. It offers 388 rooms including 52 suites, plus international and French gourmet cuisine. Guests also have access to a section of the famed Copacabana Beach, swimming pools, a mix of restaurants, bars, saunas and a specialized convention and business center.
Further west, past the enclave of Ipanema, you’ll find another iconic Rio staple, the Sheraton Rio Hotel & Resort. In 2012, the 542-room Sheraton began a multi-million dollar renovation project, part of the eight-property portfolio Starwood is developing in major cities throughout Brazil. The Sheraton Rio has three heated pools – including one for the kids – plus a business center, Sheraton Fitness and a variety of spa services. Oh, and did we mention the beach?
Overlooking pristine Barra da Tijuca Beach is sister property, five-star Sheraton Barra Hotel & Suites. It boasts 292 rooms, nearly 12,000 square feet of meeting space, including two ballrooms. Surfers love Barra Beach.
A Dash of Different
Despite all the news about chain hotels and international brands springing up across the city, there’s still plenty of luxury, quirky and out of the way properties for those who enjoy more local color – or trendier style. Herewith a sample:
The 89-room oceanfront Fasano is part of the Leading Hotels of the World collection. Philippe Starck’s first Brazilian outing, this hotel is decked out with 1960s retro furniture and funky lighting. With its location on the Ipanema-Arpoador border, it pays homage to the golden age of the bossa nova. Rooms have private balconies with grand views and guests have exclusive access to a great roof terrace.
La Suite is a small clifftop hotel in Joatinga, the district next to Barra. This intimate (seven rooms) and sophisticated (colorful décor, infinity pool) property provides a wonderful, slightly out-of-town option, and has a real VIP feel – highly appropriate in a villa that used to belong to a Portuguese banker.
The Relais & Chateaux Santa Teresa is set in a 19th-century coffee plantation mansion, surrounded by lush, tropical gardens with sweeping views of the city in the far distance. Rooms range in size from the 270-square-foot Superior rooms to the stylish 1,300-square-foot Loft Suite. The Santa Teresa is a laid-back hideaway from the busy-ness of Rio, and has a real sense of authenticity about it.
Small independently-owned properties have always been the bread and butter of the hotel business in this quintessentially Brazilian city. But with thousands of rooms in the new-build pipeline, big brand hotels are rapidly making inroads and unmistakably changing the hospitality landscape here. However, regardless of this industry backdrop, Rio’s hotel boom is emblematic of the sweeping changes in this vast land determined at last to take its place in the global spotlight.
“There is significant opportunity for hotel development in Brazil due to its sheer size, natural beauty, and relative under-penetration, particularly at the high end, ”according to Frits van Paasschen, president and CEO of Starwood Hotels & Resorts. “Macro-economic trends continue to reshape the Latin American travel and business landscape, creating strong growth in lodging demand and many opportunities.”
Opportunities presented by the FIFA World Cup, the Summer Olympics and so much more. The next few years will tell the tale for Cidade Maravilhosa. BT
Above clockwise: hotel ibis copacabana, Estádio do Maracanã and Grand Hyatt Rio de Janeiro
Left to right: Hilton Barra and JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro
Clockwise: The Relais & Chateaux Santa Teresa, La Suite and Fasano