Love motels, slums ease Rio's World Cup hotel crunch

RIO DE JANEIRO (REUTERS) - Soccer fans coming to Rio de Janeiro for the World Cup can still find some reasonably-priced accommodations, as long as a love motel, slum or campsite is where they are looking.

The countdown to the month-long soccer tournament starting on June 12 has fans scrambling for accommodations in Rio, a spectacular city on the sea where prices for the few available hotel rooms have skyrocketed, driving some to seek out less-conventional options.

"It was ridiculous," said Mr Raphael Ruland, a Germany fan who also attended the last two World Cups. Priced out of a traditional hotel, he eventually found a room after months of haggling on apartment rental site Airbnb.

"Some hosts were charging four or five times their normal rate. There was a time when I thought it wouldn't be worth going, just because of how much accommodations cost."

Of the 600,000 foreign tourists expected for the World Cup, over two thirds will go to Rio, according to the city's tourism agency, where just 21,639 conventional hotel rooms, and sky-high prices, await them.

Fans that have not yet booked face prices upwards of US$700 for the few rooms remaining. There are, however, some alternatives.

Those include Rio's many love motels, traditional Brazilian hideaways for couples seeking privacy from the prying eyes of parents or spouses. They usually charge for stays of 4 or 6 hours but some are now offering daily rates for the World Cup.

Some, such as the Midway and the Shalimar have retrofitted their rooms to attract travellers, switching out the neon-trimmed circular beds for more conventional, family-friendly furnishings.

Others have not, such as the Malaga. Located far from the beach in a run-down area west of the city center and entered through a garage door, it can be booked for US$200 a night on the weekend of the Cup final.

Another more affordable option is a stay in one of Rio's hillside slums, known as favelas, although some have struggled with a surge in violent crime in recent months.

Most of the favela accommodations being marketed to tourists are decorated neatly and some offer commanding views of the sea and city below. One room in a guesthouse overlooking the beach usually goes for US$23 a night, though that rate has jumped to US$138 during the World Cup.

"I think a lot of people who wouldn't have considered this normally are considering it for the World Cup," said Elliot Rosenberg, an American who runs Favela Experience, which lines up room and home rentals for travellers in favelas.

"The high prices have forced them to look at alternatives."

That even includes tents. One group of British expatriates set up a campsite near a beach outside the city center, and it's already 75 per cent booked for the first half of the tournament.

Brazil's hotel industry has suffered from low investment in recent years as developers opted for more lucrative office and residential projects.

The problem is most acute in Rio, where bureaucratic hurdles and a lack of available building sites in prime tourist areas have left the city with a dearth of beds during major events.

But the situation in Rio is not the story of the country as a whole. In some other World Cup host cities, good deals are still available.

In Salvador, a popular tourist spot on the northeastern coast, a four-star hotel room on the eve of the Spain vs Netherlands match can be had for about US$220, according to online travel site

The biggest surprise, however, may be Sao Paulo. Brazil's largest city has double the number of hotel rooms as Rio and is struggling to fill them during the World Cup.

"Sao Paulo is a city set up for business travel," said Mr Pablo Torres, a spokesman for hotel industry group FOHB, which represents Brazil's biggest hotel chains.

"Big corporate events, conferences, they aren't going to happen during the Cup."

A study by FOHB released last week showed only 10 per cent of the group's hotel rooms were still available in Rio on game days or the day before, compared with 43 per cent in Curitiba, another host city, and a whopping 64 per cent in Sao Paulo.

In response, some hotel chains such as Spain's Melia Hotels Internacional SA and France's Accor SA are running special World Cup promotions to help keep rooms full.

Still, some fans may need more convincing. "Sao Paulo?," said Germany fan Ruland. "Nothing against it, but I want to go to the beach."