The hotels Brazil needs for the World Cup never got built
Rio could use the Gávea Tourist’s 400-odd rooms. Instead, it is an emblem of the obstacles that hinder Brazil’s World Cup preparations: cumbersome bureaucracy, a slow-moving judiciary and a lack of imaginative planning.
“The bureaucracy is phenomenal. The technical capacity of the Brazilian state to produce infrastructure . . . is very low,” said Christopher Gaffney, visiting professor in architecture and urbanism at Rio’s Federal Fluminense University.
Just a few miles from Rio’s tourist beaches, the hotel stands on concrete pillars in splendid, crumbling isolation in a tropical forest. Its terrace offers breathtaking views of Pedra da Gávea mountain, São Conrado beach, and the glittering blue sea beyond.
Bullet holes riddle its lower walls and pockmark wrecked cars that have been crammed into a hole. Graffiti fingers a police officer as a thief. Creepers wind through the circular air vents on the staircase, and most of the marble stairs and blue bathroom tiles have long since been cannibalized.
Isabel da Silva, 48, and her husband Ronaldo, 60, who run a restaurant in the nearby Vila Canoas favela, built their first shack with wood paneling from the hotel, sold to them, they said, by a security guard. “It is a paradise up there,” said Ronaldo. “I’ve lived here for 38 years and it’s been abandoned the whole time.”
Rio has around 34,000 rooms, of which 22,000 are in conventional hotels, says the Brazilian Hotel Industry Association. An additional 6,000 will be added by June, the group says. .
The mayor’s office expects 1.5 million tourists during the World Cup. A spokeswoman said that not all these tourists will be in the city at the same time, and that this, along with alternative accommodations such as private rental apartments and bed-and-breakfasts, mean there will be room for everyone.
This may be unduly optimistic — 49 of the 89 Rio hotels on the FIFA official accommodation site are already reserved for stakeholder groups such as the media or are fully booked online. Reports abound of sky-high rates. “There is high demand and a lack of offer, so the prices are very high,” Gaffney said.
A survey last year by Brazilian tourist board Embratur showed Rio hotel prices for the tournament had doubled during last year’s Confederations Cup and averaged $461 a night. One company is even mounting a “football fan camp” for 3,000 people.
The government is worried and held a meeting Jan. 15 with Rio hotel industry representatives to discuss allegations of “abusive prices.”
It was agreed that hotel prices should not outpace the costs during the notoriously expensive Rio periods of Carnival and New Year, when demand is at a peak. It was also decided that average prices for New Year, Carnival and World Cup accommodations would be published on hotel Web sites.
The Gávea Tourist was planned as a timeshare hotel. Work began in 1953 and ended in 1972. Its owners went bankrupt, leaving over 1,000 timeshare holders with nothing. The hotel sank into a legal quagmire from which it has yet to emerge. It is now owned by GV2 Producoes, which acquired it at auction in 2011.
But a renovation cannot begin until GV2 has the final legal documentation confirming that it owns the building, which is held up in Brazil’s notoriously complicated bureaucracy.
The hotel cannot benefit from tax breaks that Rio has made available for hotel development until it has this final authorization, GV2 director Jamil Suaiden said.
Brazil’s government development bank did agree to provide the equivalent of $378 million in financing for 10 Rio hotels under a program called ProCopa Turismo, or Tourism for the Cup. But just three have opened. Two more will open by June, a development bank spokesman said.
Gaffney, the professor of urbanism, says the government could have introduced more inventive measures to stimulate hotels while at the same time addressing the city’s housing problem.
“You could make hotels temporary. You could have hotels for the World Cup that could be turned into housing,” he said. “There’s a lack of creativity, a lack of imagination on the part of the organizers.”
The funds provided by the development bank included the equivalent of $82 million for another ghost hotel, the art deco Hotel Glória, in central Rio.
Built in 1922, the hotel has been closed since 2008, when it was bought by a company owned by businessman Eike Batista. Batista’s EBX holding company declined to comment on the hotel. Renovation work appears to have come to a halt — there is no sign of any activity on the premises, and a security guard, who declined to give his name, said no work had taken place for six months.
None of that development bank money was directed towards a third iconic Rio ghost hotel: the Nacional, an imposing glass-and-steel modernist cylinder, not far from the Gávea Tourist in São Conrado.
The Nacional was designed by Oscar Niemeyer, an iconic figure in Brazilian architecture who was also responsible for much of the country’s modernist capital, Brasilia, an entire city built in just 41 months in a desert during the late 1950s. The Nacional has been empty since 1995 and was bought at auction in 2009 for the equivalent of $35 million by businessman Marcelo Henrique Limírio Gonçalves.
A proposed deal with the InterContinental Hotels Group led to hopes that the Nacional would open for the World Cup. But the deal did not materialize. The hotel remains boarded up. The last time Rio noticed its existence was when pop star Justin Bieber sprayed graffiti on its walls during a wild weekend last November.
In Vila Canoas, residents hope that the Gávea Tourist will be renovated, bringing jobs and income to the favela. “It is a white elephant,” said Isaias da Silva, 59, honorary president of the residents association, from behind the counter of his ironmongers shop.
Lawyer Frederico Trotta, who has worked on the Gávea Tourist case for decades, having inherited it from his lawyer father, said tests have shown the hotel can still be saved.
But builders laborer Silvio Veiga, 49, looked doubtingly at the rotten ironwork protruding from one of the hotel’s supporting concrete pillars. “They will have to knock it down and start again,” he said.