With Olympics in mind, Rio’s love hotels clean up

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Motel operators are still in talks with city officials over the finer points, but Cerqueira said he expects the deal to be inked by the end of the month.

Love hotels in Brazil have been on the decline since the 1990s, with most struggling to reach 50 percent occupancy. Conventional Rio hotels regularly hit an 80 percent rate and completely sell out at peak times such as New Year’s and Carnival, said Cerqueira. Plus, because love hotel rooms must be cleaned and sterilized after each occupancy, which generally doesn’t last more than a handful of hours, they’re more expensive to operate than conventional hotels.

“Mores have been getting more liberal, and young couples who a generation ago would have had no choice but go to a motel are now welcome to stay at home,” Cerqueira said. Most motel clients are married couples visiting on a lark, business travelers looking to save money by renting by the hour and the sector’s perennial staple: adulterers.

Decorator Fabiola Brandao has been working her way through the Shalimar renovations room by room over the past four years, revamping 25 of the hotel’s 61 rooms to date.

“We usually do two or three rooms at a time, and kind of try to block off the area where the work is being done,” said Brandao. Still, no matter how discreetly workers attempt to work, the banging of jackhammers and pop of nail guns often prove impossible to muffle

“In those circumstances, we say to the client, ‘Can we upgrade you to a better room, with a better view?’” Brandao said. “And then we send up a complementary bottle of champagne. It usually does the trick.”

The new rooms “are the kind of place where you can stay for more than an hour without running away screaming,” she said, adding that both the renovated and old-style rooms range in price from $34-$190 for a 12-hour rental, the preferred length of stay for business travelers.

The Shalimar’s management is planning to overhaul nearly all the units ahead of the Olympics, leaving but a few theme rooms, like the iron chain-strewn medieval suite.

Motel operators hope the tourist gold rush brought by the World Cup and Olympics will last far after sports fans have left. Despite its world-famous Carnival, the city attracts around 3 million foreign visitors per year, only twice the number of tourists London typically receives in the month of August alone.

“We’ve seen it happen before that hosting the Olympics really puts a city on the map,” Cerqueira said, citing the examples of 1992 host city Barcelona and Sydney, where the 2000 games were held. “Rio de Janeiro has so much to offer, the beach, the spectacular cityscape, and with everything that’s happening we can only expect for interest to grow. We’ll be ready for it.”

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Associated Press writer Juliana Barbassa contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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