I was surprised to see Rio is the number one congress destination in Brazil according to ICCA, and that you have the biggest convention center in Latin America. So Rio is more than an incentive destination?
Yes, Rio is a congress city. The city selection involves the city´s attractiveness, and Rio is a very attractive city. And despite an incentive image, we are a very business city. More than 60% of travelers to Rio are business travelers, much more than leisure! We have always handled large international congresses, for instance cardiology with 20.000 people.
Isn´t logistics a challenge for such large events?
Of course this is a big city… but this is improving. The convention centre used to be located in an area with few hotels, but this is changing, there is a whole area of new development in which the convention centre is completed with lots of hotels, both international brands like Hilton and Hyatt, or local ones.
Precisely, what impact do the Games and the World Cup have on the infrastructure?
Transportation and hotel supply: we offer 30.000 hotel rooms and by 2016 will increase to 45.000, including leading brands. We are also building a tramway along the coast, new museums, office space… in a neighborhood which was abandoned. We tear down bridges and are rebuilding the connexions in the area. We are also extending subway lines, and creating a road with exclusive lanes from the airport to the convention centre. Work in progress!
We have to do more, for instance we still need more direct flights. A good news is the privatization of the airport, which will be managed as of august 2014 by Singaporean operator Changi. They will renovate the airport for 2016. Busy times ahead of the Games…
Have you seen a negative impact of people avoiding the city now that the city is in the middle of the preparation?
We have seen a bit of that, but the increase in demand was higher than the postponing. We have more people thinking “we have to be there, live the city which will host the games”. Also we see a surge of events which want to capitalize on the sports image of the city. This is a city very focused on sports. It has 80km of beaches, large lagoons, the largest urban forest in the world, so the city is really made for outdoor sports, both famous sports like beach volley, water sports, and sports we invented here, like foot-volley.
Also the passion for music is everywhere in the city. Bossa Nova was invented here. The carnival is the biggest outdoor show in the world. Most events which want to link the programme with the local culture use musical events. It is rare to see an opening and closing ceremony without a carnival show. And in between, sports (especially on the beach) are widely used for networking and motivation.
What truly unique activities can a planner offer delegates in Rio?
I always suggest things related to the cultural activities of Rio, for instance a night in a club in the lappa area (old bohemian area), to experience the intense musical passion. And how not to mention the Pao de Açucar, where you can even hold your event on top of the mountain – a truly unique welcome cocktail followed by dinner and carnival show up there. Plan this at sunset time and you have something to write home about. You can also use the huge urban forest for hiking or a picnic right in the forest. You can also do paragliding and land down the beach.
The favelas… a place for incentive activities?
A lot has been done. The government is doing amazing efforts to bring services and control the area. The economy is showing its face, and people are transforming their home into restaurants, B&Bs, organising parties (some have great views), so you can do activities there. But I would recommend many amazing things before going to favelas for your event.