Will Olympics ruin Rio’s tourism image?

The eyes of the world have been on Rio for the 2016 Olympic Games 2016. Countries compete to host the Olympics, in part, to bolster the country’s international reputation and boost tourism. Rio might be as famous for its Copacabana iconic beaches as its reputation for crime. This year’s Olympic Games have been plagued with reports of polluted water, crimes involving athletes and a government in chaos.

Consider this: According to The New York Times, there were 11,000 crimes in June this year in the country. 

The Times also reported that the chief of security for the opening ceremony was robbed at knifepoint during the Games, a stray bullet landed in the equestrian arena’s media tent and Portugal’s education minister was assault alongside the lagoon where the rowing competitions were being held.
Making matters more complicated is the evolving story of Olympic gold medalist Ryan Lochte that originally alleged a robbery but now the story is changing. Was the incident even a crime?  Either way, it is another rock thrown against the image of Rio.

Is Rio dangerous? It can be. Will the Olympics hurt Rio’s romanticized tourism image? Not in the long term. Will the LGBT community still go to the iconic city? Likely yes. According to the tourism office, almost one million LGBT tourists flock to Rio annually. And it’s worth the trip.

Last February, this column featured a story about an amazing visit to Rio. (Visit epgn.com and check the Outward Bound tab.) Rio, and Brazil as a whole, deliver an amazing and memorable visit. There is so much to see and to do. The people are warm and friendly. The arts, culture, history and cuisine are distinct. As in most destinations around the world, a majority of the people you’ll meet are friendly and honest.

There are many ways to safely visit beautiful Rio and there are a number of reasons to go, including Rio Gay Pride coming up this fall (Rio’s spring), Nov. 13-16. The best way to see Rio might be in a small group with an experienced tour company like Zoom Vacations (zoomvacations.com). You can find a number of qualified LGBT tour companies at IGLTA.org.

If you plan your trip on your own, consider looking at past Outward Bound columns on travel-safety tips, including registering your trip with the U.S. Department of State. Another resource to help you plan a safe and fun trip is riogayguide.com. The official tourism website is visitbrasil.com. Be careful of other sites that may look like the government tourism-office websites but are not.

Here are a few things you need to know about traveling to Rio that are good lessons for any international trip you take!

  • Be careful about taking strangers to your room. Some hotels — especially in Rio — do not allow guests (making a vacation hook-up from Grindr or Scruff very difficult). If they do allow a visitor, he or she will be asked to show ID and register with the hotel’s front desk. This is for your safety.
  • While Rio is a fashionable city, leave the bling at home. You will already stick out for being an American, not speaking the language or simply by being in the tourist areas. No need to be flashy.
  • If someone calls your room claiming to be from the front desk of the hotel asking for your credit-card number, hang up! It is a common scam that the hotels themselves will warn you about. You can always walk to the front desk yourself.
  • Take cellphone pictures of your driver’s license and passport and then lock the originals in your hotel safe. Limit how much money you have on you and try to carry just one credit card. Everyone accepts credit cards, including the licensed merchants on the beach.
  • Be safe going to the gay bars. Some of the bars are out of the tourist zone. It can be a risk to go to the clubs (which start very late at night, and the party goes on until the early morning). Try to limit how much you drink and, if possible, stay with your travel partner. Don’t wander.
  • Ask your hotel concierge about licensed tour guides and taxis. Use your hotel concierge or tour operator frequently.

Finally, Brazil requires a visa for travel so don’t forget to plan ahead. Despite the Olympic news, Rio is always worth the trip — just do it with a good travel head on your shoulders.

Jeff Guaracino is the author of “The Handbook of LGBT Tourism & Hospitality: A Guide For Business Practice.”

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