In Rio de Janeiro, a growing crime rate still plagues much of the city and the sound of gunshots and back-alley drug deals are not uncommon occurrences. The torture and murder of a bricklayer from the neighborhood of Rocinha has sparked protests against the corrupt police forces responsible. Despite these ongoing issues, tourists are finding themselves seeking lodging within these neighborhoods. Hotels in Rio are in very short supply and even the most basic hotels have increased their prices to $450 per night during the World Cup1. Residents of nearby favelas are beginning to take advantage of the shortage and overpricing of rooms and are now renting out their modest homes to football fans from around the world. Maria Clara dos Santos, a 49 year old woman whose three bedroom home in the favela of Rocinha overlooks the famed Ipanema beaches, is expected to house up to 10 World Cup visitors. Despite the untreated sewage on the streets and necessary bars on the window, dos Santos expects to rent out beds in her home for the bargain price of $50 a night. She maintains it’s not just the prices that are appealing: “We can provide a level of human warmth and authenticity that places down below cannot.” With a diverse and vibrant music scene, noticeably cheaper prices, and a lack of preposterous people, favela popularity is growing quickly.
As Brazil frantically prepares for the World Cup’s arrival, favela lodging options are unfolding far smoother than other preparations. The World Cup has become a source of contention and conflict in Brazil rather than a push for another achievement on the global stage. With less than six months until the start of the matches, costs of preparations continues to rise, delays are a constant issue, and worker deaths have become common when building the extravagant stadiums1. Additionally, the Brazilian Football Confederation has been accused of being involved in various bribery scandals. A new transportation project to get people to the stadiums that has caused an increase in fares that many cannot afford, is now not expected to be operational by August. Massive protests over an increase in prices and anger over excessive spending have become common in the streets of many Brazilian cities. Christopher Gaffney, a scholar at Brazil’s Federal Fluminense University who studies large sporting projects said of the preparations: “There’s a real lack of robust governance structures here to deal with an event this size, so things start breaking and people start dying […] The absurd prices ahead of the World Cup are part of this phenomenon. People perceive the event as bringing only short-term benefits, so they’re seizing on the immediate opportunities around the event.” The World Cup is set to begin in June and doubters around the world have expressed concern over Brazil’s capability to host such a massive event.
Spanning 12 cities across Brazil, the World Cup is expected to attract 600,000 foreign tourists. More than 300,000 of those visitors will be expected to make their way to Rio for the final match where just 55,400 hotel beds await them. The Brazilian state tourism agency has estimated that prices will increase to an average of $460 a night, nearly double the normal cost1. Alfredo Lopes, the president of the Brazil Hotel Industry Association’s Rio chapter, recently made a strong argument in defense of the rise in prices: “Rio’s image is being exalted around the world at this time. It would be absurd to try to regulate hotel prices when there are people prepared to pay what the market determines is the correct price. […] Some people are prepared to pay triple the money for a Harley-Davidson than for another motorcycle, and there’s a reason for that. The same goes for Rio.” Despite Rio’s growing crime rate (especially in homicides and muggings), many hotel owners are remain firm in their pricing for the World Cup events. For those angered by the ridiculous hotel prices or those who simply cannot pay, favela lodging is an attractive option.
One San Francisco native who quit his job to travel in Brazil, Isom Hightower, pays $11 a night at a Rocinha guesthouse. Rather than seeing the tourist friendly areas of Rio, Hightower says he loves the authentic Brazilian experience. Hightower found the guesthouse with the help of Favela Experience, a start up company founded by 23 year old Elliot Rosenberg. Rosenberg vows the Favela Experience will provide affordable World Cup lodging, although the same $11 bunk Hightower now sleeps in could rise to $50 a night1. These types of guesthouses are exploding in popularity and are being assisted by the state’s efforts to regain control of the slums. Often the state will send in troops and police in an effort to pacify the growing crime rate, despite issues involving abuses by the police in Rocinha.
Regardless of these ongoing issues as Brazil prepares for the World Cup, Brazil’s growing economy has greatly improved other areas over the last decade. Both public health clinics and cable-car transportation routes have grown in number and some favelas have seen a decrease in homicides. Additionally, there has a massive growth in tourism in all regions. Some favelas have even been featured in fashion videos and shoots. As the World Cup approaches, the tourism industry is expected to reach new heights, as will favela lodging1. Bob Nadkarni, a 70-year-old British man who moved to Brazil nearly 30 years ago is considered to be one of the pioneers of favela lodging. His house, The Maze, which is located in the neighborhood of Tavares Bastos will charge $220 a night for a private room during the World Cup. With places like The Maze and other favela guesthouses expected to hit it big during the World Cup, a huge real state boom has developed in the slums. In Vidigal, a favela that overlooks the high-class beaches in Leblon, a one bedroom home can be sold for $75,000 or more.
As the World Cup approaches, these new favela guesthouses are revolutionizing accommodations in Brazil. The country may be struggling with budget issues and protests, but favelas have found a way to benefit themselves during the chaos leading up to the World Cup. These favelas, which were once seen as low class slums, now hold one of the hottest commodities for the world cup: a place to sleep.
1. Romero, Simon. “Now Taking World Cup Bookings, Rio’s Slums.” The New York Times. 21 December 2013. Pg 1-3. Web. 13 February 2014.