- BOOKS BY NICHOLAS
- TRAVEL NEWS
- PICS & VIDEOS
- Guest Post
It’s finally about to happen. The event the captivates millions of viewers throughout the world every four years. The global sporting event the unites the world. No, not the World Cup, but the games of the XXXI Olympiad of the modern era. This year’s grand games will be held in Rio de Janeiro. Rio holds a special place in my heart. I fell in love with Rio, not once, but four times. The Cariocas are some of the warmest people that you will ever encounter.
Being of Greek descent, I have deep feelings about Zeus’s sporting competitions. I believe in theory that anything mighty enough to unite the world is a gift to humanity.
However, as for hosting the Olympics, the facts remain that most destinations cannot afford to put on such an ostentatious spectacle in the black, and more than not, in the end, it’s a losing proposition.
I remember being in Athens for the 2004 summer games. This was a challenging time for Greece as a nation, being the first Olympics after 9/11. Did Greece pull it off, to the amazement of many, sure they did, and amongst stunning backdrops of the games inception, but at to what expense. I still ponder while in Athens, what will Greece to do with a baseball stadium after the events, when baseball is not even played, nor even followed by Greeks. I also remember that the prices were spiked more than a high school seniors punch at a senior prom. It was an insane time to be in Athens. I quickly left for a much more civilized life on the Greek Islands.
Overcoming more obstacles than a first time home buyer, only time will tell if Rio is deemed a success or a failure. Right now, it’s a mixed bag of tricks, but if Rio were a sick patient in a hospital many a doctor would have to say that the prognosis is not good. That said, Rio will remain one of the world’s middle tier traveled cities in the world, regardless of the outcome of the sports challenges. Oh, Brazil, please prove us wrong. The Brazilians are proud people, and some will perceive the 2016 Summer Games as a seal of international legitimacy. Using another baseball reference, will Brazil step up to the plate?
Perhaps, the games where Olympic success most changed a destination for the better was the 1992 Summer games in Barcelona. It’s hard for me to believe that Spain’s second city was once considered a non-factor among travelers. Barcelona was best known as being a Mediterranean seaside town packed with voracious FC Barcelona soccer fans. It’s difficult to believe that Barcelona was not on the top of travelers list of European cities to visit. Can you imagine that in 1990, Barcelona only received 1.7 million visitors. Now, fast forward to 2015 when close to 8 million tourists plant themselves in the ‘City of Gaudi,’ and now Barcelona is the fifth most visited city in Europe. The success of the Barcelona games has even been touted as an example as to how a nation does it right, changing stereotypes and striking gold.
Rio de Janeiro hopes for a “Barcelona Effect.” Some still view Rio as an unsafe city. Not entirely false, but how can one not fall in love Ipanema and Copacabana beach, or the view from high above the Corcovado (Christ the Redeemer statue) looming large as one of the world’s greatest sweeping panoramic vantage points on the planet.
The fact remains, Barcelona being the gold standard of what can go right for an up and coming destination, surely Rio wants to strike it rich, to receive it’s fair share of the Olympic jackpot, and the tourism boom that occurs years after the event is completed. It remains difficult to imagine that Barcelona was not a hot travel destination before the summer games of 1992, but after the games, as Spain came out spelling like roses for displaying Barcelona as place to visit, the seaside Mediterranean city with temperate, but mostly warm weather, miles of beach front, architectural masterpieces of Antonio Gaudi, it was as if in a long sleeping was awakened. People woke up to the fact that the region was also producing cheap, epicurean delights served in an al-fresco setting. Rio, at least does not come with zero pedigree and is admired as one of the most gorgeous beach cities in the world.
This is exactly what Rio aspires to be. Surely, the Cariocas, as challenging as it may be, will do their best to show off the master treasure chest of gems that the city has to offer.
Judging by sheer numbers of the world’s most traveled cities, Rio and for that matter, the nation of Brazil as a whole have a long way to go. According to statistics from the World Bank, in their last survey, Brazil only greeted 6 million visitors. Quite a paltry sum that ranked it 44th in the world. Quite a meager amount of guests when stacked up against the world’s most visited hot spots. Compare that to over 25 million who touched down in Hong Kong, 38 million who visited Turkey, 35 million experienced Spain, 44 million vacationed in Thailand, even 27 million came to be inspired by Athens and Greece.
As Rio searches for its place in the world pantheon of great cities, billions of dollars have been poured into new facilities. Richard Burton, a Syracuse University professor of sports management and a former chief marketing officer for the U.S. Olympic committee takes a middle of the road approach and further reminds us of the success of Barcelona. “The games went off without a hitch, and Spain looked great.” Brazil has bankrolled high hopes, and now is banking on similar success. Burton continues, “consumer perception was that Spain looked like a pretty cool place.” Hopefully, the feelings will be mutual towards Rio and the nation of Brazil as a whole, after the culmination of the global competition has come to an end.
Will Brazil be ready? Michael Nagy, director of the Rio Convention & Visitors Bureau thinks so and said, “Obviously, we aspire to the fact that the good images that are going to come out of the Olympics, and the new city with all this infrastructure in place, will be one more reason for people to come see the city and the fantastic country we have.” Only time will tell if “Brazil 2016” is a success.
The press has not been kind to Rio, but nor were they affectionate towards Athens in 2004, and later skepticism applied to Beijing in 2008. The media virtually slammed the Olympic committee for even considering these two historical, ancient cities to host the prestigious games. Even before the games began, the backlash from the press ran the gauntlet from, “There is not a snowballs chance in hell that Athens will be ready to host the Olympics,” similar sentiments dragged on before the Beijing games, “The Chinese are way far behind in construction.” Also, it was said that both cities are too hot, and with bad air quality. But with stunning monuments, the Acropolis and the Great Wall, peeking through the background, looming large and seen by millions during the events, left a calming effect among viewers. The opening and ending ceremonies left people awe-struck, and any fear of not being prepared, or fear of terrorist attacks flew out the window.
Your guess is as good as mine as to which Brazil will show up next month. The Brazil that dazzled us during a flawless 2014 World Cup, the Brazil that saw a record 1 million revelers dancing in the streets of Rio during Carnival this past February, or will the paradoxical Rio which faces major problems with curbing crime, reducing poverty in its Favelas, pollution in its waters, rear its ugly head. Like rabid dogs, the press surely seems to be betting against Rio.
Add a dash of the Zika virus and paranoia already has reared its ugly head, which just might be the most challenging obstacle of all to overcome.
Can Brazil pull this off? Rio is not London, nor Sydney, top cities of the world with money to spend and few problematic areas concerning infrastructure.
Now, can Rio emulate and be on par with Athens or Beijing, let us hope so. As Burton says, “The Olympics will make Rio the center of the world. The message is that we are a legitimate place. They’ve been all in trying to show the world, we are a major country.”
As Rob Schneider said in the Adam Sandler comedy, ‘The Water Boy,’ “You can do it.”
I should mention that In my early 30s, after a two week stay, I was so enamored by Rio de Janeiro, that I rushed to the airport only to find out that my flight was the next day.
Blame it on Rio!