Meet me in Rio de Janeiro
Already one of the world’s most exotic destinations, Rio de Janeiro’s Olympic ‘makeover’ will make it a favourite for the MICE industry, writes Robin Bayes
The world is coming to Rio de Janeiro. Perched on the edge of the South Atlantic coast surrounded by a harbour classified as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, this geographically spectacular, culturally rich city, is set to host not only the FIFA World Cup in 2014, but also the 2016 Olympic Games.
Rio de Janeiro, like Brazil, has come of age. Brazil has one of the fastest growing economies in South America and is attracting massive investment, and interest, worldwide, and Rio – its second-largest city – is at its core. With its iconic beaches, vibrant annual Mardi Gras fiesta, rich culture and sheer geographic beauty, it has long been an attraction for tourists, but it is also now high on the list as a convention, meeting and incentive destination. Its convention facilities, luxury hotels and diversity of attractions and experiences make it one of the most desirable MICE destinations in South America.
Spoilt for choice
At its heart is the Riocentro Convention Centre. Located in the upmarket Barra da Tijuca district, it comprises six cutting-edge inter-connected pavilions offering more than 87,000sqm of space – four of them fully-climatised – a heliport, 28 meeting rooms and seating facilities for up to 4,500 people. Its exhibition centre is the largest in Latin America and, when Rio was bidding for the 2016 Summer Olympics and Paralympics, four of its six pavilions were proposed as venues.
Rio is also home to a swathe of luxury five-star properties, most concentrated around the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, and include the iconic Sofitel Rio de Janiero Copacabana, Royal Tulip Rio de Janeiro, and Arena Copacabana Hotel and Porto Bay Rio International Hotel.
The Sofitel is located right on the beach and is regarded as one of the country’s most prestigious luxury hotels – it combines plush, elegant facilities with French savoir-faire and a touch of Rio charm. And it has one of the best views, looking across the Copacabana beachfront and onto the famed Sugarloaf Mountain. Porto Bay Rio International Hotel is also renowned for its views as well as its style. Set on the water’s edge in a lush tropical bay, it looks onto the Sugarloaf and the Corcovado mountains, where the dramatic statue of Christ rises from its peak.
Add to this more than GBP11 billion in new infrastructure and facilities being built for the 2016 Olympic Games, and you can see why Rio is emerging as one of the great MICE destinations of this decade and beyond. The new Olympic Park, being built on 300 acres and jutting out into an inner-harbour lagoon, will virtually transform Rio’s meetings and convention dynamics. It is a spectacular location with its backdrop of rugged mountains and position right on the lagoon’s edge, but with 34 state-of-the-art venues, hi-tech media centre, accommodation villages, parks, walkways, restaurants and shops – it will no doubt rate highly as a much sought after meeting and convention venue post Olympics.
“It is very exciting; it will show off Brazilian architecture in a magnificent setting,” said London-based architect Bill Hanway, who led the winning architectural bid. “It has been designed to leave a legacy for the city.”
But Rio is also a city of great cultural vibrancy and – facilities and stunning geography aside – this is one of its greatest drawcards. The annual Carnaval two-week festival, held every February, has to be the highlight of any cultural experience with its magnificent costumes, dancing and sheer energy that overflows into the streets and local barras (suburbs).
The vibrant Samba clubs and live music bars of the Lapa district draw a crowd, and the imposing imperial buildings are home to a variety of interesting attractions: the neo-classic Candelaria church, the grand former presidential palace of Itamaraty, Palácio Guanabara (former home of the Imperial Princess), the Museu Histórico Nacional, Museu Nacional de Belas Artes and Museu de Arte Moderna, the Museu do Carnaval, and even a Museu Carmen Miranda – a national icon of the 1940s and 50s. Then there are the theatres, world-class restaurants, such as Copacabana Palace’s famed Cipriani restaurant, or the hip Zuka in Leblon, the sophisticated high-end designer shopping in venues such as Shopping Leblon and the exclusive Sao Conrado Fashion Mall.
And, for a change of atmosphere, and incentive destinations in their own right, a visit to nearby glamourous Buzios – made famous by Brigitte Bardot in the 1960s and now holiday destination to the social elite of Rio – is a must, as is the historic old town of Paraty built by African slaves in the 16th century.
Both are worlds apart, but reflect the rich cultural diversity – a mix of glamour and tradition – that makes Rio de Janeiro such a growing MICE destination.
Where to stay
Five Star Alliance
What to see
Riocentro Convention Centre