Rio’s Love Hotels Clean Up for Tourists

By Jenny Barchfield

One worker strips mirrored panelling off the ceiling, as another pries up the fibreglass shell of a whirlpool bath. A third man takes a sledgehammer to a life-size statue of Venus de Milo posing topless with a swirl of plaster robes hanging from her waist.

Rio's Shalimar love hotel is going family-friendly.

Like about a third of the city's 180 hotels that rent rooms by the hour, mostly for amorous rendezvous, the Shalimar is trading its oversized round beds and bondage-ready chairs for proper couches, functional desks and other business-like furnishings. The goal is reinvention as a standard pay-by-the-day tourist hotel.

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With next year's World Cup soccer tournament and the 2016 Olympic Games arriving, Rio officials are scrambling to solve a chronic hotel bed shortage so severe that during a UN conference here last year, the mayor had to appeal to residents to open their apartments to visitors.

The plan? Slash property taxes for love hotels, known as "motels" in Portuguese, that agree to tone down the decor and free up 90 per cent of their rooms for the tens of thousands of visitors expected to flood the city.

"Motels have all the know-how to be able to put people from around the world up in style," said Antonio Cerqueira, a vice president of the Rio chapter of the ABIH hotel owners association, Brazil's largest.

"What throws people is really just the decoration."

With only 25,000 beds, or just half the estimated 50,000 needed for the Olympics, authorities hope to add about another 6000 beds through motel conversions, Cerqueira said.

New hotels with another 14,500 beds are also in the works, he added.

By comparison, the last Olympic city, London, has some 110,000 hotel beds.

Brazil's love hotels are virtual temples of kitsch and a longtime staple in the world's largest Catholic country, where young people have tended to remain at home until marriage.

Giant, coin-operated vibrating beds compete for prominence with bubbling baths built for two; mirrors proliferate, covering nearly every surface, and condoms and other sex-related paraphernalia share space in minibars with cans of beer and chocolate bars. A maze of towering walls or dense shrubbery shrouds the motels from prying eyes, with individual, covered parking spots that lead directly into rooms.

Many love hotels offer remote check-in that doesn't require looking anyone in the eye. Theme rooms, sexed-up variations on medieval, swinging sixties, or tropical paradise motifs, abound.

Teacher Paula Moura said motels were an institution in Rio's cultural landscape, and would be sorely missed if they disappeared.

She said she used to go at least once a month with her boyfriend.

"We'd dress up, look for different ambiances," she said. "Plus you don't have mirrors like that at home!"

Now that Moura's unattached, she likes them because they're a neutral space.

"You don't bring someone you don't know well into your house, and you don't expose yourself by going over to their house," she said.

Removing the sexy flair and giving the rooms a more neutral cast cost $US15,000-$US25,000 ($A14,345-$A23,908) per unit, said Cerqueira, an investment that stands to be partially offset by a 40 per cent reduction in city property taxes through 2019.

Motel operators are still in talks with city officials over the finer points, but Cerqueira said he expects the deal to be inked by the end of the month.

Love hotels in Brazil have been on the decline since the 1990s, with most struggling to reach 50 per cent occupancy.

There's more… continue reading the rest of the article "Rio's Love Hotels Clean Up for Tourists" on Yahoo!'s Total Travel blog.

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