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Big Crowds Expected At Rio For 2016 Olympics Despite Challenges

Despite financial challenges combined with the over-the-top news about Zika, hundreds of thousands are expected to descend on the South American country for Rio 2016.

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Big Crowds Expected at Rio for 2016 Olympics Despite Challenges

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With the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro right around the corner, many people are asking, "Will anyone show up?"

The short answer is: Yes. Definitely.

The longer answer is a little more confusing.

When Rio won the right to host the Olympics, the Brazilian president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva — popularly known as "Lula" — said he had never felt so proud of his country. "We aren't America, but we will get there," he said.

Brazil has been a rising economic star, and the export sector has been expanding quickly and supporting a growing middle class. Now, with less than a year before the games, the carioca country is wobbling. But things are still looking up. Although the economy, which was riding a commodity boom, is now sagging slightly, observers still say the Olympics will be "spectacular."

There will be cutbacks. The budget, reduced by about 15% means athletes will have to watch the games on television in the day room, and dignitaries will be served traditional beans and rice instead of gourmet fair.

As if the financials weren't challenging enough, the fear of Zika keeps spreading.

Hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors will be in Brazil for the Olympics, and most of them are coming to watch the pageantry and good will of the games and aren't worried about economics and mosquitoes.

The Brazilian tourist board said recently that there has been a "very small decrease" in foreign visitors. That is not an idle claim. The world health authorities have not set — and don't intend to set — travel restrictions.

Jay Price, Cartan Tours' managing director, says, "We have had a lot of package buyers. I don't know that we will see a fall in our sales."

Jerri Roush, director of operations at Cartan Tours, recently told The Associated Press that the situation in Brazil was in "uncharted territory."

Roush said the Los Angeles-based agency is taking almost 2,000 visitors to the Olympics. The packages include tickets, accommodations, ground transportation and translators.

IOC President Thomas Bach says the economic and Zika issues have negatively impacted the athletes' decision. "There is no plan by any national Olympic organization to pull out of the Rio Olympic Games," said Bach.

Anbritt Stengele, CEO of Chicago-based Sports Traveler said her clients have not been concerned about the health risk either. "When our customers are concerned, it is usually about security and not Zika," said Stengele.

Airbnb, the official "alternative accommodation" sponsor for the Olympics, is doing a booming business. Leonardo Tristao, Airbnb's country manager for Brazil, says they have almost 8,000 reservations for Rio during the Olympics. Altogether, there is a pool of over 19,000 properties which could accommodate over 75,000 people.

Tristao said that Americans topped the rental list, followed by Brits, Australians, and Argentines.

Be a Traveler and Go

What's the difference between a tourist and a traveler? A tourist goes to be seen, and a traveler goes to see. A tourist will hear the doomsday scenario about Rio and stay home. A traveler knows that it's never as bad as what the news says and keep their plans to travel intact.

Savvy travelers are planning to enjoy the country while in Brazil for the Olympics. Rio makes full use of its natural beauty. Copacabana Beach, the site of beach volleyball, long-distance swimming is world famous. Travelers watching the rowing competition will have Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas as a backdrop.

In total, the 2016 Olympic games are featuring 28 sports in over 35 disciplines.

Rio Dates

The Olympic Games will take place August 5 - 16 and the Paralympic Games will follow September 7 - 18.

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