Rio Loses Out to Nature Tours and ‘Scandal’

Tourism is on the rise again in Brazil, but Rio de Janeiro, the country’s traditional tourist draw, is losing out to eco-safaris on the Amazon and “scandal tours” to the capital of Brasilia to see the places where recently ousted President Fernando Collor lived and worked. More than 1.6 million people visited Brazil in 1992, according to new estimates by the secretary of tourism. It was the second year of increased tourism after four consecutive years of decline. Although Rio remains Brazil’s main tourist attraction, growing crime rates and poverty began to affect the city’s reputation in the 1980s; tourism there has dropped steadily over the past three years and is still falling at a rate of 10% per year. On the other hand, the number of visitors to the Amazon rain forest has risen, and even the remote, somewhat austere city of Brasilia boomed with tourism last year thanks to the political corruption scandal that last month forced Collor to resign. Scandal tour agencies popped up in Brasilia, taking photo-snapping foreigners by Collor’s house, to the Senate during impeachment hearings and to see the private jet of businessman Paulo Cesar Farias, who allegedly ran Collor’s multimillion-dollar influence-peddling and graft racket.

Travel Quiz: Which country is not an island chain: Fiji, the Philippines, Indonesia or Myanmar?

Cruises for Spanish Speakers: In an effort to tap into a potentially lucrative market, two cruise lines, Royal Caribbean and Carnival, have introduced programs designed to appeal to Spanish-speaking travelers. In April, Royal Caribbean Cruises will devote a transatlantic crossing of its ship, the Sun Viking, to Spanish-speaking passengers traveling from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Tenerife in the Canary Islands. The one-time cruise, to depart April 10, will include such amenities as Spanish-language menus and movies and a Spanish-speaking staff. In October, Carnival Cruise Lines will launch FiestaMarina Cruises, a cruise service that will include one ship complete with Spanish-speaking staff and an all-night salsa club. For it, Carnival will reoutfit the 949-passenger FiestaMarina--formerly the Carnivale--with signs in Spanish and some new room names to reflect the cultural heritage of its passengers. Passengers will have later dinner hours than traditional ships, and food and entertainment with a Latin flavor. Carnival’s non-U.S. Hispanic market has tripled in five years, prompting the company to shift the Carnivale to the new division for three-, four- and seven-night trips between Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

U.S. Agency Selling Kirov Seats: Tickets for the Mariinsky Theater (formerly the Kirov) in St. Petersburg, Russia, are now available through one agency outside the country--a new company called Allegro Enterprises Inc. in New York City. Until now, travelers to Russia were dependent upon the government travel agency Intourist to secure tickets to performances of the Kirov Ballet, orchestra or opera, and often could not find out in advance of their trip what performances were scheduled or, in some instances, even if tickets would be available. In addition to tickets, the new agency is providing schedules for the upcoming season’s opera, ballet and symphony concerts, and it guarantees orchestra seats in the front half of the house. Allegro Enterprises Inc.: (212) 666-6700.


Windsor Castle Update: With the reopening of the State Apartments in Windsor Castle, two months after fire swept through the northeast corner of the royal home west of London, the apartments--normally closed on Sunday during the winter--are scheduled to be open every day of the week, and the regular admission price has been reduced from about $6 to $3.75. On view are 11 of the 15 rooms that comprise the State Apartments, and visitors can get a glimpse through plexiglass doors of the two rooms severely damaged in the fire. The latter, St. George’s Hall and the Grand Reception Room, are still full of ashes and charred remains. Two of the reopened rooms, the Waterloo Chamber and the Garter Throne Room, are without their paintings due to abnormal humidity levels caused by moisture remaining from fire-hose dousings.

Comparatively Speaking: The 10 least expensive U.S. locations ranked by per-day travel costs, including breakfast, lunch and dinner in business-class restaurants and single-rate lodging in first-class hotels and motels: Macon, Ga., $73; Fayetteville, N.C., $74; Chattanooga, Tenn., $74; Wheeling, W.Va., $74; Flint, Mich., $75; Ft. Smith, Ark., $75; Beaumont, Tex., $76; Colorado Springs, Colo., $77; Johnson City, Tenn., $78; Greenville/Spartanburg, S.C., $79. (Source: Runzheimer International.)

The Coolest Hotel: A newly built inn in northern Sweden--the Arctic Hotel in Jukkasjarvi--will make it through the winter but will disappear in spring. The reason? It is made completely of ice. The furniture in the 6,000-square-foot, one-room lodge is made of snow--each bed is an individual snow “plateau” covered with reindeer pelts. Guests generally stay one night ($60 per person) and then move into the town’s only real hotel, a Swedish tourism official said, explaining that the ice hotel has no showers. Facilities include a bathroom, bar and chapel, and since the ice building has no heat, temperatures inside average 10-15 degrees below zero at night, 30 degrees above by day. The owners plan to rebuild the facility next winter.

Quick Fact: Anderson House in Wabasha, Minn., will lend guests a cat, free of charge, from their pride of nine for overnight companionship.


Kimco Comes to L.A.: San Francisco-based Kimco Hotels--a chain known for developing reasonably priced “boutique hotels” in high-rent areas--will soon open its first property in Los Angeles. The 140-room Beverly Prescott Hotel, 1224 S. Beverwil Drive at Pico Boulevard, is the former site of the Beverly Hillcrest Hotel. Opening is anticipated in late April. Kimco also runs 12 hotels in San Francisco, two in Seattle and one each in Portland and Tacoma.

Quiz Answer: Myanmar, formerly Burma, which is bordered by India, Bangladesh, China, Thailand, Laos and the Bay of Bengal.