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Rio Hotels Get Ready for Olympic Moment

RIO DE JANEIRO ( MainStreet) -- In the middle of a holiday week flanked by a balmy Christmas Day on one end and epic New Year's Eve on the other, any hotel room in Rio is tough to come by. An entry-level room at the city's top properties can cost upward of $1,000 per night (with tax), even more on New Year's Eve, not to mention the minimum-night requirements and cutthroat cancellation policies for those able to get a reservation.

With the upcoming 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympic Games, that could be the new normal in terms of Rio hospitality.
Showpiece hotels are slowly coming along in preparation for Brazil's moments in the sporting spotlight.

Its Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport is aging, but the modernist concrete silhouette wears its soot well even under the floodlights arranged like architectural pillars on its perimeter. Inside, however, the airport's datedness is obvious in the echoes of a PA system that can't be heard among its series of overcrowded terminals with low ceilings, lackluster food options and VIP lounges that contradict the very word. A complete renovation of the airport's Terminal 1 and 2, where most international passengers arrive and depart, was anticipated to wrap up by mid-2012, but construction and bureaucratic setbacks delayed a project that appears to be nowhere near completion as of mid-January.

Much like Brazil itself, Rio is booming. A recent report cites more than 3 million visitors were added this past summer compared with a year earlier, and a 12.4% increase for an entire year over year. Locals credit better security and the government's tighter control over the favelas -- including its largest, Rocinha, cleared in late November and reported to remain clear of its drug lords (who were pushed to areas outside the city). Since the clearing, the favela has been inundated with a noticeable law enforcement presence that includes construction of police towers and community patrols that intends to retain permanent control.

There are two hotels vying for the A-list crowd in Rio, namely the luxury stalwart Copacabana Palace (certainly the top hotel for New Year's Eve festivities, given its location on Copacabana Beach and its popularity with business and international elite). Perks such as an in-house Cipriani restaurant and hot spot nightclub mean that the location offers a complete destination for those preferring not to stray far from the hotel.

The Fasano Rio de Janeiro would be the other top hotel choice. Recently anointed by Britney Spears, it was already a popular address for celebrities from Beyonce to Gisele Bundchen who know the Ipanema design property for its rooftop resort pool and impeccable deco-modern style. It's been considered one of the best hotels in Brazil since its opening in 2007.

Not to say there aren't other luxury hotels in Rio, from an installment of JW Marriott (MAR - Get Report) to Sofitel and Sheraton, but they're not as sought out by top-end luxury travelers. In recent years, a few other newcomers have arrived, including Santa Teresa Hotel (managed by France's esteemed Relais & Chateau) in the historic Santa Teresa hilltop neighborhood, which has seen a surge of trendy eateries and bars open over the past three years. The hotel incorporates a historic plantation location with a modern design ethos accented in custom furnishings and an outpost of Natura Spa. Despite its nonbeachfront location, a sophisticated clientele of design lovers and media types settle on the hotel's grassy resort pool deck with views that stretch over the city.

Hotel Gloria remains the most ambitious project. Built in 1922, this grand dame of Rio hospitality dates back even before the Copacabana Palace. It was the first luxury hotel in Rio to offer a swimming pool, and later its own heliport. Having played host to icons from Einstein, who is said to have completed a famous theory of protons on the hotel's fourth floor, to Madonna, who drew fashionable eyes anew after a famous 2009 W Magazine photo shoot inside the hotel. The property was bought by Brazilian billionaire Eike Batista's EBX Group in 2008 with the goal of restoring the property to its former glory. With scaffolding still concealing much of its grandeur, Hotel Gloria won't be ready for its close-up until the fourth quarter of 2013, when it will debut with two full-service restaurants, a destination spa and conference center as well as a yacht club at Marina da Gloria targeted for nautical exhibitions during the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

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Michael Martin is the managing editor of JetSetReport.com, a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in InStyle, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine and on ITV and the BBC.

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