World Cup fans find many alternatives to Brazil’s expensive hotels

They came in a convoy, more than 3,000 Chileans in cars, motor homes and trailers who traveled for days across the Andes and Argentina to Brazil to support their beloved national team in the World Cup.

But they couldn’t afford hotels, so they are staying at campsites.

“We wanted to see the country and show the force of Chileans for football,” Matias Inostroza said over a crackly cellphone line as the so-called Chilean Caravan crossed western Brazil. “I am happy, content and emotional.”

The cramped conditions, with five people traveling more than 2,000 miles in one car, had not fazed him, nor did the prospect of sleeping in a tent. This was the only way the 26-year-old could afford the trip, despite parking cars and waiting tables for four years to save up.

Alternative accommodations are making World Cup dreams come true for fans who have had trouble finding hotel beds or who have refused to pay inflated prices. While the Chileans, who initially came together on Facebook, will be camping out, others will be staying in hostels, subletting apartments and using the Internet service Airbnb, which connects tourists to hosts with rooms, apartments and houses to rent.

Costly hotel rooms have forced some fervent soccer fans in Rio De Janeiro to seek accommodations in unconventional places. (Reuters)

The Chilean Caravan arrived at a campsite in Cuiabá, the remote Brazilian city where Chile’s team is based, in plenty of time to join the estimated 20,000 Chilean fans who watched their team beat Australia 3-1 there last Friday.

“It is a dream I have had,” said José Aragon, 59, who drove the car Inostroza traveled in. “The last chance to see a World Cup in Latin America.”

And when their team beat Spain 2-0 on Wednesday, the Chilean caravanners had even more to celebrate.

The Brazilian government expects 600,000 foreign tourists for this Cup — double the 309,000 who went to South Africa for the 2010 tournament. Airbnb said its hosts will receive 120,000 of the visitors, from more than 100 countries.

As in many other countries, the company has taken off in Brazil — from 3,000 listings in 2012 to 31,000 today — and saw bookings rise 600 percent during last year’s Confederations Cup. Even former Brazil national team star Ronaldinho put his Rio de Janeiro mansion up for rent — at $15,000 a night.

Not even Brazil’s high crime rates have put fans off from the idea of sleeping in a stranger’s home. The country’s murder rate in 2012 was 25.2 per 100,000, compared to 4.7 per 100,000 in the United States, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Thirty percent of Brazilians have experienced credit-card fraud in the past five years.

“When we started here, everyone said that this would not work out in Brazil because of a lack of trust,” said Airbnb Brazil general director Christian Gessner. “This was a big topic. However, we were able to create that trust,”

Soccer fans around the world displayed their World Cup team pride with flags, funny hats and lots of chanting and cheering. (Divya Jeswani Verma/The Washington Post)

Like many fans, Christian Tripp, 24, from San Diego, balked at the higher prices being charged by traditional hotels and opted for alternative accommodations. Tripp decided to pay $67 a night — a price he saw as unnecessarily high but unavoidable — to share a hostel dormitory with eight others in Recife.

The Brazilian tourist board Embratur said it will not release figures on the number of tourists expected to use alternative accommodations in this cup. But it said that in 2012, 44.2 percent of Brazil’s 5.67 million foreign visitors used alternative accommodations such as hostels, camping and rented houses.

“The reasons for the preference for alternative means are an interest in getting close to local culture and economizing money,” Embratur said in an e-mail.

The southeastern city of Belo Horizonte was one of a number of host cities where the government created a Web site to encourage alternative accommodations.

The city hosts six games, including a semifinal, and expects 160,000 foreign tourists and 290,000 Brazilians during World Cup month, said Stella de Moura, the city’s director of tourist promotion. Hotel beds have increased from 17,000 in 2012 to 25,000 today.

The stadium has a capacity of 64,000, and 58 percent of the tickets sold for the semifinal have gone to foreigners, which suggests a significant accommodations shortfall. The city’s hotels currently have an occupancy rate of 84 percent for the semifinal, said Pablo Torres, spokesman for the Forum of Brazilian Hotel Operators.

That suggests it is not just a lack of availability that explains the rise of alternative accommodations.

IT consultant Luciano Santos Nobrega, 34, and his wife, Nubia, have rented out a room in their two-bed apartment in central Curitiba for most of World Cup month on Airbnb. Guests are American, Australian, New Zealander and Iranian. “One of the most expensive things that exists when you are doing an international trip is the accommodation,” Nobrega said, talking by phone.

Nobrega said meeting people from other cultures was more of a motivating factor for him than the extra income.

Alberto Schmidt, 34, the Chilean who created the Chilean Caravan with his wife, echoed those words: “It’s all really good. A lot of affection from all the people who greet us in every town.”

Dom Phillips is The Post's correspondent in Rio de Janeiro. He has previously written for The Times, Guardian and Sunday Times.
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