With fewer than 100 days before the 2016 Olympic Games begin, the news of the mosquito borne Zika virus in the country has spawned discussions of whether the Rio games should be moved, postponed or canceled. The World Health Organization recently classified the virus as a global health emergency, but said the games should go on. Here & Now’s Robin Young talks to Christine Sarkis, senior editor for Smarter Travel, about traveling to Rio for the Olympics.
Read Christine Sarkis' piece, 'Rio Olympics: Here's What Travelers Need To Know.'
Interview Highlights: Christine Sarkis
Is it too late to plan a trip to the Olympics?
“Surprisingly, no. Just yesterday, I priced this all out. Let’s say air fare from San Francisco, hotel, and five tickets. When we priced it out, if you’re willing to go pretty bare-bones about it, $2,000 is what we found. Air fare we found for about $1,000, then the trick to getting a good hotel room at this point, is actually to go Air BnB. You’re not always going to get something amazing, in fact one of the places that’s still available is for $40 a night. It says it’s a hotel in disrepair, but it’s only $40 a night. They have a bunch of things.
The tickets, that’s interesting too. Cosport is the official Olympic ticket seller in the U.S., now the way that it works is that the Olympic committee releases these allocations of tickets at sort of random intervals, and so Cosport will post the new tickets on the website whenever they get it and sometimes they send out email alerts, but often they don’t if they’re very small allocations. So the tickets that you see online now are not the only thing available, it’s not like they’re sold out except for these. If you are interested in getting tickets to a certain event, the key is just to keep checking back. The good news is that the process will stay relatively stable.”
What could you expect upon arriving in Rio?
“They’re expecting to open the new subway line in July, I think it’s a little late. There are also all of these express bus routes and trams that are sort of debuting. In terms of what to do, there’s the obvious, right? Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain, Ipanema Beach and then if you want in on Olympic action but you don’t have tickets, there are public screenings of a lot of the events at Madeira park. Another nice way of extending that Olympic spirit, even if you’re not watching events, is that Rio happens to be a very naturally athletic city. You can get out, you can play soccer on the beach, you could play volleyball, you can take a jog, and there are even very basic outdoor gyms.”
Should we expect hotel conditions like what we saw in the Sochi Olympics?
“In the last 6 years, Rio has had a 60% increase in hotels. So they have 75 new hotels that represent about 20,000 rooms. They are booked, but many of them are not open. That’s potentially a complicating factor, but according to the Brazil Hotel Industry Association, the city’s hotels are nearly booked for the games. Despite Zika and everything there have been very few cancellations.”
On concerns around Zika at the Olympics:
“The CDC says that pregnant women just shouldn’t go, and they offer extensive advice for everyone on Zika prevention and just general health and safety when travelling in Brazil. But the World Health Organization just came out and said they are not advising that the Olympics be moved from Rio, so instead what they’re doing is they’re working with just Brazil and the Olympic committee on what they’re calling ‘a targeted approach,’ and that’s to reduce infections ahead of the games. That means reducing the amount of mosquitoes, and helping more people protect themselves from bites.
Another sort of interesting thing to think about when it comes to Zika is that the Olympics is happening in August and that’s Brazil’s winter, so that means the lowest amount of mosquitoes of the year, so there’s a mass fumigation campaign underway right now. Athletes at the game will have free air conditioning so they don’t need to open windows and mosquito nets, but certainly we could see a situation in which some athletes and travelers opt out of the games because of the concerns.”
- Christine Sarkis, senior editor for Smarter Travel. She tweets @ChristineSarkis.
This segment aired on May 23, 2016.