RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Instead of costly and elaborate costumes with glittering sequins, expect more cheap getups featuring fake mustaches, hats and tiaras at this year’s Carnival.
Revelers are bargain-hunting ahead of Rio de Janeiro’s world famous party, which is about to kick off amid a prolonged economic crisis that is hurting pocketbooks and the myriad businesses that depend on the bash for a large part of their annual incomes.
Many parade tickets have not been sold, sponsors have declined to pony up for street parties and hotels are expected to be emptier than last year’s also disappointing blast, when worries about the Zika virus kept some foreign tourists away and the recession depressed local spending.
“Last year was not great, but we still had the 2016 Olympics as a peg to Carnival. Now we can feel there is a reduction,” said Cristina Fritsch, head of Rio’s travel agents association. “Security is also making people worry at a time when public servants, including the police, are threatening to go on strike.”
Rio’s tourism agency is hoping to attract 1 million tourists who spend about 3 billion Brazilian reals ($950 million) in the city during the Feb. 24-28 festivities. If that pans out, it would be roughly the same amount of revenue as last year.
Hotels estimate they will see only a 72 percent occupancy rate, about 14 points less than last year.
With festivities starting Friday, there are still 800 stand tickets for the parade, which typically sell out right after New Year’s Day. Many of the box seats for the float parade, which feature local and global celebrities, have been distributed among the samba schools that put on the spectacle. Organizers say they want to make sure television cameras don’t capture any empty spaces.
The backdrop is the worst recession that Latin America’s largest nation has suffered in decades. Brazil’s central bank estimates the country’s economy shrank more than 4 percent in 2016 and unemployment is around 12 percent.
Rio’s state government has felt that impact like few others, with public servants having their pay delayed for months. Violent protests have become frequent as the state legislature considers several austerity measures.
In the neighboring state of Espirito Santo earlier this month, military police went on a weeklong work stoppage that coincided with an upsurge in murders and other crimes. The fear that Rio police would stage a similar strike was so strong that resident Michel Temer has activated 9,000 soldiers to patrol in the state of Rio.
In Rio’s popular commerce areas this week, stores were filled with products but light on customers. Full Carnival costumes, with prices varying between 30 reals (about $10) and 3,000 reals (about $1,000), were not selling. Instead of glittery pieces for revelers to dress as harlequins, policemen, nurses and Wonder Women, party-goers are most concerned about finding a deal.
Claudio Muniz, who manages a Carnival store in downtown Rio, said sales in January were nonexistent and only in recent days have people started looking – for bargains.
“Last year was already bad. People only bought kits,” said Muniz. “We didn’t raise any prices, but people still think it is expensive.”
Homemaker Marina Hill is one of the locals spending less. Last year, she bought two costumes, but this year will buy only one that she plans to wear every day.
“I am not spending more than 150 reais ($55),” she said. “It’s not easy, but not celebrating would be even worse.”
Even some good Carnival news nationwide reflects bad news for Carnival in Rio. Stores in Sao Paulo, the nation’s largest city, project a rise of 6 percent in sales for party-goers. But that is because many people who usually travel to Rio are staying home.
For the vast majority of Cariocas, as Rio residents are known, Carnival celebrations have always been about street parties, called “blocos da rua.”
Even the 451 “blocos” this year may suffer.
“Sponsors are gone, city hall doesn’t help and no one wants to put their personal items like their cars on sale to celebrate Carnival,” said Rita Fernandes, one of the organizers of a “bloco” association. “If there is no help, many of us, including blocos that have been around for 30 years, might be gone soon.”