Brazil’s “love motels” forced to adapt to coronavirus era

By Nayara Batschke

Sao Paulo, Jun 12 (efe-epa).- Brazil’s emblematic “love motels” have suffered an economic blow from the coronavirus crisis and have had to adapt their services and offer new options for couples, who are still allowed to visit those establishments but are often choosing not to for safety reasons.

Located on the side of highways in the South American nation, these motor inns featuring neon lights and eccentric building designs have become part of the national identity, serving as secret meeting places for couples who reserve a room for an entire night or just a few hours.

But in times of coronavirus, that sector been forced to adjust to a new normal.

In Sao Paulo, a heavily populated southeastern state that has been hard hit by Covid-19, these motels were included on a list of essential businesses that are still allowed to operate during the pandemic, although they have had to adapt rapidly to the restrictions put in place to check the spread of the disease.

While demand has fallen by around 50 percent during the health emergency, these establishments are seeing interest from couples with children who need a romantic break from the stay-at-home routine.

“The main group that’s been coming during the quarantine has been the stable couple looking to get out of the house because they live with relatives and children and want some free time alone, but with safety precautions,” Felipe Martinez, president of the Brazilian Motel Association, said in an interview with Efe.

“They’re people who understand that motels are a type of lodging that pose a lower risk (of infection) precisely because of the lack of human contact and the total privacy from arrival to check out,” he added.

The sector has adopted “rigorous health protocols” that include constantly monitoring employees’ health, maintaining a constant supply of alcohol gel and temporarily prohibiting the parties, meetings and social gatherings that are common at motels, Martinez said.

“We’ve always had very rigorous hygiene protocols but it’s now been intensified, especially among the cleaning staff, who use different personal protective equipment and professional chemical products,” he added.

Several of the motels also only are accepting customers who make their reservations at least 48 hours in advance, are no longer offering rooms that allow interaction with other guests and have imposed a 24-hour wait time between the departure of one couple from a room and the arrival of another.

Brazilian motels sprung up in the 1960s and initially catered to low-income couples who lived in cramped homes with little privacy. But their clientele has since changed dramatically, with some people forking out up to $1,000 to reserve a room for just a couple of hours.

The range of options offered by the “love motels” now include transportation to the establishment by helicopter or Ferrari, unlimited champagne bar access and private parties with DJs and hot tubs.

Some suites feature water slides leading to private heated swimming pools, while others offer meals prepared by acclaimed chefs or 4-D movies on undulating sofas.

But many of the amenities typically offered by these motels have not been available during the pandemic – including on Valentine’s Day, which is celebrated on June 12 in Brazil and is a date when the number of reservations typically soars by 30 percent.

“Every year there’s an increase during this week, but this year it’s obvious that we’re going to be affected. We don’t expect to have the same sales volume that we’ve historically had in other years,” said Martinez, who owns a motel in downtown Sao Paulo.

Amid the pandemic, the love motels have had to reinvent themselves and now are selling gift cards that can be redeemed once the health emergency subsides, exclusive music playlists and a guide for a romantic encounter in one’s own home.

“The idea is that the couple doesn’t need to come here. We want to offer our complete experience for them to enjoy in their own houses,” Martinez said.

And for those wanting a break from their confinement, the establishments are assuring customers that they have stepped up their already-stringent hygiene measures to combat the coronavirus, a disease that in Brazil has infected 800,000 people (confirmed cases) and is blamed for more than 40,000 deaths.

“Each person is fighting this pandemic in a different way, and we have to understand that there are fears, misgivings and different perceptions,” Martinez said, stressing the need to “expand the range (of possibilities).”

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