By Jay Forte, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Many come to the Cidade Maravilhosa and find themselves dreaming up ways to stay, either with extended tourist visa plans or opening a business here. Lance Donald, the Australian owner of the Mango Tree Hostel in Ipanema is one of the success stories, who along with wife Ingrid, renovated a 1930’s colonial-style house just a block from Rio’s most famous beach.
Before coming to Rio, Donald was a software developer for Credit Suisse and Ingrid was a project manager for an Italian kitchen company. Donald shares how the decision was made to open up shop in Rio.
“My half-Brazilian wife and I were fed up with our jobs in London. In 2005 we were on a three-day whitewater rafting trip on the Apurimac river in Peru where the idea took hold of opening a hostel in Rio after talking about the sector with another tourist who had just come from [Rio].”
Like most successful business ventures the idea was developed over time, with careful deliberation. Donald details, “Once back in London we began planning and researching and from there we were fairly certain Ipanema offered the best location for a successful business.”
The Ipanema location seems perfect, on the corner of Rua Prudente de Morais (which runs parallel one block from the beach) and Rua Vinícius de Moraes, where the famous Garota do Ipanema restaurant is. It is also right around the corner from Posto 9, considered to be one of the hippest points on the beach, frequented by surfers, skateboarders and the tattooed.
Yet anyone who has been down this path knows that, especially in Brazil, the execution of a great concept is as important as the idea itself, if not more-so. Donald describes, “Well, the property was a mess. It had one shower and two toilets, and I don’t think it had had any work done on it for thirty years.”
He continues, “It took five months to renovate it to create eight private rooms (five with ensuite), four dorm rooms, four communal bathrooms and a new kitchen. […] The process of getting our operating license (alvara) took four years as we had to sort out issues with the property being turned into commercial from residential.”
Finally, Donald continues, “Then there was the bombeiros fire safety certification which also took a substantial amount of time. Despite all that, opening the doors a few days before Carnival in 2007 was exciting, and it remains one of our favorite Carnivals as the hostel was full, and with people who had made last minute decisions to come as we only began advertising two weeks before opening.”
In 2013 the Mango Tree expanded with a second location on Ilha Grande, and Donald explains how it came to pass. “We were good friends with the owner of a well known hostel on the island and had thought about the possibility over the years, I mean, who wouldn’t want to own a guesthouse on a tropical island?”
Ultimately it proved more of an administrative and operational challenge than hoped, and after a of couple years the decision was made to sell off their part of it. “While it was a nice place to spend weekends while doing a bit of work, […] when we received an offer for our share we accepted and sold it in July last year. We do miss it a bit, but it is nice not to have the added compliance burden.”
Now fully focused on Ipanema, Donald shares, “We have an exciting period coming up with the Olympics as we have rented it to a European team for their competitors that are competing in Zona Sul. After that we expect to just keep doing what we have been doing and ensure we are offering an exceptional hostel to both new guests and the long list of regular and returning guests we have.”