Rio de Janeiro has changed its image, says Gerard Bourgeaiseau, Rio's secretary of tourism. Making comparisons to New York City, Rio's tourism representatives claim a very real about-face: The city is cleaner, safer, even more fun. More fun in the city that created Carnival?

That might just be. A new mayor came into power in Rio on January 1, 1997, with a focus on tourism. He helped created a new slogan, Rio Incomparable, but, more importantly, improved the city's infrastructure for residents, which has had an important impact on its tourism.

The Copacabana district, famous for its beach resorts, and Rio's other hotel districts are improving as well: Some $78 million is being invested in hotels, including a Meridien, Sheraton, and Marriott Renaissance. In October, four new tourist bus routes started taking visitors to the most fascinating parts of Rio, including the forest in the middle of the city called Tijuca National Park and the Christ the Redeemer & Corcovado statue.

The city's main convention center, Riocentro Convention and Exhibition Center, has doubled in size in the last four years, says Bourgeaiseau, and is capable of handling large technical events, including the regional meetings of American Telecomm.

When Brazil's currency, the real, was devalued in January, hotel rates remained fairly steady, but other services became an extremely good value, says Bourgeaiseau.