Home truths The last time I paid to stay in a private home while travelling abroad was in 1989. I’d just spent the better part of a week on the Trans-Siberian Railway from Beijing and was met on a freezing Moscow station platform by my impoverished and rather grudging Soviet host. The absence of a bath or shower both on the train and in my temporary new home forced me to wash my feet (and not much else) in the bowl of a very old toilet, with a sugar-lump-sized cube of carbolic soap. Thus abluted – and having dried off with back issues of Pravda – I went to see the Bolshoi Ballet, determined to explore the homestay experience no further. Consequently, I never had much interest in using Airbnb, and probably never will, but for the many who do, a new book called The Airbnb Story lifts the lid on this multibillion-dollar business empire.
Written by Leigh Gallagher, an assistant managing editor at Fortune magazine, and subtitled How Three Ordinary Guys Disrupted an Industry, Made Billions ... and Created Plenty of Controversy, it will be available at amazon.com in hardcover and for Kindle on February 14. In the meantime, an introductory video and article can be found at fortune.com/airbnb-travel-mission-brand. Also take a look at comedian Adam Conover’s take on the downsides of Airbnb (below).
Forgotten capital The Mövenpick Hotel Colombo opened last month, claiming to be the Sri Lankan capital’s “first five-star hotel in 25 years”. That’s a remarkable gap for the capital city of a country that has seen tourist arrivals quadruple to more than two million over the past seven years, has long had a booming boutique-hotel scene and which regularly tops travel magazine and website must-visit polls.
The earlier five-star hotel referred to by Mövenpick is the now retro-style Hilton Colombo, which actually opened closer to 30 years ago, in September 1987. (The Mövenpick Hotel’s claim would have been accurate had it opened on time, in 2013.) As well as perceived widespread corruption, this three-decade luxury-hotel drought can be partly blamed on the country’s 1983-2009 civil war, and more international brands should be opening – also a few years late – in the city this year. A Sheraton is scheduled for June, a Shangri-La is slated for the third quarter and a Grand Hyatt might be open by December, although that’s been on the cards since 2003.
Opening rates at the 216-room, 24-storey Mövenpick Hotel start from about HK$1,100 per night, and will be available until the end of March. See www. movenpick.com/colombo for further details.
Holding the fort Occupying a once-crumbling fort in the Indian state of Rajasthan, the magnificent-looking Alila Fort Bishangarh will be soft opening at the end of this month, prior to an official launch in April. Well over two centuries old, the fort was in a poor state of repair when work began to shore it up and add outbuildings and accommodation floors several years ago. With a pleasant hilltop location providing a 360-degree view of the surrounding region, the luxurious 59-suite property is about a three-hour drive southwest of Delhi.
A new service with Thai Airways’ subsidiary airline Thai Smile offers a more convenient route from Hong Kong, via Bangkok, to Jaipur, which is only about one hour south of Fort Bishangarh by car. Go to www.alilahotels.com/fortbishangarh for more information.
Deal of the week Two very different hotels get Westminster Travel’s two-night Shanghai package started, from HK$1,860 per person. First we have the Magnificent International Hotel, which, perhaps not surprisingly, is neither magnificent nor international. Reviews on TripAdvisor (where it ranks at 2,398 out of 4,672 hotels in Shanghai at time of writing) include headlines such as “Don’t even bother. Just don’t” and “Avoid this hotel at all cost!” The second choice is the Pentahotel Shanghai, which is as good a place as you will find in the city for that price, and was one of the first “Millennial-friendly” hotels to open in China back in 2008. If it’s fully booked, the Okura Garden Hotel, in the French Concession, is also a good choice from HK$2,450.
For a full list of hotels and to make reservations, click Packages and go through the dropdown menus until you get to Shanghai at www.westminstertravel.com. Prices for this package, which will be available until the end of April, include flights with Cathay Dragon.