* Indonesia hoteliers eye emerging middle class

By Susan Cunningham
HotelNewsNow.com correspondent

BANGKOK—Fueled by steady economic growth exceeding 6% annually, the rise of Indonesia’s middle class and its impact on the hotel landscape were prominent themes at Travel Trends’ No Vacancy conference in Bangkok last week.

Of the 248 million people in Indonesia, approximately 20%–50 million–now belong to the middle class, said Sonia Kapoor, client service director for Nielsen Singapore. Now compiling between $4 and $20 each day to save or spend on leisure activities, members of this group will comprise 50% of the population by 2030, she predicted.

The number of new hotels being built or in the pipeline is unknown. The breakdown of travelers also is hazy, but Scott Blume, group CEO of PT Raja Kumar International, provided an estimate: “At least 25% is probably business travel and the travelers are staying in the 3- to 3-and-a-half-star range hotels. That’s 400,000 to 500,000 rupiah, or about $40.” … MORE

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* Deals and developments in Sri Lanka

Cliff-side Kandalama Hotel (Aitken Spence), a Bawa design in central Sri Lanka

          Geoffrey Bawa-designed Heritance Kandalama in Cultural Triangle

Sri Lanka’s hotels have been far from the international spotlight for 30 years, but the country accumulated a sizable inventory during the 1960s and 1970s. More than 500 Sri Lankan hotels and other types of lodging are listed on online booking sites. There are approximately 70 listed just for the Bentota-Kalutara beach strip southwest of Colombo.

Here are some companies that have announced sizable investments for renovations or new builds since the end of the country’s civil war in 2010.

Jetwing Hotels Limited

Jetwing Hotels will build six hotels by 2014, adding to its existing stable of 12, according to Jetwing Chairman Hiran Cooray. Forty-year old Jetwing, which also runs outbound tours, already operates the largest number of hotels in the country with a total of approximately 520 rooms. Cooray said Jetwing will spend $18 million … more

I can tell that many people arrive at this page looking for more about the works of architect Geoffrey Bawa, who designed the magnificent Kandalama Hotel (pictured above), among many other buildings in Sri Lanka and Asia. I initially had some details, but they were deleted in the editing process. While the images in this slideshow are mediocre, there’s a good summary of the reasoning driving Bawa’s choices at Kandalama. And here’s a denser, scholarly analysis of Kandalama from ArchNet. 

* Motoring with Mohammed: Living La Vida Yemeni

Motoring with Mohammed
by Eric Hansen (Vantage)
Reviewed by Susan Cunningham

Eric Hansen, the intrepid, foolhardy author of Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo, is back with adventures from a beguiling corner of the Middle East. Back in 1978, after a yacht-wreck in the Red Sea, he was stranded for two weeks on an uninhabited island off the coast of North Yemen. Rescued after two weeks by a boatload of amiable Eritrean arms smugglers, he left buried on the island a pile of notebooks that he had compiled during seven years of bumming around Greater Asia.

Most of Motoring with Mohammed: Journeys to Yemen and the Red Sea takes place a decade later when Hansen returns with the hope of recovering his notebooks. His plans to revisit the island are stymied by bureaucracy, military security zones, and rumors of the presence of Yasser Arafat. Fortunately, Hansen rapidly loses his sense of mission as he falls into the rhythms of the Yemeni male lifestyle. This demands spending a large part of each day chewing a hallucinogenic leaf qat.
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* Thailand: Data suggests supply/demand mismatch

By Susan Cunningham
HotelNewsNow.com Correspondent

BANGKOK—Tourism in Thailand has bounced back strongly since the global meltdown of 2009, despite continuing economic doldrums in Western countries and Thailand’s continuing political instability.

New source markets have momentum, tourism revenue was up 8% last year and more than 18,000 hotel rooms will enter the market within the next three years. Yet the mood in Bangkok earlier this month at TravelTrends.biz’s “No Vacancy” conference was cautious—even somber.

“There’s a disconnect between luxury hotels and growth in mass tourism,” said Bill Barnett, managing director of Phuket-based consultancy C9 Hotelworks. “There’s a disconnect when it comes to infrastructure … MORE

* How to visit the Thai market where a train drives through


After I saw this startling video of a Thai market ebbing and  flowing over the tracks of a train, I had many questions. Where was the market? Could I visit it? What is the history of this line? I’ve found a few answers but I’d love to know more about the line’s history.

The train line began running some time before World War II as a freight line, hauling coal from the coast to Bangkok. As for the rest of the answer:  You can’t reach it from Hualampong, Bangkok’s central train station. Nor from Bangkok Noi, the small station on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River, where the train to Kanchanaburi and the River Kwai departs. Continue reading

* Biking the wilds of Bangkok

Bicycling atop a clogged canal, slapped by the branches of tea trees and buzzed by cicadas, is a rejuvenating experience. A little bit jungle, a little bit village, Bang Kra Jao takes only a few minutes to reach from southeastern Bangkok by hopping a longtail boat across the Chao Phraya River. Because it’s a protected conservation area, this spit of greenery …

This piece appeared in the November 2008 issue of Reader’s Digest Asia.

* Bangkok by Night: three lively neighborhoods

It’s a shame that Bangkok’s “notorious nightlife” has been so profusely publicized. Many visitors probably confine themselves to their hotels in the evening and then flee the city the next day. Actually, Bangkok nightlife is so extensive that prostitution and sex shows occupy only a dreary corner.

From all walks of life, Thais take their food, fun, music, drinking, dancing and conviviality very seriously. Nightlife venues run into the thousands. So don’t conclude that the following glimpse of three very different neighborhoods is in any way exhaustive. The surface has been barely nicked. What can be said is that these are three long-running neighborhoods that will deliver sanuk (fun) wanderings and meetings with ordinary, chatty Thai people.

Upper Silom Road

It’s impossible to pinpoint Bangkok’s coolest neighborhood. The trendsetters are just too fickle. But Silom Soi 4 and Silom Soi 2–two lanes jutting off the east end of Silom Road–somehow endure while more fabulous spots are fuzzy memories. These two small lanes are great for people-watching and Continue reading