Anyone for a game of badminton and a round of emerald-hunting in Pakistan’s Swat Valley? Or perhaps you fancy a beach resort on the shores of Lake Kivu, just minutes from the Democratic Republic of Congo?
The March/April issue of Foreign Policy features an interesting story and photo gallery on the luxury Serena hotel chain, which they dub the “Ritz Carlton of Failed States.” The chain, which originated in Africa in the 70s, operates luxury hotels in a variety of dodgy places, including Pakistan, Kabul, Rwanda, Tajikistan, Mozambique and others. The Serena hotels are operated by an economic development fund founded by the Aga Khan, a spiritual leader for Shia Ismaili Muslims.
FP reports the Kabul Serena (see photo above), which has been attacked three times has rooms that start at $356 per night. The chain has been criticized for partnering with the Assad regime in Syria on the development of hotels in Damascus and Aleppo, but Aga Khan told FP that the company’s involvement in conflict zones brings “an investment seal of approval” that helps attract more foreign investment. The hotels also create jobs in countries with high unemployment.
But is there something unseemly about a luxury hotel which features “holistic health and wellness services,” a pastry shop, swimming pool, a “mind, body and spirit spa,” and other amenities in an impoverished, failed state like Afghanistan? FP’s slideshow juxtaposes scenes of opulence at the Serena hotels with images of children sorting through trash, smoldering buildings, and tin roof shacks.
One can certainly quibble with the high prices and unnecessary luxuries of these hotels, but the notion that aid workers, journalists, government officials, and businessmen should stay in slum-like conditions while traveling to conflict states is far-fetched. The reality is that many of these people are stuck in very primitive, dangerous conditions, sometimes for weeks, months or even years, and only get to repair to places like the Serena hotels for well-deserved R & R’s.
I certainly wouldn’t begrudge a Medicins Sans Frontieres volunteer who spent the last six months treating sick children in the Congo a long weekend at the luxury Serena resort in Rwanda. That said, a case can be made that holing foreigners up in luxury hotels allows them to exist in a fairytale bubble, where they are insulated from what’s going on in the country at large. What do you think?
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.