The Survival Guide to Kabul©

Published internationally in July 2003 as Kabul: The Bradt Mini Guide.

First published in Kabul in September 2002 as a pamphlet.

 

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Hotels Update

June 2004

 

From June 2004 issue of Afghan Scene Magazine

 

Hotels in Kabul are not exactly the centre of attraction as in other capital cities. But there are major developments on the horizon, they just won’t be seen for a while yet.

 

For the last two years the Intercontinental has been the only place close to an international hotel. Years of war damage, journalists hanging out, cameramen jumping in the swimming pool when there was no water, suspicious killings involving Afghans, US and UK arms dealers/security service personnel have all added to the aura around the hotel.

 

Elsewhere in the city, for a time in 2002 the Hotel Kabul was open but then it closed for renovation and has remained shut ever since. The hotel is now being transformed into a Serena Hotel and is due to open in August 2004. And the Mustafa Hotel in the centre of the city has its own strange attraction and boasts a full occupancy list most of the time with new UN workers based there before they move to other accommodation.

 

In April 2004 the ground breaking ceremony for the Hyatt Hotel across from the US Embassy took place. President Karzai and the US Ambassador donned hard hats and Zalmay Khalilzad announced: “The Hyatt will quickly become a focal point for international and Afghan business leaders.”

 

The Hyatt may well become such a focal point, but it will take 18 months to complete and most people suspect that the US Embassy and the CIA will book all the rooms for themselves as the over crowded embassy compound reaches bursting point. The tunnel under the Great Massood Road will then protect the mass of commuters from the Hyatt to the Embassy.

 

So for now the Intercontinental and the Mustafa Hotel have little competition at the different levels of price scale in Kabul. Wais Faizi, manager of the Mustafa says: “I’ve always wanted people to feel the Mustafa is a home for them. Our guests stay long term, they build friendships with other guests and the staff and they always come back again and again. The other hotels being built will be sterile and far too expensive for the Kabul market. They’ll just charge high prices and be guaranteed accommodation for UN and embassy staff.”

 

The Intercon has undergone a complete refit on all five floors. Rooms with swipe cards range in price from $84 to $472 for the Khyber suite. Though with the Osama Bin Laden watch ongoing, news crews love the Khyber suit with its fifth floor location and high vantage views on both sides of the hotel (and the party opportunities such a view offers).

 

The South African Director of Food and Beverage, Albert Bester, says: “In the next two years there will be more hotel openings in Kabul but not much in the next year is happening. There will probably be more guesthouses opening. But guests say they prefer staying in hotels. Lots of people want their own bathrooms and they’re looking for security, that’s the main thing.”

 

The Intercon has reportedly had a $10 million refit in the last two years after Dubai Freecom Trading, which owns the Sheraton in Dubai, moved in with a deal with the Afghan Government. Room occupancy for the 199 rooms has been overbooked sometimes. Though after a bomb in November 2003 there was a mass exodus for a week or so.

 

The food on offer is improving. The buffet lunch on Fridays is popular with Afghans and foreigners alike, when sometimes more than 350 people are catered for. A new Talk of the Town Café is on the way and a combo restaurant with Greek, Lebanese, Italian and American food will be put into the old Indian Bukhara restaurant. There are no plans at the moment to serve alcohol in the hotel.

 

Parts of the hotel are still to be developed. The swimming pool isn’t open yet and the pumping room needs a complete refit. Then the management will need to get their head around near naked swimmers in Kabul.

 

The fitness centre is open twice a day and has a $50 monthly membership fee for non guests but new equipment will be needed to get it up to the ISAF HQ Fitness Zone standard.

 

There’s a sauna, massage and beauty care from the popular Thai girls and the Business centre is linked with internet ($5 an hour) and faxes.

 

In this post war world, conferences and workshops are an everyday part of life in Kabul. The Intercon has hosted its fair share and the Kandahar Ballroom and conference rooms are always full with Afghan wedding parties - most weekends up to 500 people are charged $8 a head for a wedding.

 

The Intercontinental has now dropped the “K” logo (so foreign brunch guests won’t have the chance to steal all the cutlery any more!) and the hotel has adopted the “I” logo of the Intercon chain. Within two years, management say, they should be ready to join the Six Continents Group Intercontinental chain of hotels.

 

As for new developments, the Hyatt is a long way off but Kabul is waiting with baited breath for the revamped Serena. In November 2002 the Aga Khan Development Network launched a $25 million refit of the 1930s built hotel, most famous for the assassination of the US Ambassador. 160 rooms will be open and the plans show that the whole of the bank street down to Pashtoonistan Square will become a pedestrian zone.

 

In the meantime the Intercontinental dominates the high end of Kabul hotel life.

 

كابل، افغانستان

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