Review: The Kingsbury Hotel, Colombo

Across Colombo there are a number of hotels under construction (Grand Hyatt Colombo) or planned (Shangri-La Colombo), but at present open international brands seem to be limited to the Hilton Colombo (which is an old property, although recently renovated). In choosing where to stay, we happened on The Kingsbury Hotel. Formerly an InterContinental (a long time ago) and more recently The Ceylon Continental, the hotel is the oldest five star hotel in Sri Lanka’s capital.

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Flights in and out of Colombo seem to predominately be scheduled in the early hours of the morning, so we are arrived at Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport (CMB) shortly 1 am. The hotel’s booth at the airport arranged an out car for the hour or so drive to the hotel. This took us down a deserted tollway (beeping its horn in rapid succession at every vehicle it passed) before turning off and driving through numerous back streets to reach the hotel. This is quite normal, but can surprise a first-time visitor to Sri Lanka.

Arriving at the hotel late in the evening, the hotel looked stunning as we pulled in. It was completely deserted and the hotel looked very peaceful and upscale.

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The lobby has stunning stonework, with high-backed chairs which could have been straight out of Alice in Wonderland.

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We didn’t think much of the service in the hotel bar in the lobby. As a generalisation, we find service isn’t great in hotels in developing countries (and not for lack of staff standing around).

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The rooms here look good, and the bathroom was certainly very elegant (and complete with Bvlgari amenities), but scratch below the surface and you have a 1980s hotel that has had a superficial renovation.

In particular, the hotel doesn’t have a lot in the way of sound proofing. We were awoken by people in the next room merely hours after we had gone to bed. It seems to be a particular characteristic of guests here that they talk loudly (or shriek) in the hallways at all hours. They also allow, perhaps even encourage, their children to play in the hallways during the day as noisily as possible. Construction noise didn’t help either. The more chaotic the city we are in, the more we value peace and quiet when in our hotel room.

Unsurprisingly when we ventured out the back of the hotel to get pictures of the outside of the building, we were pursued by touts. One claimed to be a chef at The Kingsbury Hotel and then claimed to recognise us from breakfast (false obviously, we had breakfast in our room). Obviously not a criticism of the hotel, that is just a fact of where you are.

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There are a number of places to dine in the area, which is a positive. Venturing out the front of the hotel is a great way to get accosted by tuk-tuk drivers that will literally follow you down the street matching your pace touting you.

The hotel is not far from Galle Face Green, which does come alive with people during sunset. It is quite incredible (although you wouldn’t want to touch anything the street vendors there are selling).

The hotel has a nice outdoor pool area. Its worth noting that there is now a new port being built out back of the hotel.

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We found hotel management staff to be very very condescending. “Sir, this is a five star hotel” being their favoured response to requests to address service failings – as if that helped their case. Like many five star hotels, it seems the property gets most of its revenue from locals dining and holding their weddings here and it shows in their approach to service.

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Given the rapid pace of hotel development in Colombo, we would not return to The Kingsbury Hotel Colombo. While it has been renovated to look impressive, it is not in fact an impressive hotel to stay at.

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