First World problems: luxury guests' gripes in the world's worst cities

"No man is an island," wrote the Elizabethan poet John Donne. But this may not be true of hotels.

Every traveller knows that accommodation can be either a reflection of the city around it, or a refuge from its challenges. 

A cheap backpacker's hostel in the back streets of a South-East Asian town is part of its environment; noisy, colourful and open to the street and interacting with passing locals.

By contrast, a hotel can seem like an embassy from another world – with a carefully orchestrated serenity aided by décor, light, sound and even scent.

Nowhere is this contrast stronger than in the world's "least liveable" cities, as defined by The Economist's famous annual liveability survey. Top-rated cities such as Melbourne and Vancouver celebrate their placings, but what's it like to stay in the bottom-rated locales?

Drawing on the Australian government's Smartraveller travel safety resource and recent guest quotes about highly-rated hotels on the popular travel website TripAdvisor, here's a study in contrasts in five of The Economist's least liveable cities.

It's fair to conclude that, even when a city has problems on a serious scale, guests still focus on the small stuff. Call it First World problems in Third World countries.

Tripoli, Libya 

Smartraveller: "We strongly advise you not to travel to Libya due to the high threat of terrorist attack, the ongoing threat of kidnapping and the unpredictable security situation throughout the country."

TripAdvisor users: 


"The hotel has two pools (indoor and outdoor) which are both great, but it is important to remember that no alcohol is served within Libya; so don't think that you can lounge by the pool and drink pina coladas." (Corinthia Hotel Tripoli)

"The only thing I was not happy with was the long walk from your car to the doors... There must be 60 wide steps just to get to the main doors and then depending on what tower you are staying in, another ways to go." (Corinthia Hotel Tripoli)

"On the down side, wi-fi was available in the room but the code needed to be updated regularly, and service itself also often needed resetting." (Awal Hotel)

Harare, Zimbabwe 

Smartraveller: "We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Zimbabwe at this time due to the risk of crime and potential for civil unrest and political violence."

TripAdvisor users:

"Breakfast with cooked-to-order eggs was also good, although for long stays it becomes quite monotonous. Maybe they could add some other options like pancakes or French toasts or hot sandwiches?" (Bronte Hotel)

"We wanted to go have a drink and a cigarette in one of the bars, and they now had all no-smoking - in a country that depends on tobacco to survive." (Meikles Hotel)

"As I try to make small efforts towards conservation, I was disappointed that the hotel provided a local newspaper to every guest - I would suggest they enquire on check-in if the guest would like to receive a copy of the newspaper." (Crowne Plaza)

Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

Smartraveller: "We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Papua New Guinea because of the high levels of serious crime. Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks."

TripAdvisor users:

"The guest rooms are spacious and well-appointed but do have the occasional mosquito buzzing around, so it's worth asking for a can of spray to treat the room of an evening." (Airways Hotel)

"The breakfast buffet is richly garnished, but is not included in the room rate. Considering the price and being in a tropical country, I expect some exotic fruits and not only pineapple and papaya." (Grand Papua Hotel)

"All the [positive] reviews must have been written by trekkers who had eaten packaged rations for seven days on the trail - the food was overcooked, had to send the eggs back every breakfast." (Loloata Island Resort)

Dhaka, Bangladesh 

Smartraveller: "We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution. Although the overall security situation in Bangladesh has improved since the general elections, further strikes, transport blockades and violent clashes between political groups are possible."

TripAdvisor users:

"If I really need to be fussy, I would prefer to have the shower be separated from the bath." (Six Seasons Hotel)

"Complete rip off for a buffet dinner that does not offer complimentary beverages like juices or mineral water." (Radisson Blu Water Garden Hotel)

"Air-conditioning seems a little colder than what the thermostat states - I turned up the temperature to 26 degrees most days and it still felt chilly." (Westin Dhaka)

Douala, Cameroon 

Smartraveller: "We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Cameroon overall because of the risk of terrorist attack, political uncertainty and high levels of serious crime."

Trip Advisor users:

"The pool area is quite nice for relaxing and poolside dinner, but maybe the pool is not big enough for lap swimming." (Starland Hotel)

"The supplied pillows on the bed were very thick and hard, it was very difficult to try and fall asleep." (Planet Hotel)

"The self-service breakfast buffet has a good variety of hot and cold foods, as well as tasty breads and pastries. The selection of local fruit was different every morning and always yummy!" (Starland Hotel)

Thank heavens for the fruit.