When you try to look at the chronicle of life on Earth, you can't help but feel that everything in this world comes full circle. Doctors are encouraging natural remedies before prescribing advanced medicine, the system of capitalism is increasingly being recognised as dehumanising and the sufferers are clamouring for a socially benevolent economy, and the days when a lone traveller in an alien land can seek refuge in the house of a random citizen are back.
Not quite like that though – you have to have an email account first. But the idea is to utilise that social connection and trust to provide accommodation to people who, for one reason or many, would prefer not to stay at a hotel while abroad. The now well-known hospitality service broker, Airbnb, was founded on the same principle.
People can list their apartment/house with Airbnb, which then enables tourists to request lodging at that residence. The host is free to set the price he wants. With over a staggering three million lodging listings across 191 countries, you are likely to find one in all unlikely places, even in Old Dhaka.
The man who opened up an Airbnb listing in Old Dhaka two years ago is Suman Roy. A media professional by weekdays and a tour guide by weekends, Suman listed his house on Airbnb purely because of his passion for other cultures and ways of life. But opening up the listing is not Suman's only achievement, neither is it his most remarkable. Before getting into what makes his little hosting service an attraction, learning about Suman would be helpful.
An avid reader of all travel books ('even Lonely Planet', he quips), Suman found out about Airbnb in a magazine. He then quickly set up the lodging and waited. But nothing happened.
Suman and Lopa's extraordinary passion and care for the guests earned Suman the 'Superhost' medal on Airbnb
He had forgotten about the whole thing, until after eight months from putting up the listing, someone called. “It was an American guy who was a pilot. He wanted to visit Dhaka for just a day but had a very small budget,” Suman recalled.
Suman picked up the guest at the airport with his bike, brought him back home in Old Dhaka and showed him around. This was the beginning of hosting for Suman and his wife Lopa Roy two years ago. Since then, Suman and Lopa have hosted numerous guests from many different countries and of many different nationalities.
Suman and Lopa's extraordinary passion and care for the guests earned Suman the 'Superhost' medal on Airbnb. Suman humbly refuses any credit on his part other than being passionate about what he does.
Despite being born and brought up in Old Dhaka and growing up with the knowledge of a native, Suman did not realise how much he didn't know until he started to seriously read about the history of Old Dhaka. “I can now visualise the transformation the old places have come through,” he said.
Even though he had been able to show around and answer all questions from his guests when he first started doing this, some of the questions asked by the guests left Suman unsatisfied and he embarked upon a quest to gather more knowledge about his birthplace. He bought all the history books he could find and started going out for walks every morning with his DSLR. He took pictures of old buildings and combined his knowledge from reading with his experience from exploring.
As a result, Suman can now help his guests see those visual images he can construct from his reading and exploring. And that is part of what makes his guests' stay so gratifying. His wife Lopa also offers classical dance lessons to guests who are interested.
“I loved Suman's tour of the unseen corners of their neighbourhood. Lopa and Suman are why I use Airbnb,” wrote Yasmin from Toronto, Canada on the Airbnb site.
Jarvis from Singapore said that Lopa and Suman took care of him like family and he “had the chance to discover an authentic old Dhaka experience, this is as real and as good as it gets.”
The great service and unique experience this couple offers continue to attract travellers from across the globe. Emma from Los Angeles, California, wrote in her review that the couple showed her a magical part of Dhaka that she never would have discovered without them. “I can't even quite put into words how moving this experience was for me,” Emma wrote.
The reviews on Suman's Airbnb page cannot stop singing praises for his hospitality. Suman provided an “incredible information loaded and personalised tour of Old Dhaka from a lifelong residents perspective,” wrote Tony from Boston, Massachusetts. Jamie from Sydney, New South Wales, Australia wrote that she and her co-travellers not only had a blast but “made an extended family in Bangladesh.”
When asked if he would be interested to start an Old Dhaka guided tour service for domestic tourists, Suman said that he is interested, and has been planning it for some time. Having a full time job however, he is uncertain if he will ever be able to materialise those plans. But Suman dreams on.