Journalism Tech

Hotel Giant Oyo Looks to Rewrite Contracts That Fueled Its Rise

That’s the headline on my most recent story, written with my colleague Phred Dvorak, out Thursday. It begins:

Oyo Hotels and Homes, which built itself into the world’s second-biggest hotel chain by total number of rooms, is phasing out an important tool that fueled its rise.

The India-based company and a key investment by SoftBank Group Corp.’s $100 billion tech fund grew quickly in part by offering independent hotel owners the unusual perk of guaranteed revenues if their hotels joined Oyo’s chain. Many hotels signed up, attracted by the guarantees—sometimes at more than 100% of the previous year’s revenue, according to former Oyo employees. However, some hotels didn’t produce sufficient bookings, leaving Oyo on the hook to meet those revenue levels and resulting in disputes with some hotel owners.

Now, Oyo is ending the practice of awarding those guarantees around the world and instead is rolling out new contracts for its hoteliers without them, Chief Executive Ritesh Agarwal told The Wall Street Journal. The new contracts also raise fees charged to the hotels, according to some hotels and former Oyo employees.

Mr. Agarwal said the company is taking the step largely because the guarantees have served their purpose of convincing hotels that Oyo could boost their occupancy and revenue. But he said Oyo had some problems with the guarantees, particularly in its biggest market of China, and that around 15% of Oyo’s rooms still had them as of the beginning of the year.

“In reflection, we are able to see that minimum guarantees work, but only when they are handled with great care,” he said. Oyo’s share of the money guests pay for their rooms is on average more than 15%, after any losses on the guarantees are subtracted, he said.

Click through to read the rest.

Newley's Notes

NN211: Special Coronavirus Edition + Postcard from Hong Kong

Photo by Steven Wei on Unsplash

Sent as an email newsletter Sunday, March 22.

👋 Hi, friends. Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter containing my recent Wall Street Journal stories, must-read links on tech and life, and funny dog videos.

📬 Not a subscriber yet? Get it here.

With the coronavirus now spreading across the globe, I hope everyone is safe and healthy. And I trust you are doing what you’re no doubt sick of hearing you should be doing:

  • washing your hands (think you’re doing it right? Watch this),
  • practicing social distancing,
  • wearing a facial mask when around others,
  • looking after those who need help, and
  • taking steps to protect your own health in simple ways (eating healthy food, getting enough sleep, exercising).

🇭🇰 Here in Hong Kong, the city’s 7.4 million residents have been grappling with the coronavirus since January. There have been more than 270 coronavirus cases and four deaths.

Some people are working from home. Some are going into the office. Many have no choice but to be out and about, working in restaurants or in shops, or for the government.

Many people are juggling work and family demands (here’s a thoughtful piece on the subject by a WSJ colleague).

😷 Nearly everyone you see out in the streets is wearing a facial mask. People are still taking the subway and riding busses and trolleys, but they’re less crowded than usual.

People are still having picnics, going for hikes, shopping for food.

And they’re also eating out (sans masks). Most restaurants are still fairly crowded in the evenings. Some will take your temperature to make sure you’re not running a fever, take down your name, mobile number and email address, and ask you to confirm you haven’t traveled abroad in recent weeks.

But life continues. Things just take more time to do. People are more cautious. In one month here, however, I have yet to see a single person lose his or her temper in public due to a coronavirus-related issue. After all: Folks here lived through SARS more than 15 years ago.

As the saying goes: It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

🏨 Meanwhile, my newest story, out Thursday, looks at how some hotels are dealing with the pandemic: Do Not Disturb: Hotels Hammered by Coronavirus Offer 14-Day Quarantine Packages. It begins:

With the coronavirus pandemic pummeling global travel, some hotels are employing a new tactic to boost bookings: targeting guests who face lengthy quarantines.

The risky strategy is a reaction to the unprecedented challenge that the world’s hospitality companies now face, with few people traveling and few likely to do so for some time.

And some local color from Hong Kong:

At the Dorsett Wanchai, which describes itself as “a 4.5 star hotel,” a reservations employee said the hotel was receiving dozens of inquiries a day about its 14-day quarantine package. For 9,688 Hong Kong dollars ($1,248), or about $89 per night, guests can book a “Premier Room” with a window that can be opened to let in fresh air, an unusual feature for high-rise hotels in the semiautonomous Chinese city.

Here are ten (nearly all Coronavirus-related, and actually this week more than ten) items worth your time this week:

📈 1) For a continuously updated feed of the most important global coronavirus news, see The WSJ’s dedicated page: Much of our core coronavirus coverage is free for all to read.

We also have a page with graphics showing the disease’s spread.

🦠 2) The latest from us, just out: Global Coronavirus Infection Cases Double in a Week to Pass 300,000

The global spread of the novel coronavirus is accelerating rapidly, with cases of infection doubling in a week to top 300,000 Sunday, pointing to the increasing challenges for governments world-wide as they lock down more people and shut borders.

⚠️ 3) Important read about Covid–19’s severity: A Medical Worker Describes Terrifying Lung Failure From COVID–19 — Even in His Young Patients [ProPublica]

“It first struck me how different it was when I saw my first coronavirus patient go bad. I was like, Holy shit, this is not the flu. Watching this relatively young guy, gasping for air, pink frothy secretions coming out of his tube.”

🎥 4) Striking video – warning, it’s graphic – Italy’s hardest-hit city wants you to see how COVID–19 is affecting its hospitals [Sky News]

💉 5) A look at what’s up with testing in the U.S.: America Needed Coronavirus Tests. The Government Failed [WSJ]

“While the virus was quietly spreading within the U.S., the CDC had told state and local officials its ‘testing capacity is more than adequate to meet current testing demands,’ according to a Feb. 26 agency email viewed by The Wall Street Journal.”

🇺🇸 6) How long will Americans be fighting the coronavirus? [AP]

“‘The best-case scenario is that we have vaccine in 12 or 18 months and then our lives go back to normal,’ Jit said. ‘The worst-case scenario it takes a long time for a vaccine to be developed, and the world is really changed and our lives aren’t the same again.’”

📊 7) On the coronavirus and the economy: Coronavirus-Triggered Downturn Could Cost Five Million U.S. Jobs [WSJ]

“A recession is now all but certain, according to a Wall Street Journal survey of 34 economists, which projects a downturn that would last months at least, and would in some ways rival – and possibly even surpass – the severity of the 2007–09 slump triggered by the housing collapse and subprime loan debacle.”

Bonus link: don’t think we’ve never been uncertain before, Jason Zweig, who writes The WSJ’s “Intelligent Investor” column, says:

"Some commentators have argued that the coronavirus panic is nothing like the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 because, unlike today, policy makers knew exactly what they were doing back then. That’s nonsense. Monetary and political leaders navigated that time not with foresight but with a jury-rigged blend of bluffing, analysis, tinkering, bickering, guesswork and luck. Don’t let yourself be fooled into believing it’s unusual that nobody knows what’s going on right now."

🙏 8) Big picture thoughts: The Doctor Who Helped Defeat Smallpox Explains What’s Coming [Wired]

"Is there in any way a brighter side to this?

Well, I’m a scientist, but I’m also a person of faith. And I can’t ever look at something without asking the question of isn’t there a higher power that in some way will help us to be the best version of ourselves that we could be?"

(Bonus video: Larry Brilliant’s 2006 Ted Talk, “My Wish: Help Me Stop Pandemics.” )

Bonus big-picture link: Coronavirus Will Change the World Permanently. Here’s How. [Politico]

🌟 9) Miscellaneous links, some virus-related, some not:
* Netflix Party: A new way to watch Netflix together;
* 10 Perfect Films to Watch While Stuck at Home;
* Zigsam – The Austrian Cigarette Collection;
* ‘I wear my grandad’s old boxers’: meet the people who haven’t bought clothes for a decade;
* The 48 Hours When Liverpool’s Title Run Screeched to a Halt;
* Cleaning the Ship’s Cargo Hold;
* Locked-Down Lawyers Warned Alexa Is Hearing Confidential Calls

🐕 10) Much-needed dog video the week: This is as good a time as any to tell you that my dog sings along to the Law & Order theme song every time he hears it [Twitter: @pete_schultz].

💡 Quote of the week:

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” – George Eliot

👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,


Journalism Travel

Do Not Disturb: Hotels Hammered by Coronavirus Offer 14-Day Quarantine Packages

That’s the headline on my newest story, which I wrote with my colleague Frances Yoon, out Thursday. It begins:

With the coronavirus pandemic pummeling global travel, some hotels are employing a new tactic to boost bookings: targeting guests who face lengthy quarantines.

The risky strategy is a reaction to the unprecedented challenge that the world’s hospitality companies now face, with few people traveling and few likely to do so for some time.

Hotel occupancy rates have plummeted as coronavirus infections have spread throughout the world. In Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea, where cases started climbing early in the global crisis, occupancy rates have fallen from about 70% or higher in January to as low as 20% this month, according to hotel data tracker STR. Hotels in the U.S. and Europe are now suffering a similar fate, as the pandemic causes widespread shutdowns and travel restrictions across the country.

Click through to read the rest.

Newley's Notes

NN210: Coronavirus Ticktock; Breaking: Markets Tumble; Kratu’s Swan Song

Sent as an email newsletter Monday, March 9.

👋 Hi, friends. Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter containing my recent Wall Street Journal stories, must-read links on tech and life, and funny dog videos.

📬 Not a subscriber yet? Get it here.

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

🚨 1) Breaking: Stock Markets Stay Sharply Lower As Trading Halt Lifts [WSJ]

“U.S. stocks careened on Monday, pushing major indexes closer to bear-market territory as a price war for oil and the fallout from the coronavirus frightened investors, who sought shelter in government bonds and propelled yields to unprecedented lows.”

🦠 2) Coronavirus longread of the week, by my colleagues: How It All Started: China’s Early Coronavirus Missteps [WSJ]

“China’s errors, dating back to the very first patients, were compounded by political leaders who dragged their feet to inform the public of the risks and to take decisive control measures ”

📈 3) Math-related coronavirus video of the week: Exponential growth and epidemics [YouTube/3Blue1Brown]

“A good time for a primer on exponential and logistic growth, no?”

❓ 4) Coronavirus-related AMA of the week: We are a team of medical experts following COVID–19’s progression closely. Ask Us Anything. [Reddit]

“News about the coronavirus outbreak that started in Wuhan, China, is changing rapidly. Our team of experts are here to break down what we know and how you can stay safe.”

🔮 Bonus coronavirus guide: Don’t Panic: The comprehensive Ars Technica guide to the coronavirus [Ars Technica]

“This is a fast-moving epidemic – we’ll update this guide at 3pm EDT every day.”

💻 Bonus WFH-related link: The Coronavirus Is Forcing Techies To Work From Home. Some May Never Go Back To The Office. [Buzzfeed News]

“As the coronavirus spreads in the United States and tech companies ask their workforces to do their jobs from home, some in the industry are looking at the outbreak as a test case for the long-gestating but never-arriving moment when working remotely will broadly replace working in person.”

📱 5) WhatsApp is so popular in Africa, even knock-off versions are used more often than Facebook [Quartz]

“…GB WhatsApp, the most widely used WhatsApp mod across major African markets, allows users operate multiple accounts, restore deleted messages and send and receive larger media files (up to 50 megabytes compared to 16 megabytes on WhatsApp). ”

📹 6) Before Clearview Became a Police Tool, It Was a Secret Plaything of the Rich [New York Times]

“Investors and clients of the facial recognition start-up freely used the app on dates and at parties – and to spy on the public.”

🍴 7) The economics of all-you-can-eat buffets [The Hustle]

“By nature, buffets attract the very customers they wish to avoid: Big eaters with insatiable appetites. Buffets seek to ‘fill the customer’s belly as cheaply and as quickly as possible.’ To do so, they employ a number of research-backed tricks to get people to eat less food…”

🧠 8) Study Shows Low Carb Diet May Prevent, Reverse Age-Related Effects Within the Brain [Stony Brook University News]

“’The bad news is that we see the first signs of brain aging much earlier than was previously thought. However, the good news is that we may be able to prevent or reverse these effects with diet, mitigating the impact of encroaching hypometabolism by exchanging glucose for ketones as fuel for neurons.’”

🗿 9) Truck Crashes Into an Easter Island Statue [New York Times]

“The truck rolled down a slope and hit an ahu, a ceremonial platform where one of the island’s famous statues was already on its side.”

🐶 10) Dog-related video of the week: Dog Still Not Sure What’s Going On, Continues to Have Good Time [Slate]

This is Kratu’s last year at Crufts before retirement, and he made it count, getting up to his old tricks of sniffing and hiding in tunnels and general waywardness before pulling off a spectacular heist right before our eyes.

💡 Quote of the week:

"Don’t stumble over something behind you.” – Unknown

👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,


Newley's Notes

NN209: So…We Moved to Hong Kong!

👋 Hi, friends. Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter containing my recent Wall Street Journal stories, must-read links on tech and life, and funny dog videos.

📬 Not a subscriber yet? Get it here.

🇭🇰 Big news on the personal front: Anasuya and I have moved here to Hong Kong!

Hi from HK!


It’s true!

Hong Kong!

Our three and a half years in India were extremely rewarding. Now it’s time for a new adventure. We are thrilled to be here.

😷 (What’s Hong Kong like, given the coronavirus? So far it’s similar to when I’ve visited before, except that 1) fewer folks seem to be out in public, so the streets are less crowded; 2) the vast majority of people are wearing face masks when they’re on the streets and especially on public transportation, though most people in bars and restaurants aren’t wearing them.)

✍️ As I mentioned on Twitter, I’ll be covering – much like I did from New Delhi – U.S. tech titans and their battles across Asia. It is a beat I have loved exploring from New Delhi and look forward to continuing to write about from this new perch.

🐕 Oh, and since I know many NN readers are fans of Ginger, our beloved New Delhi street dog, I will say this: fret not. She is also, of course, joining us here in HK soon. More on that soon!

On to this week’s NN…

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

🦠 1) The latest on the coronavirus from The WSJ today: Coronavirus Cases Mount as Second Person Dies in U.S.

Health officials are focused on a cluster of confirmed cases in Washington, including the two deaths. Those infections, and several others in states such as Oregon and California – many with no clear path to exposure – signal that there might be wider spread of the virus in some communities, with many cases still undiagnosed. New cases were also reported in New York, Florida and Rhode Island.

Other resources:

The CDC has a good overview of the virus.

And from The WSJ: How to Prepare for the Coronavirus:

“Public health experts advise staying calm and following the same precautions recommended for preventing flu or any other respiratory virus. Stick with the basics: Wash your hands, cover your coughs and sneezes, and stay at home from work or school when you’re sick.”

🗣️ 2) The Coronavirus and How Political Spin Has Worsened Epidemics [New Yorker]

"Throughout history, diseases have posed an unsparing test of political leaders and their fidelity to the facts. According to Howard Markel, a medical historian at the University of Michigan, ’From the political to the purely mercenary, secrecy has almost always contributed to the further spread of a pandemic and hindered public health management.’”

🔮 3) On governments and Covid–19: The virus is coming [The Economist]

Officials will have to act when they do not have all the facts, because much about the virus is unknown. A broad guess is that 25–70% of the population of any infected country may catch the disease. China’s experience suggests that, of the cases that are detected, roughly 80% will be mild, 15% will need treatment in hospital and 5% will require intensive care.

➡️ 4) Absolutely riveting corporate story of the week, by my WSJ colleagues: SoftBank’s Rajeev Misra Used Campaign of Sabotage to Hobble Internal Rivals

His rise to the top of SoftBank Group Corp.’s $100 billion Vision Fund isn’t a traditional tale of corporate ladder-climbing. He succeeded, in part, by striking at two of his main rivals inside SoftBank with a dark-arts campaign of personal sabotage.

The tactics included planting negative news stories about them, concocting a shareholder campaign to pressure SoftBank to fire them and even attempting to lure one of them into a “honey trap” of sexual blackmail, according to people familiar with the matter and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

📚 5) Freeman Dyson, Math Genius Turned Visionary Technologist, Dies at 96 [New York Times]

“‘Life begins at 55, the age at which I published my first book,’ he wrote in ‘From Eros to Gaia,’ one of the collections of his writings that appeared while he was a professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study – an august position for someone who finished school without a Ph.D. The lack of a doctorate was a badge of honor, he said.”

📼 6) Archivists Are Uploading Hundreds of Random VHS Tapes to the Internet [Vice]

“An organization called Vista Group recently uploaded dozens of VHS and cassette tapes from the 90s and early 2000s to the Internet Archive, and the content within is worth a retro-nostalgia trip back to a simpler, weirder, more wavy time.”

🎧 7) The Joy of Watching TV With Headphones On [WSJ]

“I’m not sure why I resisted this sonic refuge for so long. With advances in noise-cancelling tech and Bluetooth’s ease of connectivity with smart TVs, soundbars and streaming devices like Apple TV, headphoned TV fans don’t have to worry about intrusive noise.”

🌟 8) My Ex-Boyfriend’s New Girlfriend Is Lady Gaga [New York Times]

“How do you compare yourself with one of the most famous women in the world?”

🏖️ 9) Wacky internet gem of the week:

“Poolside FM was conceived one awfully rainy summer in the Highlands of Scotland – a virtual vacation, if you will. The audio and video streams are curated to inject a healthy dose of serotonin into your brain.”

🐶 10) Dog video of the week: Double H Canine Training Academy… Epic Service Dog Training Failure [YouTube]

💡 Quote of the week:

“How do you get good ideas? You have a lot of ideas and throw out the bad ones.” – Linus Pauling.

👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,