I’ve stayed in some pretty horrible hotels in my day, a few that should have been condemned by God as well as the local health authority.
On a package deal to the Dominican Republic I was assigned an unpainted cinder-block cell with a bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling and a curtain for a door. Across the road was a bar furnished with car seats where the hookers hung out.
In Chalk Farm, a suburb of London, England I stayed in a Bed & Breakfast that had neither a bed or breakfast but a pullout couch in a closet with a laundry tree outside the door used to hang your clothes.
Near Djamma El Fna Square in Marrakesh, Morocco I stayed in what amounted to a boarding house with bales of hay for beds and a washroom that was down the hall, out the door and in the building next door.
I once stayed in a shabby motel that formed a semi-circle in front of the screen of a drive-in theatre. It was late and the electricity was off when I checked in. I woke up looking at twenty TV’s all piled against one wall where they’d been stored for safekeeping over the winter. The tap dripped all night and the toilet overflowed in the morning.
Yes, I’ve slept in fields along the Mediterranean coast of Spain that were more attractive than a lot of hotels I’ve checked into.
In Amsterdam I stayed in a hippy hotel in the 70’s – all wood, narrow staircase and the fire escape was a thick rope tied to the roof and running past my window to the street below. And everybody smoked dope in their rooms all night.
But this might as well have been The Royal York compared to that other hotel in Amsterdam, the baddest hotel in all the land, the worst hotel in the world.
“Welcome to the Hans Brinker Budget Hotel, Amsterdam. This hotel has been proudly disappointing travelers for forty years. Boasting levels of comfort comparable to a minimum-security prison, the Hans Brinker also offers some plumbing and an intermittently open canteen serving a wide range of dishes based on runny eggs.”
And that’s not a client complaint, that’s a rousing endorsement from the Hans Brinker Hotel itself.
This hotel is not just horrible; it’s popular, famous and frequently filled to capacity with backpackers. Why? Because of a checklist of amenities, few other hotels have.
• A basement bar with limited light and no fresh air.
• A concrete courtyard with high buildings on either side.
• An elevator that hardly ever breaks down between floors.
• A bar serving slightly watered-down beer.
• Amusing witticisms about guests’ sexual preferences scrawled on most surfaces.
• A Luxury Ambassadorial Suite featuring the Hans Brinker one and only bathtub.
• Doors that lock.
Room service is described as a bag of chips left behind by yesterday’s guests. The window curtains are designated “eco-towels.” The bridal suite is a room with two separate bare bunks and there’s a “Dust Hall Of Fame” in the lobby. “Stairs, not lifts,” the management assures guests, “open windows not air conditioners, and no clean towels.” Hotel motto: “Similar to hell but without the proper heating.”
Seriously, how did this dungeon become an icon of Amsterdam tourism and the subject of a bestselling book The Worst Hotel In The World? Honestly in advertising.
I know that sounds like an oxymoron in today’s world – people trying to sell you something in which by telling you the truth – but it worked 15 years ago when an ad firm took over the hotel’s ad account. Realizing the Hans Brinker company was not going to renovate or in any way enhance the clean and cheap hotel they were quite proud of, the ad firm of KessellsKramer went crazy with the world’s rarest commodity – ‘honesty.
Ridiculing fancy boutique hotels, the Hans Brinker presented its own objects d’art display with a fork with a missing prong, a three-legged chair and a mug with the handle chipped off.
Shoving it into the face of five-star hostelries, the Hans Brinker Budget Hotel boasted: “Spas, room service, luxury products, an award-winning restaurant and fitness center – all things we must avoid in order to save the planet.
The ad campaign started slow. “Now A Door In Every Room.” And later “Now A Bed In Every Room.”
Then it ramped up a bit with “Now Even Less Service” and then ‘Now Even More Noise.”
Then it got ridiculous, “Now 5 Watts Extra In Every Light Bulb.”
Then it went off the rails: “Now Even More Dog Poop Near Our Main Entrance.”
As a result of the ad campaign bookings at the hotel doubled, Eric Kessels became an industry celebrity and every backpacker headed for Holland wants to stay at the World’s Worst Hotel if only for the bragging rights.
Never having given a thought to telephones in the room, mini-bars, satellite TV’s or fridges, the Hans Brinker now considers itself the most accidental, eco-friendly hotel on the planet.
“Leave your dirty towels on the rack, we won’t wash them. Throw them on the floor, we still won’t wash them.”
The Hans Brinker Budget Hotel is hardly resting on its laurels or standing pat with the good hand it’s been dealt. New motto and solemn promise to its customers in the future. ‘We can’t get any worse, but we will do our best.”