AMSTERDAM - A filthy hotel room and food poisoning are definitely up there on the list of things that can ruin a trip. But for the Hans Brinker Budget Hotel in Amsterdam, they are part of the sales pitch -- proud to be dubbed the "worst hotel in the world."
The low-cost establishment has enjoyed 16 years of success thanks to its confrontational, negative advertising. The approach has regularly attracted guests who want to see for themselves if the place is as awful as it claims to be.
A “legal note” posted on the hotel’s website states that guests book there "at their own risk and will not hold the hotel liable for food poisoning, mental breakdowns, terminal illness, lost limbs, radiation poisoning, certain diseases associated with the 18th century, plague, etcetera.”
The website describes the Brinker as a “cheap, dirty, cold, poorly lit youth hostel” that offers a "rusty bed" in an "awkwardly shaped dormitory" and “spectacularly un-spacious suites, each of which does not feature a flat-screen TV, a double bed or free access to our non-existent swimming pool and spa area." Is this painful honesty or a savvy branding gag? No one has died of plague at the Brinker (yet), but one thing is for sure: more run-down and scruffy would be hard to find. And guests just keep on booking.
"Some people bring sleeping bags with them," says marketing manager Dave Bell. "They’re surprised that we actually have mattresses and give us a positive evaluation."
Well – maybe sometimes. Sites like Tripadvisor and Hostelbookers.com tell a different tale, of ignorant staff, bad breakfasts, bedbugs; small, dirty towels, hardly any water coming out of the showerheads; hairs from previous guests in the beds, torn sheets, missing toilet lids.
Questionable, but functional
But guests can hardly complain – the hotel has, after all, kept its promises. According to Bell, "We see it this way-- for the Brinker, a bad evaluation is a good evaluation."
It is also true that a night here is cheap -- €22.50 is the cheapest option (in an eight-bed room). Every room has a toilet and shower. “The quality of the showers is questionable,” says the small print when you book via the hotel website, “but they do normally work.”
Other features of the establishment, which is named after the fairy-tale Hans Brinker, a Dutch boy who stuck his finger in a dyke to stop a leak and prevented a flood, include a “concrete courtyard,” “intermittently open canteen,” and a “basement bar with limited light and no fresh air” and “watered-down beer.”
"You often see our hotel referred to as 'the worst hotel in the world,'" Bell says. "In actual fact, it’s a more or less clean hotel in a central location. Of course it has its shadow side: basic plumbing, windows looking onto a wall, and cleaners who sometimes wake guests up at ungodly hours of the morning."
It all started with a book called The Worst Hotel in the World, a caricature of the high-gloss luxury publications sometimes produced by the posh hotels of this world. The book brags about “even more dog shit at the entrance,” “even more noise,” and “even less service,” and sums up the vibe as "similar to hell but without the heating.”
How does the hotel react to serious complaints from guests? It doesn’t. Instead of undertaking costly improvements, the policy is to take the complaint and use it as a marketing plus-point. According to Bell, "Anybody who books at the Brinker knows what they’re getting into." The hotel business, with its penchant for glossing things over, could actually learn a thing or two from that.