BERGEN OP ZOOM - The oldest hotel in the Netherlands cherishes its guestbook. In De Draak, Willem-Alexander and Máxima signed in a royal way. Herman Brood fluttered his self-portrait. Dries van Agt composed a detailed letter of thanks to the establishment in Bergen op Zoom.
Frans Hazen is still an old-fashioned host. Neatly dressed in a suit, royal decoration on his lapel, he manages the affairs of the hotel De Draak with great hand but with a steady hand, which he has been running for 35 years with his wife Trix. Such an eloquent hotelier who has an eye on everything, especially the needs of his guests.
Diagonally in front of the reception of the historic establishment (traced to 1397) is a modern display cabinet. Finally, it only opens if people want to put their thoughts on paper after their stay. Like King Willem-Alexander and Máxima complimented the hotel on their working visit to Bergen op Zoom three years ago.
"That is great, of course, but we are also proud of ordinary people who have had a good time with us," Hazen browses through the hundreds of pages of the two blazing leather registers that he has. The oldest is almost full, the newest is the one with the royal signatures. "Most people now want to write in it so that they are in the same book as the majesty."
Many notables and acquaintances from home and abroad stayed with Frans (68) and Trix (72) on the Grote Markt, between church and castle. Former Prime Minister Willem Drees, the sultan of Yogyakarta, draftsman and writer Peter van Straaten.
And above all many artists who had to perform at the nearby De Maagd theater or were chilled during the famous Vastenavend. The girls from Luv' provided a photo of their first names in their fruitiest period. José, Marga and Patty pasted it next to their farewell: "Fantastic hotel. To be repeated! Greetings."
Singer Xander de Buisonjé took a whole page to thank the Hazen family with his felt-tip pen. Bearing in mind his reputation as an enthusiast, De Buisonjé reports that he slept wonderfully after a 'wonderful nightcap', whatever that was.
The illustrious rocker Herman Brood blessed also stayed in style, so follows a fresh anecdote. "Mr Herman sat here in a Chesterfield with warm milk and a good glass of Grand Marnier for breakfast and thanked with a self-portrait. Look here how beautiful. A typical Brood in interlock that wishes us good morning. Those are pearls! "
Who did not sleep in De Draak's 62 rooms? After his performances, Youp van 't Hek - quite generous with signatures - takes up residence in room 403, the suite. Or Herman Finkers. And Paul de Leeuw was a guest when he and his Bergse comrade Cornald Maas celebrated carnival. The British pop singer Kim Wilde still comes regularly and always leaves a heart behind. "Even if she has to perform in Groningen, she will spend the night here."
Hotelier Hazen reads from other people's work. For example, from a former commissioner of the queen Dries van Agt, who after a visit exhausts himself in compliments in his typical Van Agt jargon: savory and noble drinks (sic). Once again I wish you: let De Draak triumph over all the troubles that a tough hotelier can meet (sic)."
Hotelier Hazen with undisguised pride. ,, These are people who take the trouble to show their appreciation. That does something to me, yes. Our job is to make them happy. "
Naturally, the Hazen couple are happy with the compliments that they receive today digitally through organizations such as Booking.com, Tripadvisor, Zoover and Hotel.com. It rains tens and lofts about character, history, service, location, quality and comfort. ,, But those are often fleeting criticisms. It is a bit more if someone, after checking out, nevertheless takes the time and effort to enthusiastically state their opinion in a guest book.”
Frans carefully filters the negative comments - written or online - and rarely leaves them unanswered. "A complaint can be a gift. If those reviews are correct, you must learn from them. Everybody makes mistakes. I have forgotten a telephone booking myself. I have placed these people neatly elsewhere at my expense. Later they came here to celebrate their 25-year wedding and their children are also married here. If people behave royally, they receive imperial treatment."
"But someone who goes by the buffet three times and afterwards complains about the food with a flimsy story, has a very bad thing about me. Those types report afterwards at the reception with such a tone. "And what are you going to do about it," they ask. In other words: "How much does the price decrease?" Well, we will immediately and resolutely show them the door. "
He regrets that he does not have the previous guestbooks from the more than six hundred years of history of his hotel. They are with the previous owners, the Oirbans family. ,, We tried to keep them in the house with the takeovers, but unfortunately that didn't work out. I certainly understand those people, but guest books are part of the history of a hotel", says Hazen about De Draak where he and his wife Trix suffered personally - the death of their daughter Dagmar after a fall from her horse - and suffered two heavy fires.
The Hazen couple - who still have two daughters, Kirsten and Esther - will soon say goodbye to the monumental building with its guild rooms, silverware and gobelins on the wall. And the guest books? "They have an added value. They belong here."