FOUNDER & PARTNER AT BUNK HOTELS
Hi, I am Robin Hagedoorn, the founder and owner of Bunk.
Currently, I’m working on a new project in Rotterdam, where we are in the process of converting a new church into a Bunk hotel.
I am also involved in two projects in Curacao and some other consultancy “schemes,” helping other real estate developers. I love giving new purpose to old, monumental buildings. It runs in the family. My brother is doing the same, working on a UNESCO national heritage hotel in the middle of Willemstad, the capital city of Curacao, where I was born. We are going to renovate it and give it a new purpose. This building is from 1800 – we are just a particle of dust passing by if you look at the history of all those buildings.
My background is in commercial real estate. I lived a corporate life for about 20 years. The last nine or 10 years were at JLL, where I was involved in a lot of complex real estate deals… but I always had a passion for heritage buildings, especially religious ones. It all started with a church that I bought to convert into my living space.
Of course, it takes a lot of experience, risks, and money to do those things, but perhaps the most important thing is a vision. There are so many churches that are literally empty in the Netherlands, as people don’t go to church a lot anymore. The expectation is that within five or ten years, there will be around 800 churches becoming available on the market.
Our current properties in Utrecht and in Amsterdam were offered to us by their owners. While I was traveling, I thought of the idea of “Bunk”. At the time, it was mostly in my mind, and I scribbled on a piece of paper, thinking maybe I could do something with this pretty disruptive hospitality concept – ‘disruptive’ in the context of the pretty conservative hospitality world. Then I had a coffee with one of my current business partners and he said, “Okay, let’s look at it!” …and we started working on the concept.
We won both tenders and signed for two old churches, with a new hospitality concept, without any experience in the hospitality world.
Now, about five or six years later, with a great team of people and advisors, we have made it. We have converted two churches into hostels. It is a huge adventure, and every day I’m learning more about the complex world of hospitality.
This whole idea of creating a different hospitality concept started because I had to travel a lot, and I spent a lot of time waiting in lines at check-in desks with staff sitting behind huge computer screens, visiting boring restaurants, and sleeping in hotel rooms all in the same kind of design.
By my own choice, I started to go to hostels instead of business hotels. Hostels are the most fun. They are community-driven with a huge civic responsibility. When you travel a lot, you see so many things. You can create a steep learning curve, especially between different cultures.
Japan, for example, was a big inspiration, but also small hospitality brands, and of course, my trips to Burning Man are a huge inspiration. That’s really where the whole idea started and where the puzzle came together
Burning Man is hard to explain. A lot of people think that it’s some sort of music festival, but that’s not it. It’s a gathering in the Nevada desert in the US, where a city that accommodates 80.000 people rises up for eight days every year, creating a new world.
This world is based on 10 life principles like “participation”, “civic responsibility”, “communal effort”, and “radical inclusion”. To live out those principles – which are basic, normal human principles on how to act and behave amongst each other – is inspiring. We have incorporated seven or eight of those principles into our brand in different ways.
Another principle is “radical self-expression”. You have the complete liberty to be yourself and express this the way you like. We have incorporated this for our employees. They can be themselves and dress like themselves.
Of course, there are some hygiene boundaries, but if I want to run around in a silver dress, it’s possible. It doesn’t matter if you have tattoos or piercings, just be yourself.
Another one is “leave no trace.” The Burning Man community tries to respect the environment, and everyone out there is committed to leaving no physical trace. Can you imagine, in six weeks a complete city with a hospital, an airport, and everything you can think of is built and in the end, everything – up to the last tiny piece – is cleaned up?
In our hotels, we have adopted “leave no trace” by having no waste bins in the rooms. It’s known that people throw all sorts of mixed things in there. At Bunk, everyone can properly separate and dispose of their waste in the hallways. You have to explain it, but it works.
Burning Man is a dystopian environment. It is really harsh. 45 degrees plus, with dust storms on five of the eight days. But even under those circumstances, it’s amazing. It’s unbelievable.
The art is from out of this world. It is a really good experience for you as a human being, to exercise and rely on your inner resources. The wonderment that gives us – the urgency of wonder, the sense of togetherness, inclusivity, freedom, and fun – can also show in really small things.
It can be in somebody’s smile, it can be in an art piece, but can also be in something cultural that’s happening. I always recommend going once in a lifetime, no matter how old you are, or connecting with your local Burning Man chapter or event
So. Yeah, this whole experience has fuelled my passion and purpose. I feel like I have never worked a day in my life since I quit my corporate job.
It is a journey of reinventing and improving yourselves, especially with a big team. I started with one employee. We are now about 180 people. All based on this idea, which originated at Burning Man. I feel very proud of it, not of my idea, but of the communal effort that made things happen.
I see traveling as an investment in yourself and in your experience. It’s a gift for yourself. Traveling is freedom and it’s a fuel for your spirit – and we at Bunk try to contribute to and fuel that spirit and wonderment.
We’re still a hotel and we are a commercial enterprise, but we have a soft spot, especially for culture. We have a fully equipped music studio, that artists can use for free. We have many events happening here, probably 20 to 25 days per month: tattoo artists, art fairs, expositions, markets, or DJs. Our restaurant is not only a place where you can have breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
There’s always something happening, and you don’t have to buy a ticket. You can just come in for a cup of coffee. It doesn’t matter if you stay for an hour or stay for a few nights. You come to study or to work as well. You can just be here.
In Utrecht, we have a balcony specially outfitted for people with laptops, but people can also just come and play games. We try to create an environment where people can connect, and we try to include that in a smart design experience. In our design process, we always work in collaboration with artists and architects. It is sort of a process of co-designing.
At the moment we have “two churches, 200 rooms, 20,000 stories” – pretty soon there will be three churches, 300 rooms, 30,000 stories. Right now, we are talking to the municipality and the neighbourhood, sharing our ideas, and hopefully, we will soon get a permit to start.
The Netherlands is a great place to grow a brand. We can evolve in a lot of ways before we take the next step. We are looking at Europe: Belgium, Germany, Portugal, maybe even the UK … there are many opportunities.
But we are going to grow at our own pace and do our homework. We don’t have to have this many rooms within so many years. We are our own investors which is why we are going to take it slow and grow at a slow, organic pace. Let’s see what happens, it’s an adventure.
I would like to add one more thing. If you are a person interested in hospitality: we have a story to tell – to guests and to all colleagues – come over, and have a look at what’s happening!