My bus from Mostar, Herzegovina parted a sea of hotel runners as it pulled into the bus terminal of Dubrovnik, which is now on the coast of a country called Croatia. Yes, it was apparent from the start that Dubrovnik sees a fair share of tourists, as a swarm of smiling ladies and smiling men with arms full of binders of pictures of hotel rooms looked hopefully up at me as I sat perched in my bus seat nest. I looked down at them through the window and plotted my escape route.
I do not like dealing with hotel touts. Any person who potentially stands to make money by lying or cheating me I tend not to trust. Renting a room in a hotel is an economic arrangement, an any such deal requires a certain extent of trust. I do not trust people who hunt me down. I do not trust strangers who make money by pretending to be my friend.
Chaya and I jumped off of the bus and cut threw the crowd. We were stopped dead in our tracks by a brick wall of a women. She had a smile on her face and a binder of hotel photos under her arm.
“How much?” I asked before she could squeak out an introduction. In actuality, neither Chaya nor I had a guidebook or any other bearing on a cheap place to stay
in Dubrovnik, and I figured that we may as well test the waters with these hotel runners.
I tend to avoid interacting with people who meet me at bus stations offering me places to stay. All too often this is not a wise engagement to enact. But sometimes I have been able to pit the runners against each other and come out with a really cheap place to stay. Sometimes this has worked out. In China, I particularly can remember finding incredibly cheap accommodation in towns by talking to hotel sharks at bus and train stations. This sometimes works out, but not so often that I recommend it.
If I enter a city where I have no provenience on anything – no map, no experience, no common language, no hotel address, no place to stay – I sometimes mine hotel runners for information: where are the cheap hotels? How do I get there? No, don’t follow me, I will go there myself . . .but where exactly is this hotel that you are recommending? Do you have a map? In a storm, any waypoint of direction is a good one. But I do not let runners follow me down a street. If they do, I yell at them. Not joking. A hotel shark on the tail of a traveler looking for a place to bed down means a few nickels more out of the traveler’s pocket to feed the shark: if a hotel owner sees you with a runner, he will charge you more for the room in order to pay his dutiful scout.
In Dubrovnik, Chaya and I had no place to go. The brick wall like fat lady offered us a room for 24 Euro.
“Very nice room, big bed, shower, hot water, cable TV, kitchen, breakfast, dancing girls, massage, nudey videos, servants in thongs, anything your wildest dreams can imagine is included,” she carried on. “Only 24 Euro.”
“Too much,” I said in passing as Chaya and I began to walk away. The hotel shark was not going to let go of her catch so easily. She pursued us.
“10 Euro per person,” she called from behind us trying to keep up, “includes foot massage, butt rub, toenail cleaning, bikini line waxing, salsa dance lessons, private beach, airplane ride . .. . .8 Euro final offer,” we heard her yelling to us in the distance as we made a hasty retreat from the bus station.
We felt more comfortable digging up a room for ourselves, even though we knew that it could take a couple hours to find one in our price range in this resort speckled city on the Mediterranean Sea. But before we knew it a skinny grey haired man in a denim jacket appeared before us on the sidewalk, barring our way past him with a smile and, yes, a binder full of hotel pictures.
“I saw you at the bus station with the fat lady,” the man offered his introduction by mentioning our tenuous connection with the woman who tried to get us to follow her to a hotel. “That woman Egyptian, she no good.”
By Egyptian, he meant Gypsy.
“Where are you from?” he asked us.
We told him.
“I go to America once on a ship, I go to Portland San Francisco, Houston.”
“You went to Houston on a ship?” I asked, thinking his story a little far fetched.
“Yes, yes, have a look at this hostel. Very nice. I give you this room here in the picture.”
We looked at the photo for the hell of it.
“This room has satellite TV . . . . [on and on and on].”
We tried to walk past him but he followed at our side.
“12 Euro each.”
We walked on.
“10 Euro each, special discount.”
“The fat lady said that she could get us a room for 8 Euro,” I said, trying to rev up his competitive flame.
“No, no, 8 Euro too cheap, not good room, this is a good room. 10 Euro per person. I drive you too hotel.”
“8 Euro each and we will go with you,” I spoke honestly. From my initial survey of up-class looking Dubrovnik and a glance up at the storm clouds rolling in, it was looking like Chaya and I were in for a long, wet search for a room.
“No, no, 10 Euro. This hotel in Lonely Planet,” he said as he whipped out an over-worn, outdated guidebook.
“I believe you, I believe you,” I said, “Where is this hotel on a map?”
He showed me, and then let me keep the map. Clutch.
“8 Euro,” I spoke with an attempted sense of finality.
The man mutter and quickly walked away to his car, which was parked up a little ways on the sidewalk.
Just when we thought that we had circumvented the hotel sharks, low and behold, the fat Egyptian lady appeared again in front of us. “You want room? Don’t go with man with car, very dangerous man. He take you 9km outside of city center. You come to my hotel, it right here. Close by.”
Chaya and I just smiled at her as we passed. Braving the hotel hunt in Dubrovnik on our own seemed must less of a hassle than walking through the gauntlet of fast talking hotel runners in dire competition with each other for the slender pickings of off season tourists.
The rain then poured out of heavy black clouds. Chaya and I got wet. But we were in Dubrovnik, it was beautiful, and the sea came swooshing up to the sidewalk by our feet, as well as down from the sky upon our heads. Our spirits were up, and, using the map we received from the hotel shark, we walked directly to the hotel that he pointed out. A better room for the price could not be had.
More often than not, I have found that hotel runners often do not really work for the hotels that they are trying to score business for. It is my impression that they deliver guests and expect some sort of commission. It is unclear how deep the deal really goes, and I cannot discredit a hotel or hostel just because some guy tries to take me to it. After mining hotel sharks for information and directions, I have often arrived at their suggested hotels on my own volition, and had satisfactory stays. But the key is to arrive on your own.
Travel tip: do not follow a hotel runner anywhere. Get directions to the hotel they recommend, remember the lowest price that they quote, and, if you do not find another place to stay, go to the hotel on your own.
If you arrive someplace on your own accord, you can leave on your own accord. No problem, no hassle. If someone delivers you somewhere, then you are like a package: it is difficult to unwrap yourself from the situation, as you are in the hotel’s and the runner’s box – they have you. Don’t follow hotel runners anywhere. Always maintain your self autonomy.
Hotel sharks survive from making money off of you, they will tell you anything. As with other sources of travel information, mine hotel runners for what they are worth. Talk to them, find out what they know, and then use it to your best advantage. Do not oblige yourself to them, do not let them lead you anywhere. Do not trust them. Never go into a hotel with them. Do not let them follow you. Do not pay them the same respect that you would normally pay to a stranger. Be firm.
Some of these hotel sharks are real quick, smooth talkers, and can get you to agree to things that you do not wish to. Walk slow, take a deep breath, and realize that you are in control of your own movements. If the hotel runner is leading you around by talking your ear off in order to distract you, stop walking, change direction, get away from them. Hotel runners know that you probably feel obliged to be polite and they will feed off of this by telling you a long story that coincidentally ends right where they want to take you. Then you are in their pocket.
Travel tip: Always maintain your self autonomy. Only walk where you want to walk. Being lead somewhere like a dog on a leash is to be hustled.
As always, take this little parable of a tale and utilize it. Or don’t.
But remember to walk slow,
Cost of travel in Dubrovnik, Croatia
$16- bus from Mostar, Herzegovina to Dubrovnik, Croatia (3 hours)
$12- nice room in Begovic Boarding House
$1.20- six eggs
$2.20- jar of pickles
$4- box of chicken nuggets
$1- minestrone soup mix
$1.30- small loaf of bread