Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Till Monday Do Us Part

Can hotels seriously get in on the marital divorce business with a weekend package? An intriguing concept one hotel in The Netherlands is already profiting from.

Monday, August 20, 2012
Caryn Eve Murray
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It’s the ultimate package of luxury amenities for the ultimate couples’ weekend: Downy soft mattresses. A massage. Sauna time. Gourmet meals. Counseling sessions. A mediator. And, most importantly, a divorce lawyer.

Yes, divorce lawyer. In fact, in Holland, where just such a package recently premiered as a low-key offering at six high-end hotels, the divorce lawyer – the key player in the package - is often the same person as the mediator. Holland’s national divorce laws can often make marital dissolutions relatively uncomplicated, three-day matters for motivated, cooperative spouses. And this package, dubbed the Divorce Hotel by its creator, Dutch businessman Jim Halfens, may well have set a new standard for couples to uncouple in style.

Halfens, who said the divorce package concept was a hospitality hard sell at first, said recently he was pleased with the reception it eventually garnered among some hotels which, for privacy’s sake, he does not identify publicly. But a number of Dutch couples have already checked in together for the fixed-price package at those locales this year - and three days later, they happily went their separate ways, he said, sometimes after sharing a bottle of champagne to commemorate endings as well as new beginnings.

The idea’s acceptance has made for more than a few champagne moments for Halfens too. He now finds himself happily wedded to the idea of divorce, American style too. He’s hoping the Netherlands example will serve as a kind of template for adapting the package which he’d like to take to such American cities as Los Angeles and New York – for starters.

The United States is, of course, not The Netherlands. And with different divorce laws in each state, as well as the concept’s history as an initial marketing challenge in its own home nation, Halfens acknowledges he’s facing hard work ahead.

“When I started, nobody was interested,” he said. “But I think our success is that we keep it at a higher level, we don’t make it tacky and cheap, but position it as a good solution and good option for people.” Halfens said he has partnered with only four-star or higher-tier hotels, with good reason: A divorcing couple needs guest services at a decidedly higher level. “It is not a matter of price but that the people at the hotel are trained,” he said. “We do this based on privacy. It demands something. … The staff knows we are doing a divorce but the other guests won’t know.”

Neither the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau nor the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau was willing to discuss the concept or its prospects in either of those cities where, Halfens said, he has already begun discussions. And although he has not engaged the Nevada cities of Reno or Las Vegas in negotiations, the Nevada Commission on Tourism was nonetheless eager to share its perspective on the impact of just such an offering there. The 1961 movie, “The Misfits,” after all, immortalized Reno as the divorce capital that liberated Marilyn Monroe’s character from the bonds of wedded non-bliss.

“Reno, Nevada was THE place to go for a divorce decades ago when it was difficult to obtain in most other states,” said Bethany Drysdale, public relations manager for the tourism commission. “But that has changed quite a bit and it is fairly easy, depending upon your circumstances, to get divorced anywhere. So I’m not sure the divorce angle alone would be a boon to Reno’s hospitality economy.”

Destination divorces, unlike destination weddings, are just not a market anymore, she said. However, she wrote in an email, whatever the reason for couples to visit Nevada, their time spent there would clearly be a welcome boost to tourism, even for those not into Nevada’s notable gaming scene.  “Reno has other unique attractions, like the National Automobile Museum, CommRow, an indoor/outdoor climbing wall with the tallest outdoor climbing wall in North America, easy access to hiking and mountain biking and water sports at Lake Tahoe,” and other ways to de-stress at an otherwise stressful time, she wrote.

“I don’t know many people who have the luxury of removing themselves from work and home for an extended period of time to get a divorce,” she added. “But certainly if this were a growing market, I imagine we would see a correlation in the growth of professional services to complement it too.”

Clearly, said Halfens, a well-equipped hotel will have an experienced team to cater to – and preserve the privacy of –  the couple, but outside partnerships are still needed with legal, real-estate and psychological professionals in each city to make the package a complete success.

His priority, for the meantime, is giving a boost to the marketing effort by tying it all together with a hoped-for reality TV show that could showcase and help sell the concept. And that, he said, is already in the works.

“We are negotiating with a U.S. TV network and they definitely want to do it,” he said. “But I am relying on their schedule.” And there are no firm dates yet, he said. “Sometimes you need to accept that things take time.”

Meanwhile, he’s bringing his commitment to the table, and waiting out his proposal – though not quite on bended knee. He’s just waiting to hear those two words: “I do.”

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