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World's Strangest Theme Hotels

Theme Hotel: Panda Inn

Nowadays it’s easy to find hotels that stick to one subject. But at what cost?

The world’s first panda-themed hotel opened a few months ago in Sichuan, China. Guests at the Panda Inn luxuriate in black and white surroundings overlooked by panda paintings and enormous panda teddy bears. Meanwhile in Buenos Aires, fans of the Boca Juniors soccer team are luxuriating at the new Hotel Boca, self-billed as el primer hotel temático de fútbol en el mundo—one of those phrases that fleetingly raises one’s hopes of having acquired the ability to comprehend all of Earth’s languages. The décor pays only discreet homage to the team colors of yellow and blue, but balances this restraint with pictures all over the place of the world’s least restrained man, former Boca superstar Diego Maradona. Even in gritty, unpretentious Liverpool, visitors now have a choice of nautically themed hotels: one modeled on the Titanic, the other, more disconcertingly, on the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine.”

Why is all this happening, this explosion of themed hotels? The curious can either read to the end of this very short magazine article, or book passage to Mallorca, Spain, home of the Sol Wave House, the “First Twitter Experience Hotel,” catering to that fringe of the population (90 percent of us, roughly, and climbing) that finds itself refreshed by hashtags, and choppy punctuation, and blurted, gnomic expressions of personality.

For that is why all this is happening: it’s because of those people. Where once a fan of pandas would book a nice, normal room in a hotel near a zoo, and use it as a base from which to make private memories of actual encounters with pandas, the panda fan du jour must subject friends and followers to a steady stream of panda-related images and moments, or in some key modern sense cease to exist. It is these images and moments, I submit, not any “experience” per se, that the panda-themed hotel is in business to supply, and this applies across the category. It’s not what a theme hotel is “about” that draws guests to it; it’s the promise of another chance—and we’ll take all that we can get—to tell the world what we’re about. Which, in the case of this reporter, would increasingly require a curmudgeon-themed hotel, with Wi-Fi-blocking Harris Tweed draperies, an escritoire at which to write letters to still-in-business newspapers, and in every alcove a bust of the late, great Andy Rooney, who saw all this coming, and more, and worse.

Illustration by l-dopa

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