After having passed through the Brussels South Charleroi Airport – which, except for a piano anyone is welcome to play on, doesn’t hold much solace for the weary traveller – a lot of businessmen and women find themselves heading for the nearby Van der Valk Hotel Charleroi Airport. On the reception desk of the four-star establishment that calls itself ‘surprisingly unique’, a goldfish is the first to greet them. A little plaque with Nemo pictured on it alongside the bowl says: ‘Alone in your room and want company? Rent-a-fish.’
While it started as an amusing gimmick to lift the spirits of business folk in 2013, it has persisted over four years as a much-appreciated joke as well as a type of kindness. Gilled companions come at €3.50 euros (a little over US$4) a night, and lots of work travellers have seen the humour of adding the small expense of a companion fish to their list of expenditures. The hotel’s unusual fish rental services came into the spotlight at the beginning of September when the producer for a New Zealand radio program, Michelle Cooke, sent the following tweet into the world about a friend who had checked into Hotel Charleroi Airport and was offered a buddy for the night.
People have shared the tweet over 14,000 times, but with that extra attention comes some scrutiny about the animals’ well-being, with some commenting that the bowls are too small for the goldfish. In order to allay concerns, the hotel staff took to Twitter to assure the public that their fish have been with them for over four years and also enjoy a ‘big tank in the housekeeping [department], with a shelter, oxygen and plants.’ Three of the professional company-keepers, Nemo, Charles and Heineken, have been there since the beginning, although a fourth did get ‘fish-napped’ by a little girl. By the time her dad realised what was going on, the family called the hotel and was allowed to keep the orange buddy.