We already discussed how to kickstart a hostel even if you've never been into the hospitality industry before. Now it's time to separate the best hostels from the mediocre ones. By default, hostels are preferred by “on-a-budget” travelers but compromising on price doesn't mean hostel owners should compromise on quality. Low-quality services lead to poor customer satisfaction, which leads to negative reviews, which in turn lead to fewer guests.
The aim of this article is to guide you through the fascinating and often complex world of the hostel industry. We've seen many hostels promoting themselves as hostels while in fact, they are posh Airbnb's or guesthouses. We get it that they are quite easy to confuse to the untrained eye and here is why we'll try to briefly explain what a hostel is. In most cases, an accommodation property could be considered a hostel when it provides beds (not rooms), when a night stay is worth less than a dinner and when guests share bedrooms, toilets, bathrooms and virtually anything in-between.
Now that you have a proper idea of what a hostel looks like, let's get things going.
Before we dig deeper into the hostel world, let's make it clear that all of the statements mentioned below are based on my own experience. I have this habit of always asking people I meet at hostels what they do and what they don't look for in a hostel.
Bear in mind that those who stay at hostels are always on a hunt for “low budget” entertainment, accommodation, food, etc. These are often solo travelers or small groups of friends visiting foreign countries. These are bicycle tourers, hitchhikers, backpackers, and “explore now, work later” individuals. They are rarely above 35 years of age, meaning they are more into discovering things than comfort and calmness. They enjoy nightlife and you should be aware of that, cause it might cripple your business model (keep reading).
So here are the things that make life easier for hostel goers:
Come on, your guests are desperate to explore your town! They want to drop their luggage at your place and get out and see what your city has to offer. Even if they are dead-tired from cycling all day, they still despise sluggish reception work. Check them in as quickly as possible. Using a handy hotel management software would really make the whole process simpler for both you and your guests. Why? Because no one likes waiting.
The opposite is also true. Imagine a slow check-out when you actually have to hurry up in order to catch your flight/bus/train. So make sure your reception is faster than a deadly-injured lazy snail.
This is by far more than just the entry point in your hostel. Apart from actively interacting with your guest, you need to give them as much information as possible in the form of maps, flyers, brochures, printed public transport timetables, maps, etc.
Let's give an example. When I arrived at Goldy Hostel in Bitola (North Macedonia) I was immediately welcomed by the friendly staff. As soon as I checked in, the girl at the reception “What are doing know?” and my response was “I don't know exactly. What is worth seeing in Bitola”?
I have to say I was not ready for what came next. The receptionist gave me detailed information about the most common tourists' sites in town and pinned them on a map, making sure I will reach them on my own without hassling around (Bitola is not that big but still...). After that, she made a short list of local cafes and restaurants that offer traditional meals and drinks. And if that wasn't enough, one table was covered with different brochures from museums, night clubs, galleries... You get the idea. Additionally, the girl asked me where I was heading the next day. Since I told her my plan was to visit Ohrid (North Macedonia) she was quick to inform me about the “hostel situation” there.
What I am trying to say is – if I had to do the research myself I would have wasted some two or three hours. Plus, I don't really think I would've done the job that well. Thanks to the hostel staff, I got to see the most interesting tourist attractions in Bitola without having to wander around town.
There is one simple trick that always wins guests from day one – help them. If you are running a hostel you should really prioritize on that. Your place and your staff should be in service of the guests.
Just think about it for a second – these people are tourists, they are probably for the first time in your city. There is plenty to discover and they have no idea where to start from. This is where you step in and make the task simpler. Here is a good practice you can snatch from Sunny Lake Hostel (Ohrid). The owner there gives every single guest a printed out map of the city. Then according to each guest's interests, he marks the most thrilling places in town – the ancient theater, Samuel's fortress, the oldest churches, the restaurants with the most delicious local food, the hidden beaches, the bars. Whatever you need, he can guide you to this place.
Plus, there are tens of timetables available at the reception. It is a piece of cake to see when is the next bus leaving towards the airport, the next yacht crossing the lake to the Albanian shore, taxi tariffs and plenty of other schedules that travelers need. Even if the owner isn't there, there are hundreds of brochures to let you know what is going around town – organized bicycle trips, paragliding, sightseeing tours, nearby camps, hostels in nearby cities, tourists' sites in the area, etc.
Once you help guests navigate their way through your city there is no chance they wouldn't like it. In addition, the great experience they get from exploring your city is making their stay at your place even more appealing. That is exactly how you fuel word-of-mouth marketing. You must initiate the talk and then leave the conversation live its own life. Here is what I am talking about – your guests like your place and town because of you because you make it easier, comfortable, and safer. People like sharing good experiences. Even before they get back home, they have already talked to friends and relatives, they've posted photos and stories on social media, they have sent pictures to their colleagues, telling them they have a helluva good time.
I hope you see where I am going – customer satisfaction turns into free advertising. (Un)consciously, your guests promote you for free. However, there are even more benefits. Human beings tend to believe what their peers say, so one review from a friend is worth more than a thousand anonymous reviews online.
Apart from being friendly and helpful, there are other ways to take customer satisfaction to a whole new level. These are things that should be available in your hostel. And since we know that your budget is not the same as Hilton's, these are cheap, yet effective solutions that won't drain your bank account.
It won't cost you much to give each guest a free breakfast. We are not talking about anything special here – milk, cornflakes, some bread, peanut butter, jam, a jar of Nutella or a couple of salami slices would definitely do the trick. Let your imagination come up with filling and inexpensive breakfast ideas.
It's not that you will satisfy every guest's eating habits but I bet the majority of them would appreciate the smell of toasted slices of bread. Naturally, breakfast comes with coffee or tea. My advice is to go one step further and make coffee and tea supplies accessible 24/7 and not just during breakfast time. And by making them accessible I mean that coffee and tea consumption should be free and unlimited. It won't ruin your budget and you'll win the heart of each and every coffee and tea lover at your hostel.
Equipping your kitchen with all the necessary cutlery, pots and pans will allow travelers to prepare their own meals and thus save money and thus spend that money on exploring your town. An oven or at least hot plates are seen as treasures by many solo world-roamers. People love ice-cold beer so you'll need a fridge as well. If you want to go in ultra “on-a-budget” mode you can skip the oven but please do have a refrigerator.
Your kitchen can act as a social room as well, meaning you can put a TV there in addition to a couple of couches. One of the reasons why people travel is to socialize with other human beings. You can ease the process by having a kitchen/social room depending on the size of your place. The thing is – watching the football game with guys from all over the world pushes the boundaries of excitement especially when your countries play against each other.
This is the place where people gather together to share their travel stories, sip coffee or beer or get some traveling advice from their peers. This is the place where they make their future traveling plans and fall in love with one another.
As I mentioned earlier, guests' love for socializing and partying might get you into trouble. Here is what I am talking about – let's imagine that your hostel has a cool terrace on the top floor or a yard where people socialize. How do you cope with noise pollution? Don't get me wrong, no one says you shouldn't allow people to have a beer in the evening and or enjoy their time. However, there should be strict rules that everyone follows, otherwise the guys on the terrace/yard/TV room will ruin everyone else's sleep. On the top of that, your neighbours won't like you either and you'll end up talking to the police because you've failed keep your place quite at night.
So far I have seen hostel managers control parties by charging tremendous fees for making noise after 11 PM. Of course, if you happen to deal with drunk guests who refuse to abide to the rules it is always advisable to call the police.
Everyone who has stayed in a hostel at least once knows that privacy is a luxury. You as a hostel owner can offer your guests a little bit of privacy easier and cheaper than you think. Just add curtains to every bed. It is enough to give the much necessary comfort girls crave for in mixed rooms.
Do you know what else is a luxury when you travel the world on a budget? Laundry. Keeping your clothes and towels clean can be quite hard when shifting hostels every couple of nights (or even every day). This is why travelers love hostels where they can use a washing machine and up their hygiene. In my opinion, every self-respecting hostel should offer laundry service either as a part of a package (for instance: bed + breakfast + laundry) or separately. Alternatively, you can offer the laundry for free to every guest staying for three or more nights.
I'm finishing off this lengthy post with one last recommendation – if possible, ease the payment process. And I'm not talking about accepting cards/Stripe/PayPal and similar digital payment methods here. I have something else in mind instead – work with several fiat currencies at once. Not everyone has some of your local currency in their pockets so if I was you I would accept Euros, US Dollars, British Pounds as well.