The way people travel has changed dramatically over the last several years. In the last 5 years, the emergence of Generation Y, digital nomadism, hospitality sites such as AirBnB and CouchSurfing, coupled with a shift in traveller’s values had made it a very exciting time for the hostel industry.
For the last 4 years, I’ve been travelling the world meeting travellers and working out what makes a great hostel. I’ve visited 40 countries on 4 continents, working in 6 different hostels, while interviewing hundreds of travellers along the way.
From my findings, it’s clear that the modern day traveller is looking for a “memorable experience”. It’s no longer just about the look of the hostel, but rather the people and the experiences the traveller has when they stay at a hostel.
The modern day traveller wants to learn, grow and socialise with like-minded people. Many are technology savvy and want to work on projects with others and they are enthusiastic about creating social impact in the cities they visit.
The shift in values and beliefs of the modern day traveller requires hostel owners to design their hostels in a way that complements the needs of the 21st century traveller.
CREATING THE ULTIMATE HOSTEL EXPERIENCE
There’s many ways that hostel owners can choose to enhance the experience, but today many of my ideas circulate around one theme: CREATING COMMUNITY.
Personalisation of Experience
The hostel is inherently a social and personal environment so it’s important to make the guests feel like they are at home when they arrive at your hostel. This boils down to genuinely caring about guests when they arrive at your hostel – autopilot responses are not going to cut it.
While staying at hostels, I’ve experienced personalization on many levels, from simple things such as staff remembering my name and getting to know me, welcome notes, personalized suggestions for the city I was visiting based on my interests, and even a personalized t-shirt with my name on it.
About 80% of the hostels I stayed at aren’t considering personalization of the experience so here’s a great chance to differentiate your hostel, and be remembered by guests.
Co-creation of the experience
The truly legendary hostels I have stayed at have involved the guest in creation of their hostel. They have let guests make their mark, and it lets the guest feel like they are part of the hostel. When you first step foot in a hostel that’s been built by its guests, it almost feels like a fantastic museum of travel stories and memories.
I’ve seen co-creation in many forms but here are some examples:
- Travellers decorating the hostel and painting murals in return for free accommodation/food
- Travellers volunteering and helping out at hostels – reception work, gardening, taking guests out, etc. (Workaway/Helpx).
- Guestbooks, cookbook with recipes from travellers, wall with messages from travellers, photographs, videos
If your hostel doesn’t have the atmosphere, then, unfortunately, you are doomed. Atmosphere is a mixture of how you hostel looks, but more importantly how it feels and this is very much dependent on the people running the place.
When designing the atmosphere of your hostel, of course it’s important to think about what colors, furniture, and decorations you will use. But when I think about the greatest hostels I’ve visited, I always think about the people who ran them, their special personality and the community they managed to create at their hostel.
Besides hiring great people, here are some of the best ways I’ve seen to enhance the atmosphere:
- Musical instruments – provide guests with a few musical instruments and they’ll do the rest
- Events – in house hostel events, quiz nights, pub crawls, bbq’s etc – the list is endless here
- Staff taking guests out – I stayed at an excellent hostel in Malaysia that employed a customer experience manager. His job was simply to entertain the guests. He did magic tricks, took the guests out and the whole heart and soul of the hostel depended on this one man.
- Honesty systems – I’ve seen this in various forms over the years: tabs, take food and donate, even currency exchange in one hostel where there were simple envelopes from different countries and guests would drop their loose currency, and take the equivalent currency from the envelope of the next country they were visiting. In my opinion, such initiatives are great. Not only do they create trust and an honest environment, but also 95% of traveller’s will respect this – the reputation you create is worth far more than the 5% who abuse the system.
- Design – I’m coming from a subjective viewpoint here but my most favorite hostels we’re always small, homely and reflected the personality of the owner.
But here’s several nice examples from my experiences:
PERSONAL: one hostel I visited in Thailand had a wall full of pictures of travellers with the owner.
QUIRKY: A hostel I visited in Riga had a bar made out of an old school VW Van.
HOMELY: A hostel I visited in New Zealand made me feel like I was home again – it was run by a family, there was photos, memories and quotes on the wall, and everyone in the hostel would eat and go out together.
I’ve stayed in all kinds of concept hostels: pod capsule, vegan, gay, surf, art, co-living. Having a special concept for your hostel is a great way to differentiate your offering.
SO, HOW TO DIFFERENTIATE YOUR HOSTEL?
With huge hostel chains beating smaller independent on price, it’s important to find new ways to differentiate your hostel offering. A solid method for differentiation is to focus on creating a great experience.
It’s clear from my research that travellers are looking to create memorable stories that they can tell their friends about on social media. As a result, they are willing to pay more for a memorable experiences and this is a trend that’s only going to grow in the future.
On a final note, remember that you can create a place that looks great, but still feels dead. The experience, and in fact the success of your hostel, is heavily dependent on the quality of your staff. Therefore, the cardinal rule to remember when creating your hostel experience: happy staff = happy customers.