I have spent a significant chunk of my adult life staying in hostels. While travelling through New Zealand, Europe, Southeast Asia, North America and South America over the last five years I have probably stayed in more than a hundred different hostels. Most of them were average and forgettable, some of them were wonderful and others were so bad that I couldn’t wait to pack up and leave.
When it comes down to it, the only thing a hostel really has to offer is four walls and a bunk to lay your head on at night. However, the difference between somewhere I forget about and somewhere that I still reminisce fondly about is in the little things.
The vast majority of hostels don’t go the extra mile to achieve all of these points, they are offering a budget service and most travellers will accept that they get what they pay for. However, the hostels that do these things are the ones that really stand out from the rest and will get the best reviews.
If you are a hostel owner take note of these points and you will build a reputation as “the hostel” for your destination.
Hire Helpful and Friendly Staff
It always surprises me when hostel staff are not friendly and talkative. Guests shouldn’t feel like they are bothering the receptionist when they ask them a question.
Helpful and welcoming staff can really make a difference when it comes to making guests feel at home in a hostel. It’s only some bunk beds and a kitchen – but with the right people you can create a memorable atmosphere. Try to hire approachable people who will make a great first impression when guests arrive. If possible, it is best if hostel staff are travel-oriented people themselves who have experience with backpacking and an understanding of other cultures.
Also, staff should have enough knowledge of the area to be able to answer common travel questions. At the very least, staff should be able to give directions to most major points of interest, know the prices and times of the most common transport options and be able to recommend a few local restaurants.
If you want an example of this go to my favourite hostel in the world, Angel Hostel in Valparaiso, Chile and meet Rodrigo and his staff – tell them Kelly and Lee say hi. 🙂
Don’t Be Petty
When you are petty about the little things, it can make a big difference in how welcoming the hostel feels. Charging extra for towels and toilet paper might make you a little bit more money – but guests will resent having to fork out for these extras. Banning outside alcohol but selling it at an inflated price within the hostel will force guests to either sneak alcohol in or resent you for making them pay more.
One of the pettiest experiences we had was at a hostel in Florianopolis, Brazil. Check out was at 12pm and our bus was later in the afternoon, so we planned on waiting in the common area for a few hours – which is not an uncommon thing to do. However, the owner told us in no uncertain terms that we had to vacate the premises once we were checked out. Even though every other aspect of the hostel had been great and we had stayed there for four days, him essentially kicking us out and making us wait for our bus elsewhere completely soured the entire experience. The inconvenience to him of letting us sit on the couches for the next few hours would have been minimal, but the inconvenience for us of having to wander around with our backpacks all afternoon was huge.
Supply a Well Equipped Kitchen
One of the best aspects of staying in a hostel is the fact that it has a kitchen, which allows budget travellers to cook their own meals and save a lot of money. Unfortunately, there have been a disappointing number of hostel kitchens we have attempted to cook in – only to realise that they are lacking numerous basic supplies including toasters, kettles, pots, pans, colanders or decent knives. Some kitchens have broken stoves, so that only one or two functioning elements must be shared between dozens of people.
This is a problem that could be fixed affordably in one shopping trip, so why don’t hostels do it? If you are a hostel owner, I recommend cooking a meal in your hostel to see if your kitchen actually has what is necessary.
Offer Special Extras
One of the reasons why Empedrado Hostel in Mendoza, Argentina stands out in my memory is because of the great extras they offered to guests. Every night from 7pm-8pm they offered free unlimited glasses of wine. It was the cheapest wine you could find (although in Mendoza that’s still great wine) but it really got people socialising.
They also offered great events, such as barbeques, wine tastings, empanada cooking classes and more. Any hostel that offers extras like this creates a fun and social atmosphere that makes it more than just a place to stay. Even if all you do is start a game of charades in the main room, you’re sure to make a fun travel memory for everyone involved.
Be Honest With Your Online Description and Photos
Don’t lie and say the hostel is in a better location than it is, or use misleading photos on your website. For example, don’t say that your hostel is only a two minute walk from the bus station when it is really a 10 minute walk. Your guests probably wouldn’t mind a 10 minute walk if they knew about it in advance, but they will be annoyed that the walk takes five times longer than they expected.
It’s as counterproductive as lying on an online dating profile – when the real life meeting comes around you guarantee disappointment, awkwardness and a sense of betrayal.
Also, when your guests realise they have been duped they will write nasty reviews online. Instead, highlight the positive aspects of your hostel in an honest way and don’t pretend you are something you’re not.
Give Clear Instructions to the Hostel
Take the time to write a set of easy to follow instructions from the bus station and the airport to your hostel and make sure that your Google Maps listing is accurate. It won’t take you very long to do this, but it will save guests hours of wandering around lost. Also, make sure that your hostel is marked with obvious signage. Travellers who are exhausted from an overnight bus don’t’ want to feel like they are searching for the lost city of Atlantis, they just want to get checked in and go to sleep.
Make Sure There Are Enough Electrical Sockets
Its 2014 – almost every traveller in your hostel is likely to have a smart phone and probably also a tablet or a laptop. When a 12 bed dorm only has two sockets, this is a problem. One of my favourite hostels in the world, Hedonist Hostel in Belgrade, Serbia, got it right. In every bunk there was an electrical socket and a little shelf to put your phone on. Also, each bunk had its own small reading light and curtains that you could close for privacy. Totally simple, yet it made such a big difference.
Don’t Overstuff the Dorms
Just because you can fit 12 beds into a room doesn’t mean that you can fit 12 backpackers and all of their stuff into that room as well. Trying to cram too many beds into a dorm means that when your hostel is full the rooms will feel incredibly cramped and messy. Why not try taking one bunk bed out so that you have extra room for bag storage?
Make a Hostel Better Than Ordinary
These are just a few of the little things that make the difference between a forgettable hostel and a fantastic one. Remember, a hostel is not just a cheaper version of a hotel – it’s a completely different style of accommodation. Most backpackers want to stay at hostels not just for the savings, but also for the opportunity for communal interaction. Make the most of the fun and social vibe and ensure your accommodation is a pleasant and welcoming place to be – your reviews and your booking numbers will soon reflect these positive changes.