Opening a hostel seems easy, right? You just put a bunch of bunk beds in a room, some bean bags and a TV in a common room and start charging backpackers for their stay.
Well, no. Hostel management is a little bit more complicated than that. As a full time traveler for the last 8 years I’ve stayed in many hostels and I’ve seen the same mistakes happen over and over again. These errors make the guest experience much worse, but they are pretty simple to avoid.
The following are some major mistakes hostels make. If you are a traveler, let me know if you have experienced these hostel issues. If you are a hostel owner, read on to find out what to avoid.
(After this, be sure to read “Little Things That Make A Hostel Go From Okay to Fantastic” to find out the things great hostels do right!)
Passive Aggressive Signs
There are entire websites devoted to passive aggressive notes, often left by housemates who have ignored the dirty dishes or loud music for far too long and have finally snapped. However, instead of talking to their housemates in a calm, straightforward manner they leave an angry, pointed, passive aggressive letter.
This is strange and uncomfortable enough when it happens with a neighbour or someone you live with, but what if it happened to you as a guest at a hostel?
Believe it or not, I have seen snarky notes for guests in hostels all over the world. It ALWAYS makes me cringe.
“Wash your dishes. Your mom doesn’t work here.”
“Thank you for NOT switching dorm beds.”
I particularly hate this one, which we encountered in a hostel in the Australian Outback. It’s barely passive aggressive, it’s more outright hostile.
Look, I understand it must be annoying to run a hostel and have guests leave their dirty dishes around. Some people are more diligent about being a neat and tidy respectful guest in a hostel than others. (Perhaps they need to read our guide on how hostels work and how you can be a good guest?)
However, notes like this aren’t the way to deal with the situation. They create an atmosphere of hostility rather than making guests feel welcome.
I think people who lack the courtesy and self-awareness to wash up after themselves or follow the rules aren’t doing it because they “forgot” – they just don’t care. So, passive aggressive reminder signs won’t really help.
Instead, give your guests a run down of the rules when they check in and if they don’t follow them and it starts to cause an issue, then you can take them aside and talk to them.
(Unless they steal someone else’s leftover curry from the fridge. That, I cannot tolerate. In that case, kick them out and send the dogs after them for all I care.)
Cramming Too Many Beds in a Room
Running a hostel is always a balance between maximizing your profits and ensuring that your guests have a good experience. With that in mind, I can understand why hostels try to fit as many dorm beds into a room as possible. After all, the more guests they can host per night, the more money they can make.
However, there comes a point where the dorm just becomes overcrowded and this ruins the experience for all of the guests.
I’ve been in hostel dorm rooms where the beds were crammed so close together that there was no room for any other furniture. I’ve struggled to climb up into bunk beds because the other bed was too close. I’ve been in rooms that would be comfortable for 4 people, but have enough bunk beds for 8 or even 10.
Yes, perhaps you can physically fit 10 sleeping people in that particular room. However, it’s important to think about what the experience is like for those people.
Not Equipping the Kitchen
One of the main advantages of staying in a hostel is that it has a kitchen, which means that you will be able to cook your own meals and save money – rather than eating in expensive restaurants every night of your trip. Hostel kitchens can be wonderful, especially when travelers get together and prepare a big meal together and share it.
However, after being in hundreds of hostel kitchens around the world I’ve discovered something unfortunate…
Many of them are completely shit.
How can you expect guests to prepare food with only one frying pan with a broken handle, no can opener, no toaster and a knife so blunt that it wouldn’t even cut through butter? How can guests clean up after themselves effectively when there is nothing but one sad, old sponge and an empty bottle of washing up liquid?
Seriously, you wouldn’t believe the state of some of the hostel kitchens I’ve seen. If you are advertising a kitchen as a feature of your accommodation, at least make sure that it is equipped with the basics that someone needs to cook a simple meal there. If your tin opener was broken in your home, you’d realize right away and you would replace it!
The sad thing is, many of the terrible kitchens I have seen don’t need a complete overhaul. All they need is a trip to the local home supply store for some decent knives, a toaster or a kettle. In most situations, the problem could be solved and the kitchen improved immensely for less than $20-$50. After all, I’m not expecting hostel kitchens to be state of the art and have every luxury appliance known to man – I’m just expecting to be able to make pasta in a pot without the handle falling off.
If you aren’t sure whether your hostel kitchen has what your guests need, try cooking a meal in it. If you realize that anything is missing in the process, make a list and pick it up next time you are at the store. Then, check your kitchen equipment periodically and replace it if it becomes broken or worn.
Being Deceitful About Extra Charges
If there’s one thing that will really piss off your guests, it’s slapping on an extra charge to their stay – especially if it comes as a surprise and feels deceitful.
For example, you can charge extra for towels and blankets if you really want to, but it’s important to make that clear to guests before they arrive. Otherwise, they will be quite annoyed when they have to fork out the extra that they weren’t budgeting for.
In fact, if you have a $14 per night hostel and you charge $2 for blankets and towels, you’d provide a better guest experience if you charged $16 per night , blankets and towels included.
No word of a lie, in Byron Bay, Australia I had to pay a $20 deposit to rent a bowl, plate, knife, fork and spoon during my stay at a hostel. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. I felt like I was in prison, carrying my bowl and spoon around with me. If I had lost them or if someone had taken mine, I would have lost my deposit. Even though this was a deposit and not an extra cost, it was not clearly advertised online beforehand.
I’ve even been at hostels where I was charged extra for toilet paper!
When it comes to extra charges, it’s best just to calculate them into your room rate and avoid nickel and diming people with hidden fees. Most people would rather pay one set price than a cheap price, with a bunch of annoying add-ons.
It’s similar to how people feel when they book a flight with a budget airline, the advertised price is appealing but when you add on the extra charges for baggage, food, assigned seating, etc. it ends up not that different than a regular fare. It’s the deceitful and misleading nature of the original price that irritates your guests.
Having Awful WiFi
We published a rant about poor WiFi in hostels and hotels all the way back in 2012. Although WiFi standards around the world have improved significantly since then, it can still be an issue.
We still end up staying in hostels where the WiFi signal doesn’t reach the room, or where we have to pay extra for WiFi access. It really sucks.
It’s not the end of the world if your WiFi isn’t that great and doesn’t reach the room, but the key is to make sure that is clearly stated on your booking website. (Or, simply invest in a WiFi extender – they cost less than $20 these days.)
This is one of the big mistakes hostels make and it will really annoy your guests. More and more people are becoming digital nomads, so being connected on the road is essential for their livelihood. But even if you aren’t working on the road, you want to be online so that you can keep in touch with family and friends, research your destination and use Google to settle that drunken argument about what the lyrics really are to “American Pie.”
Employing Unenthusiastic Staff
I remember staying at a hostel in Ecuador where the young Russian girl at the hotel reception pretty much rolled her eyes with exasperation every time someone would approach the front desk to ask for help or even simply ask her a question. It was so obvious that she didn’t want to be there – and it really made a negative impact on the experience at the hostel.
Think about it – your staff are your first point of contact for your guests, so it’s important that they are making a positive impression.
A hostel that is average in every other way can become a truly awful experience if the staff are rude, sullen and don’t care about the guests. In contrast, the same average hostel can be a wonderful experience if the staff are friendly, fun and enthusiastic about making sure guests enjoy themselves.
Avoid These Common Mistakes Hostels Make!
I think that sometimes hostel owners think that since their guests are paying a lower price than a hotel, it’s not as important to give them a quality stay. However, they are still guests and it’s good business practice to give them the best you can offer. Making these simple mistakes shows that you don’t value your guests.
These mistakes are quite simple to avoid, but they will make a big difference on the experience of your guests. Travelers of the world crave a better standard of hostel and if you can provide it, you’ll be rewarded by more business.
Travelers – what other mistakes have you seen hostels making? Share some of your worst hostel stories in the comments below!