7 steps to better hostels

I wrote this guide a few years ago after travelling throughout Latin America and while many hostels are well run and provide decent environments for backpackers and other travelers, there are always ways to improve the services and offerings to clients and by doing so improving the reputation of the hostel and in the long run the revenue for the owners.

Even if these steps are written for hostels, many of them can be applied on other types of businesses as well.

Step 1 – Does the clients feel welcome and at home
The most important thing in all kind of businesses is to make sure that the clients are content or even better, more than content with the service they pay for. It is therefore important that the staff and management are very friendly and helpful. Always greet the clients with a smile and go out of the way to help them in any way possible.

Any time available that are not occupied with helping clients or administrating the daily tasks, should be spent on improving the quality or quantity of services for the clients.

Shared areas for staff and residents should be given attention. Sharing communal areas (including entrance doors and foyers) with residents breaks down institutional barriers and also provides a useful opportunity for key workers to meet clients and develop a better understanding for the customer needs in a more relaxed environment.

Step 2 – Are you clear and precise in your offerings
Information is essential when dealing with consumers of today, but with all information that are presented to us every day makes it more and more important to make sure that the information about our offerings is clear and displayed in ways that are easily accessible
to the clients (the lobby, Internet, the rooms, the kitchen, bathrooms etc.). Make sure to include all basic services included in the offering and the quality of the services (ex. Laundry including ironing $1/kg, Double room with private bathroom including towels, soap and daily cleaning). It could however be a good thing to add something extra that are not included in the basic offering and are not marketed either. This will make the client feel special and recommend the hostel to other travelers.

Step 3 – Do you use innovative market strategies
Of course market research and benchmarking with competitor are important tasks to keep up with their marketing efforts, but even more important is to be one step ahead of the competitors, and that is done by innovative marketing. The treat given to the clients in step 2 is one innovative marketing strategy used by a hotel at a resort where a basket of fruits awaited the guests when they entered their room upon arrival. This unannounced treat helped gave the resort tons of free marketing when their guest started to talk about the nice basket of fruits to their friends at home.
What are your unique ways of marketing your services?
• Here are some tips of marketing channels all hostels should try to use:
• Try to get listed in international and local travelers guides (Footprint, Lonely planet, Rough Guide etc.)
• Ask clients to recommend the service to the guides, maybe even give them a free night or something else for the effort
• Talk to the tourist office in your area as well as at the airport to get them to recommend you
• Try to get signs up on bus terminals etc. where you state that you are recommended by the guides that recommends you
• Provide online registration (own website, hostelworld.com, hihostels.com, gomio.com)
• Discounts for long stays
• Discounts or free stay if working for the hostel
• Cooperate with hostels in other cities where your clients are likely to come from/travel to
• Cooperate with NGO and other organizations that can provide returning groups of clients
• Offer special deals (ex. 4 nights + breakfast + tour for package price)
• Offer language classes or other local related classes (salsa, Indian culture etc.)

Step 4 – Do you offer services around the core offering
One strategy to improve sales and revenue could be to lower the price of the actual stay at the room and offer services that are not included in the basic price. Such services could be selling food and drinks, different levels of breakfast, tours, money exchange, laundry, airport pickup, basic shop (towels, soap, toothbrush etc.), cheap international phone service, WiFi, different types of event (BBQ nights, Charity events etc.), rent-a-bike, credit cards accepted (ex. via PayPal), selling phone cards, rent mobile phones and have information available for clients regarding the mobile services, and finally a charity box for used clothing.

However there are quite a few services that are more or less expected by the clients free of charge, including linen provided by the hostel, common room with TV, music and games, basic breakfast, different level of accommodation (dorm, single, double, with or without bathroom), Computer with Internet access, security lockers, luggage storage, guest kitchen, 24 h reception/check in, no curfew or lockout, daily cleaning.

What special services do you provide? What makes you different?

Step 5 – Do you use innovative ways to reduce costs
There are always ways to cut costs, sometimes the quality will be reduced, but there are ways to maintain, and even improve the client’s experience, while reducing costs. I have already mention to let guests work in the hostel for payment in food and lodging, another is to keep a high number of guests at all time and by doing so negotiating better deals with suppliers and cooperation partners.

Step 6 – Do you collect feedback from your clients
Let the clients evaluate your performance and give suggestions of improvement. Set up a system for customer feedback where the clients are encouraged to leave their opinion before leaving. Such encouragement could be to offer free rides to the bus station or discounts. A guest book can also work as a marketing tool if presented in the right way.

The next step is to evaluate and act upon the feedback received. If you get a recommendation on how to improve the hostel and can actually implement it before the client leaves, that can be a really good way to improve your reputation. Once again, by listening to the needs of your clients and act accordingly you will stay ahead of the competitors.

Step 7 – In which ways are you unique
In today’s business world, it is very important to be unique in one way or another to attract clients that might otherwise chose a competitor. Therefore it could be a good idea to find a niche that attracts the same sort of people. An example is to promote the hostel as the Party Hostel, the Family Friendly Hostel or the Cultural Centre Hostel. By providing extra services directed to persons interested in culture the clients with this interest is more likely to arrive at your hostel. It is however hard to attract all persons in this way. The family travelling with 2 babies would not want to stay at the party hostel and the bar hopping backpacker would probably avoid the family hostel for obvious reasons. Without this segmentation however, there are more probability that they end up in the same hostel with both parties discontent, and we are looking for happy clients, aren’t we.

If you are a hostel owner I would like to wish you the best of luck with your hostel business and would very much appreciate your feedback on this article as well as your success stories as well as stories regarding when it did not turn out the way you planned. Once again, the best of luck!

Do you have more tips and tricks for running and marketing successful hostels or hotels, please add a comment.

– Ola Rynge
The Rynge Group

One Comment on “7 steps to better hostels”

  1. Hi Ola,

    great list and not unique for Hostels. Most org´s will benefit from reflecting on your bullets. I think one bullet is missing and realy deserves one on it´s own. What it shall be namned, I do not know but it stipulates how the hostel differentiates it self from an environmental perspective.

    Cheers,

    Joachim

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