Designing and Creating Your Hostel Experience

How to Start a Hostel Series

When designing a hostel there are many factors to take into consideration. Your guests must feel at home when they arrive, their living quarters must be comfortable and clean and the hostel must be functional.

Above all of these factors there is one that is unique to hostels when compared with the rest of the hospitality industry, and that is community!

People usually go to hostels to get a good nights sleep at a decent price, but more importantly they want a community experience where they can meet other travelers.

Typical Customers

Before you even think about designing your hostel experience you need to know who you are designing it for. Most hostel owners will already have a good idea of this before they start but few will actually create a customer profile to clearly define who their target market is.

Creating a customer profile is a very common marketing practice and will help you when trying to specify your target market and who you are designing your hostel for. It will also help you when marketing your hostel as you will now know who you are marketing to.

A customer profile is a very detailed description of your typical client. You would detail things such as:

  • Age Range
  • Cultural Background
  • Income Level
  • Interests
  • What are they looking for in a hostel
  • What are their specific top 3 needs/wants
  • What are their specific top 3 pain points

You should also take into consideration the type of people who are in your area, not just think about the type of people you want in your hostel.

How to create a customer profile.

Type of Hostel

Back in the day hostels were basic, cheap and came as they were. Hostels today are far more varied and can range from the cheapest option available to a boutique experience that has higher standards than most hotels.

Here are some of the varieties of hostels and there respective considerations.

Cheap

If you have a big hostel with lots of beds you can obviously make more money than in a smaller business. Usually these types of hostels are incredibly functional and don’t have a lot of personality. This is NOT a hard and fast rule but it is generally the case.
With this type of hostel you need to have a space that is incredibly organised and highly functional in terms of things such as check-in, security and cleaning.

Small and Cosy

The alternative to a big hostel is a small, cosy hostel that feels very homely and has its own individual personality. It is usually far more social to stay in a small hostel as travelers are more likely to speak to people in common areas when its possible to get to know everyone in the hostel. If there are many people coming and going endlessly guests are far less likely to try and speak to people.
Smaller hostels are usually lifestyle businesses for the owners and sometimes even family businesses where the family lives on site.

Boutique

Boutique hostels are a fairly new phenomenon as hostels were originally set up for backpackers on a budget. Nowadays its very popular to go on a gap year and many travelers are operating on far more than a shoestring.
A boutique hostel will always have a very specific style. Usually but not always a boutique hostel will be themed.
The advantage of a boutique hostel is that you can charge far more per night and will attract a higher class of clientele. Meaning you are less likely to have people using your space without respect.

Party Hostel

A party hostel is essentially a big hostel with a bar aimed at young travelers.
The advantage of a party hostel is that you can make more money – a lot more money.

As a general rule in any given country a nights accommodation is roughly 3 drinks at a bar. The difference however is that the profit margin is usually higher on a drink than it is on accommodation.

If you had a successful bar within your hostel you could potentially double your profits. It is very difficult to find accurate profit margin data for hostels but it sits somewhere in the range of 20-30% on average with the extreme end being 40%.

The gross profit margin on the average drink at a bar is around 70-80%, this is not a net figure but if you already have the premises and a lot of the infrastructure you could be making a huge profit.

Its easy to see how having a big bar in your hostel could lead to far bigger profits without much more infrastructure and outlay.

Adventure / Activities

Hostels that are situated in places of great natural beauty or next to a national park have started to capitalize on the type of traveler that comes to those regions.

Recognizing that people flock to those areas to take full advantage of the surrounding areas, adventure style hostels will market themselves with the activities and trips that they offer.

Personality and Style

It is very important to have a very clear vision about the personality of your hostel. You really need to think about the atmosphere that you want to create and how your environment can foster this.

A new trend within the hostel industry is to have a themed hostel, but this is not essential. In a place where there is a lot of competition a themed hostel can really help you stand out.

Check out these themed hostels.

Do Something Different!

Your hostel should have at least one thing that people have not seen in any other hostel on the planet. Something that is completely unique to your hostel. This can be a hand painted mural, custom made furniture, a specific design of kitchen, a motorbike hanging from the ceiling…. The possibilities are endless, just use your creativity and make sure it fits in with the personality of your hostel.

The Personal Touch

Beyond the interior design of your hostel the next way that you convey the personality of your hostel is through the staff that work there.

This is the most important factor when creating an atmosphere.

The staff that run your hostel ultimately ARE the personality of your hostel. If you are running the hostel yourself then you need to consider this when interacting with staff and when hiring people. If someone is not naturally a people person who enjoys being around new people then you should definitely not employ them.

Here are some ways to give your hostel that personal touch:

  • Try and remember first names and use them
  • Take the time to speak to guests about their plans for the day and help if possible
  • Employ travelers or exchange free accommodation for work
  • Introduce new arrivals to people already staying at the hostel
  • Have food or film nights so that the staff and guests are brought together within the hostel
  • Events and trips outside of the hostel even if its simply an organised night out
  • Make use of a photo wall of previous guests
  • Have a map of the world where guests can pin their home town

Types of Dorm Rooms

Generally speaking within any hostel there are two types of rooms – dorm rooms and private rooms. A private room is self explanatory but there are some different options you can go for when designing your dorm rooms and your bunks.

A dorm room can use either bunk beds or single, stand-alone beds. As bunk beds don’t offer much privacy you can use a curtain to close off the space and put a light and a plug within the bed area itself so that your guests will have their own private space.

To do this you must position each bunk against a wall length ways, so its something to consider when creating the floor plan of your dorm rooms.

A trend that once started in Japan that is now taking the hostel world by storm is the use of pods. The difference between a pod and a bunk with a curtain is that a pod is completely closed in apart from an entrance that sits at the foot of the bed not at the side.

The beauty of pods is that you can fit a lot of people in one space and yet people can still have their own space. Due to the fact that they have solid walls on both sides you can put pods directly next to each other.

If you want to have the maximum amount of people in the space available then pods are the most efficient way to achieve this.

Communal Spaces

We covered this briefly in Finding The Right Location but here we will go into more detail. Communal spaces are the areas where your guests will meet and mingle, apart from price this is the reason people stay in hostels – the social aspect.

Living Areas

You will want at least one big living room where the furniture is arranged in a way that encourages socializing. To do this have the furniture facing in to a common space and try not to divide this space into sections. If the furniture can be easily arranged by guests this is ideal.

Things to provide:

  • Cards and communal games
  • Books ( You can run a book exchange )
  • Musical instruments

Never put a television in the main communal area, this will kill the atmosphere. It is fine to have a film room where people can sit and watch documentaries and films but this room should be dedicated solely to this.

Ideally you need a living space that is out of earshot of the sleeping quarters. Sometimes people will want to stay up all night chatting, other times they will want an early night. You need to make sure that people can do both as there is nothing more annoying than being kept awake when trying to sleep.

Unless you have two living spaces, one with music and one without the staff should have control over the music so they can keep it to a sensible level and keep the music neutral.

Kitchen and Dining Area

Your kitchen and dining area should be two separate spaces if possible as people wont want to listen to the noise of the kitchen while they are eating.

Your kitchen is a very social area and many guests will meet each other for the first time in this space. Having a central unit where people will face each other while working is ideal.

The more hobs and ovens the better, as a general rule of thumb you will want one set of hobs for every twelve guests that you have. When kitchen planning many hostels forget to think about work surfaces. If 15 guests descend on the kitchen at once, all preparing and cooking their food you can imagine how chaotic it can get.

With kitchen planning the bigger the better, the chances that your kitchen will be too big is slim to none.

Outdoor Area

It is essential in any hostel to have an outdoor area, even if you are in a city you should have an open air area. This is not just so that people can smoke but also people will not want to be indoors all day even if you are in a cold climate.

Summary

Creating your hostel experience is not something to be taken lightly as this is the most important element of your business. Your hostel business will depend entirely on the experience your guests have while staying with you. Although you can and will market the business yourself, the vast majority of the marketing will be done by happy customers. In summary:

  • Interior Design and Layout
  • Staff
  • Involve the guests
  • Do something different
  • Dorm design
  • Communal spaces

In the final installment of this series we will go into managing your hostel operations.

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