Hostel Operations

How to Start a Hostel Series

If your team is the heart and soul of your hostel business and your hostel website is the face, then the systems and mechanisms of management are the brain. Having efficient systems in place will make your teams job a lot easier, and keep them happy. 

Happy team means happy guests – its that simple.


As mentioned in the previous article in this series (Creating your hostel experience), your employees make or break a hostel business. They are the personality and the soul of your hostel.

Obviously you must train your staff in certain areas however it must be understood that the most important qualities that you are looking for can not be trained.

If the candidate does not genuinely enjoy the hostel environment and being around travelers then they can’t possibly fake it all day everyday. Working in a hostel is often very long hours with constant contact with the customers. Therefore personality is everything, any other skill can be trained.

Core Team

It is important to have a core team of people that run and manage the hostel everyday. Ideally you want to use as few people as possible. While this won’t be possible in a really big hostel business in a smaller hostel it makes things a lot easier not just for the management but for the guests themselves. Having consistency between staff members and guests is really key.

Many hostels will employ travellers that want to stay for an extended period of time in exchange for accommodation or a small wage. You MUST check the laws in your country as in many countries you can not simply exchange accommodation for work as you need to pay taxes.

How To Manage

To get the most out of your core team you must involve them in the big decisions and give them the most autonomy and self direction that you can. Rather than micromanage, set clear goals and objectives that can be quantified, then allow them the autonomy to get on with them.

Front Desk

This is the hub, command centre and the heart of your hostel. If the front desk is not managed properly then neither is your hostel. 

Although there are many ways to split the management of your hostel the front desk usually operates the following areas :

  • Staff rota’s and organisation (free rota’s)
  • Occupancy and check out
  • Bookings
  • Social Media and Marketing
  • Tours and events ( sometimes separate desk )


There are many different PMS’s (property management systems) on the market for hostels or more generally the hospitality industry. Obviously the best option is ( we’re not biased ) the hostel booked solution as you can manage the website and all of your bookings, including occupancy, from the same place.

Having different systems and platforms for the website, for bookings and then for occupancy creates a lot of problems.

  • Hard to manage
  • Constant confusion and overbooking
  • Takes far longer to train staff

With the hostel booked solution all bookings are managed in the same place and are put into a calendar so that bookings and occupancy can be seen in the same place. As all bookings sit in the same user interface it is impossible for your staff to overbook a single bed, even if they are accessing the system from different devices.

It also means that as a manager you can log in and see exactly what is going on even when you are away from your business.

Whichever system you use it must be easy to understand and you must create a manual to use for training and reference. Normally a hostel has a frequent turnover of temporary staff and if you have to personally train each one it will be very time consuming.

You must also have a website and a few social media sites to promote your hostel. Great hostel website design is essential as most travelers will want to make a booking as fast as possible, and will probably be doing so with a hand-held device.

Tours and Excursions

If tours and excursions are a big part of your business then you may consider having a separate desk set up just for this. It is also necessary to put all of this information on your hostel website as people may make a booking based on this.

You can add a lot more to your guests stay and to your profit margin by offering tours and excursions directly from the hostel. You have a captive audience that will almost undoubtedly ask you “what is there to do” while staying with you. You would be mad not to capitalize on this.

To set up tours and excursions do your due diligence about the tour companies in your area as if your guests have a bad experience it will ultimately reflect on you and effect their experience at your hostel.

Once you have found one or some reputable companies to work with, go and speak to them and explain your situation. They should be able to give you all of the marketing materials that you need such as leaflets and flyers, and explain their commission structure.

To make a bigger profit margin you can package a lot of activities together and charge a higher price for the individual activities as a whole.


Security is one of those things that is not an issue, until it is an issue. Your location plays a huge factor in the security of your business.

Access Control

You must have a way to control who comes in and out of your hostel. We won’t go into detail about the different options here but it is generally done in one of four ways:

  • Staff directly control access
  • Keys
  • Key cards
  • Mobile Keys

You must educate your guests when they arrive as to the exact security rules that you have so that there is no ambiguity. As travelers will meet other people from other hostels they will often turn up with people who are not staying at your hostel. Usually there is a common area at the front of the hostel where people can wait for guests or mingle but under no circumstances can non guests go into the sleeping quarters.

For this reason it is essential to have a clear distinction between these two areas.


You will want to have cameras in your hostel but you do not want them to be too visible. Although its nice to feel safe, nobody likes to feel as though they are being watched. The cameras are not just to keep an eye on your guests but your staff also.

Do not let any of your staff have access to the place that the footage is stored as if they plan to steal and leave they will simply take the footage with them.


To make sure your hostel is continually kept clean you must have a rota that is filled in and signed on a daily basis. The only time that the dorms can be cleaned is between check-out and check-in so your team must focus on the dorms only between these hours, kitchen and communal spaces can be cleaned after breakfast and dinner.

As you will need to clean a big area in a short space of time a lot of hostels will employ part time staff to come in during said hours to get the dorms cleaned. Kitchen, bathrooms and communal spaces can be carried out by staff during the day.

A few tips to keep in mind when cleaning within your hostel:

  • Use a rota that is signed daily and archived
  • Open the windows before you start
  • Start at the top, so you are not brushing dust onto clean surfaces
  • Clean the bulbs! If these are left to gather dust it will affect the light in the room
  • Do not overuse chemicals as they will make your hostel smell like a hospital and never mix chemicals as you do not know what effect the vapour will have
  • If you are the manager regularly spot check immediately after cleaning so that you know if something has not been cleaned properly rather than been dirtied after the cleaning process


Laundry is a big part of the day to day maintenance of any hostel. There are two ways to do this. Do it in house by the staff as part of the cleaning regime, or outsource this to a local company. It is often recommended to outsource this part of the business.


The operations that go into any hostel business are far too broad and complex to cover in a single article, and the options infinite. Knowing the key parts of your business and what to focus on will give you a structure to work with when starting your venture.

  • Employees ( Core Team, Keep them happy, Autonomy, Goals Quantified )
  • Front Desk ( Booking, Occupancy, Staff Rotas, Tours – Marketing optional )
  • Security ( Access Control, Educate Guests, Surveillance )
  • Cleaning ( Signed Rotas, Structured Method, Spot Checks, Laundry )

Series Summary

This is the end of our series “How to start a hostel”. The main aim of this series of articles was try and give you an idea of what is required to start a hostel. We certainly have not covered everything you need to know but with this blueprint you know where to start and what the stages are along the way. 

As with any project it is always good to go and speak with someone who has already been there and done it, in this case – a hostel owner. If you are thinking about starting a hostel and you have not already spoken to a hostel owner about this then that should be the first thing you do.

The next step is to create a business plan this will probably be essential anyway but it is incredibly useful to focus your mind around the business as a whole. Once you have done this its time to start looking for your perfect location…… Good Luck!

  • Find The Right Location
  • Find The Cash To Finance The Project
  • Create An Experience For Your Guests
  • Install Systems and Procedures

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