March 8, 2014
Confessions of a Hostel Manager
The real beauty of backpacking is the ability to meet like minded people incidental of race, colour, religious beliefs or social background and in doing so share a common aim, that of exploring the world not as a 2 week tourist but as an adventurer. Over the several decades I have been in this business and while the web and social media has changed the world, it has not changed the spirit of backpacking. The internet and social media revolution has though changed how we as hostel owners market our venues and how we now receive a good percentage of our bookings, for all the good that this revolution has brought to us all it does pose a real dilemma.
Many years ago in the ‘dark Ages’ (prior to the net) guests would normally book in advance and almost always by simply turning up at the hostel or by telephone, the later for booking weeks or months ahead and in doing so they would inevitable turn up for the booking, now days most guests book on line 24-48 hours before they arrive via on line booking agents, as this is a faceless process (unlike the good old telephone) 20-30% of these bookings will be cancelled or the guests never turn up, this change is a direct result of the booking providers allow cancellations at very short notice with no monetary penalty to the person booking, or they only take a small fee to cover their administration costs, in doing this they have promoted the concept that there is no financial loss to the hostel owners. What we see more frequently are guests booking several hostels in the same town and when they arrive they go from location to location until the choose the hostel they like and then cancel the others, or they book several hostels in the same country over the same period, with no real concrete plans to go to a specific location just the desire to secure a bed for the night, the net result is that there is an admin costs and the possibility of lost revenue, the real issue here is with most hostels running on a marginal profit this cost has to be passed on to future guests.
The other issue is one of using social media, to keep our guests old and new amused and informed. In the past 90% of our guests came from the so called ‘developed world’ therefore our marketing was designed to enlighten and enthral this segment of the market, due to the snail’s pace of getting this marketing out there, we were only ever commenting on the past or the future and never the present. No problem I hear you say?
Well there is, in the past diplomacy was not an issue as we knew our potential customers and we, were not expected to find interesting information every day to post, with this new need to post at least once a day and with guests now coming from the wider world there is a very good chance a percentage of what we post may well offend someone, to give an example there was a article written recently from a reliable independent source that listed the worlds worse hotel guests by country of origin, the findings were both in my opinion surprising and informative but by publishing such an article, would we offend the sensitivity of potential guest from those countries highlighted in the report???
Yep the web and especially social media is truly a double edged sword, I long for the good old days when guests kept their bookings and we could offend 50% of the world with impunity.