Hostels: Q&A with a staff member
Friday, July 31, 2015
Last week, we reviewed some reasons why hostels are becoming more popular among travelers and investors. But that alone is not a complete story, because we were still missing one important piece of the puzzle: additional insights from the staff who are actually working in a hostel.
As a result, I invited Joanne Lam to share her experience of working in a hostel with us in a Q&A. Lam works in the Green Tortoise San Francisco Hostel and is a master's student at the Collins College of Hospitality Management (Cal Poly Pomona).
What is your work experience in hostels?
JL: "I've been working in a hostel for a total of about two years. A few years ago, I started off in the East Coast by working for Hostelling International, the largest hostelling organization in the United States. Now I've been with the Green Tortoise San Francisco hostel for the last two months."
Who stays in hostels?
JL: "It's incredibly hard to describe and filter all of our guests into one category. Many of them are backpackers, solo travelers or simply with a few friends traveling for a long period of time — anywhere between two weeks to six months. Our guests all have unique personalities. They seek connections everywhere they go. They are flexible and welcoming to new adventures on a daily basis.
"With our shared accommodation dorm rooms and our large common space and kitchen, guests have to let go of any privacy for the most part and learn to accept and live with one another. Guests in Green Tortoise become part of the family, and they make sure to return to stay with us or recommend their friends to be a part of the community as well."
Why do people choose to stay in hostels?
JL: "Our guests choose to stay in a hostel over other hotels because of the vibe, the community, the activities and being able to be themselves in any given situation. Many choose us because their friends have had great experiences with us, and they want to experience the Green Tortoise experience themselves. They look for travelers similar to themselves to explore the city together. They want to make new friends and create travel stories together."
How do hostels keep everyone engaged?
JL: "The free breakfast and free dinners are a huge part of how we engage the travelers. Free dinners are similar to a family meal, where we encourage travelers to help with the preparation of the meals. Our nightly social events range from pub crawls and live music to dinner outings in the area. We also create a list of activities happening in and around San Francisco on a weekly basis for our guests, especially events that are more local than touristic.
"Aside from tangible ways to engage the travelers, we, as staff, are the first to engage travelers in conversations, to get to know them as well as help them navigate the city to create an authentic travel experience for them."
Who is working in hostels?
JL: "Our associates working for the Green Tortoise San Francisco are unique and yet at the same time, very much alike. We have staff from all over the world such as Australia, New Zealand, as well as Italy. Even though we all come from a different background, we all have one thing in common: having the passion for our travelers and taking in part of creating the best experience for them. We, individually, have our own particular strengths and knowledge of the city, allowing us to personalize guest experiences and requests."
What is the relationship between the management team and the staff?
Joanne Lam stands outside the Green Tortoise in San Francisco.
JL: "This may sound cheesy, but we're a family. It's the Green Tortoise family. The relationship between the associates and management team is very open. Communication is key, and there is not a clear line among various responsibilities when it comes down to getting the jobs done.
"The management team is at times at the front desk checking travelers in rather than sitting in their own office. They could be fixing toilets, switching light bulbs or cleaning the carpet when they need to. They are also open to any creative projects recommended by the associates to create a better experience for travelers. They understand everyone has different strengths and tries to find ways to make good use of everyone's strengths."
What is the work environment in hostels?
JL: "I love working in a hostel! Every day is an adventure to meet different travelers and hear their stories. Being able to add to a piece of their travel story is incredibly rewarding. It's a fast-paced work environment. There is always something to be done, such as folding sheets, checking travelers in, answering their inquiries, making reservations from OTA sites, and most importantly, making sure to create a comfortable environment for our guests.
"There is never much of a downtime, which makes it superexciting. And when there is a downtime, we tend to be hanging out with the guests and having a good time."
What current trends are affecting hostels?
JL: "There are many travel trends that have already made an impact on the hostel business, such as solo and independent travelers. I believe many travelers are searching for authentic travel and comfortable communities, making hostels the perfect option of accommodation.
"The health and wellness travel trend booming in recent years has also made an impact on the hostel business. Travelers can cook in hostel kitchens and not have to go out to eat, whether it's for health or economic reasons. This is especially important for long-term backpackers and travelers. Hostels are no longer simply a cheaper alternative form of accommodation, but I believe it has and will continue to become a way of life."
What makes each hostel unique?
JL: "I believe one unique aspect of hostels currently is that each hostel (and/or organization of hostels) offers different activities and environment. It offers travelers an option to choose which type of community they would like to be a part of. Especially with the up-and-coming boutique hostels coming into the market, it's important to differentiate from one another with the community vibe and knowing the target market.
"For example, Green Tortoise, San Francisco's No. 1 party hostel, prides itself on a extremely fun, comfortable environment offering road trip tours around the United States. While Hostelling International USA, in addition to offering accommodation, also runs various education programs to engage students, local communities, as well as a large volunteer network in the country. They aim to 'inspire a genuine understanding of people, places and cultures for a more tolerant world.'"
More about Joanne Lam:
Lam is a master's student in The Collins College of Hospitality Management at California Polytechnic University Pomona (Cal Poly Pomona). She is currently investigating how hostels can be used to build a more culturally intelligent world. Having lived in Hong Kong, Cambodia and Boston — where she received her BA degree in communication studies from Emerson College — she is an avid traveler of the world who is always seeking for new adventures, new stories to tell, and new ways to build a utopian society.
Her blog, Stuck Like A Pincushion, is a compilation of photographs, stories and thoughts of her daily interactions. Lam's perspectives on travel and the hospitality industry are largely influenced by her own experiences. There is only one way to describe what she's all about — as the tagline on her blog states: "Live to exist outside our bodies in the lives and thoughts of others."
To stay in touch with Lam's daily musings, follow her on Instagram and Twitter.
Want to know more about hostels? Please feel free to leave Joanne or me a note.
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