I don’t stay in hostels all the time but there are some really cool hostels I have stayed in. One of them was 40Berkeley in Boston. The hostel’s Director of Events and Media, Bria Schecker, tells us more about World Hostel Conference 2012 she attended.
1 ) How was the Gomio’s World Hostel Conference 2012 and what did you learn?
In a nutshell, the World Hostel Conference was amazing! In terms of creating a space for like-minded travelers and hostel professionals to learn from each other and network, there really is no better event. While the hostel scene is quite established in some parts of the world (like Europe), it’s still very new in other areas (like the US). Having a conference that brings together individuals from the newer and older sectors is invaluable – you learn what strategies have worked for years on end, as well as what trends are on the rise.
Aside from the amazing people I met, the hostels I learned about, and the strategies for success, the WHC served as a great forum for learning about new tools and technologies that are geared specifically towards hostels.
If you attend other travel or tourism conferences, most information targets hotel owners; hostels gain very little attention when they’re sitting next to big boys such as Marriott and Hilton. Having an annual event dedicated solely to hostels is so special – there is no other event where you can learn about property management systems based on revenue per bed, mobile and social apps geared towards hostels and backpackers, and market research focused on the backpacker industry all in one day!
2) Why was the World Hostel Conference important to you? Why did you attend?
The WHC truly embodies what the hostel culture and industry is all about. When you go to some of these other travel and tourism conferences, there is always a slight tension in the air as big boy competitors pretend to walk hand-in-hand for the duration of the conference. With hostels, there really isn’t a sense of tension or competition when you have the entire industry sitting in one room. Because so many hostels are privately owned, independent entities, they see each other more as partners – rather than competitors – who are all working together to keep hostelling hip and alive. If I have a hostel in Boston, and I meet the owner of a fantastic hostel in Germany, there’s no way we’d be competing for guests. In fact, by building a relationship with that hostel, I would probably gain more business for my own establishment through referrals from my new German friend! This is probably the most valuable aspect of the WHC – the networking. Of course the lectures and presentation are extremely helpful and insightful, but there really isn’t anywhere else in the world where I can make so many connections with other hostels and hostel owners all in one place over such a short time frame. That, to me, is what this conference is all about.
3) What do you expect from the World Hostel Conference in the next few years?
This year’s conference focused a bit more on new hostel-specific technology than in previous years. In the past, there have been speakers from larger players such as Yelp, but it was very refreshing to hear from smaller hostel-focused organizations. I think future WHC’s will continue to nourish this need for new technology within the hostel sector, and will bring exciting new opportunities to the floor in the coming years.
4) How will hostel industry change in the next few years?
This is an interesting question because, if you look at the lifespan of the hostel industry over the past several years, you’ll notice that it hasn’t actually changed that much. There are the obvious advancements of course – more online bookings, increased credit card payments, mobile transactions, etc., but the heart and soul of the service that a hostel provides has gone relatively unchanged. Hostels are about helping travelers integrate themselves both with each other as well as in the local culture and community of a location. That’s a core value of any successful hostel, and a pretty timeless one at that.
There are, however, some very interesting new services and technologies that have developed in recent years to help hostels embody that core value. I think we will continue to see an influx of higher tech services in the hostel industry such as mobile apps with guided tours and navigation, self-service check-in kiosks, and social travel sites. This new technology has somewhat shifted the standards and expectations of travelers – many hostellers now expect cleaner, more comfortable accommodations with more amenities than were previously standard for hostels. These expectations are causing the insurgence of a new type of accommodation – the luxury hostel. Luxury hostels fall in that gray area between traditional hostels and hotels. They still embody the social and cultural spirit of a hostel, but provide more hotel-like comforts (nicer rooms, private bathrooms, more upscale decor, etc.).
5) What advice can you give to new travelers and existing
travelers to save money and have a good time?
Stay in hostels! That’s the obvious answer of course, but the reasons why may not be so obvious to someone that has never tried hostelling. Even if you’re not the type of person that enjoys sharing a room with several strangers, you can still take advantage of the affordability and social benefits that hostels provide. Many hostels these days offer private rooms for non-backpackers, couples, and even families. In fact, all the rooms at 40Berkeley are private.
While hotels service museum-goers and tour-takers, hostels serve as a traveler’s gateway to all things local – food, events, cultural traditions, festivals, and so much more. Imagine you were visiting a friend in a foreign destination. Sure they would take you to all the famous landmarks and attractions, but they would also make sure you saw what life is really like in their home town, and they’d make sure you saw it on a local’s budget – not a wealthy tourist’s. Hostels aim to give travelers that same type of experience.
My advice is this: travel and stay local (in hostels!), explore the road less traveled, don’t be afraid to talk to strangers (even though your parents told you not to), and always be willing to try something new and different with an open mind!
6) Where are the best places you have visited?
Whenever I tell people about all of the countries I’ve been to, I always get asked this question, and it never gets any easier to answer! Today, my favorite country in the world is Australia, but that answer could very well change tomorrow! In 2008 I lived in Australia for about 8 months. Other than the US, this country feels most like home to me, which is probably why it’s at the top of my list. During my time there, I learned what the phrase “no worries” really means, and it has drastically changed the way I live many aspects of my life.
I think part of the reason why I fell in love with “Oz” is how different it is from the US. The best way I can put it is that, in America, people live to work, while in Australia, they work to live. I realize that’s quite the sweeping generalization but after reflecting upon my life during those 8 months, I’ve come to truly believe that statement. In Australia, when someone asks what you “do”, they don’t want to know about your job. They want to know about your life! Australia is also full of hostels and hostellers, and the local culture basks in it!
7) What makes a good hostel?
This was a topic of great discussion at this year’s WHC. There are so many aspects of a hostel that keep people coming back, but by the end of the conference, the atmosphere of a hostel was deemed the most important. Travelers stay in hostels to enjoy a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere that embodies the culture of their destination. Hostelling is also a very social experience – the friends you make while staying in hostels around the world often become friends for life, and it’s the hostels job to create an atmosphere where those types of relationships can be forged.
8) How has technology played a part keeping the hostel sprit alive?
Hostelling is all about being a social traveler, and technology these days makes this so easy to accomplish! Technology has helped both sides of the hostel industry (the hostels and the hostellers) express themselves, develop their personalities, and communicate their values. It provides tools that help hostels keep former, current, and future guests engaged with their brand. It provides means for travelers to meet other travelers before, during, or after a trip, and it helps keep all parties in touch when your trip is over.
At 40Berkeley, we constantly seek out new technologies to help enhance our guests’ experiences and ensure they can easily access local information about Boston. We recently added iPads in our lobby so guests can Skype with friends and family, send free emails, and access maps and information about social events where they can meet other travelers and locals. We’re a huge hostel, and sometimes our size can be a bit daunting to the unfamiliar traveler but putting all of our social resources in one place on an iPad helps keep things manageable for our guests – it shows them we care and understand their needs, and that’s yet another thing that hostels are all about!