6 Things a Hostel Can Focus on During Lean Period
Call it whatever – slow season, off peak season, or even travel restrictions – every travel and hospitality business goes through cyclical and non-cyclical lows. Today, globally spread coronavirus pandemic and related safety measures have affected the world economy, with travel, tourism, and hospitality businesses among ones hardest hit. I am sure that many hostels are facing downturn in demand and bookings and spike in cancellations. There are costs associated with all of this, and as is the case with every business, hostels also want to minimise them.
Cost optimization is a vast topic that needs separate attention. In this article, I want to focus on things a hostel can do to make sure that they are utilizing their time, money, resources, and efforts in right direction – at low cost, as money is one thing that usually doesn’t come in abundance during low periods.
As business cycles go through peaks and troughs, it is advisable that companies focus on actions that give long term competitive advantage. Focussing on improving products and services goes a long way when demand picks up.
Hostels are able to provide affordable accommodation to backpackers and travellers only when they operate on cost efficiencies (cost efficiency not to be confused with cost cutting). This makes it even more important for hostels to utilize this lean period more efficiently to ensure that business goals are also achieved along with catering to guest experiences.
Here are some of the things that hostels can work on in lean periods to achieve these long term results. Things that become difficult to do when guest inflow is higher and teams are busy making guest experience memorable.
Here are some of my observations based on my experience of working and travelling with hostels, and also my experience as a consultant with other industries:
1. Train Your Teams
Lean operations at hostels demand that it works with less number of highly efficient people. Being a service oriented business, it is important that your people are well trained to handle every possible situation. I have managed some hostels and trained lot of team members and do understand the importance of this aspect of running a hostel.
Even though team training is important for every hostel across the globe, Indian Hostel Industry being at nascent stage of its development needs regular training of team for following reasons:
- High staff turnover rate
- Frequently changing hostel requirements and processes
- Low availability of experienced people at affordable cost, leading to dependence on volunteers
Hostels should use their low time to train their teams annually, and in times like unexpected slow business, even more frequently. You are paying salaries to your team, might as well utilize their time for improving hostel operations and guest experience:
- People to be included: All people working at hostel, not just managers – include housekeeping, security, property managers, volunteers, front desk executives, guest experience executives, etc.
- Possible Training Areas: Guest Interaction, Customer Service, Guest Feedback, Issues Redressal, Emergency handling and SOPs, Social Media and phone Etiquettes, Front Desk Sales, Operations and Processes, Hostel Rules and Regulations (for team and guests), etc.
- Create your training manuals and keep updating them so that you don’t miss out any points while training and also have ready references for future
- Organize fun training sessions rather than classroom style trainings – after-all hostel concept is not super formal hotel like service, this needs to be represented at all levels. Only happy people can make happy guests J
- Cross train everyone for other positions to reduce dependence on single person – hostels need superstars to ensure superstar guest experience and reviews, isn’t it?
Conduct familiarization tours for your team of neighbourhood, places to see, things to do, where to eat, etc. so that they are better equipped to make suggestions supplemented with personal tips and stories. Guests at hostels crave for this local experience and insider tips.
2. Operational Efficiencies and Savings
I would keep this short and focussed mainly on couple of points. I have been an operations consultant for many service industries including hotels, hospitality, and hostels and these points are just brief overview of what can be done.
Hostels buy supplies on regular basis, why not explore for better pricing and vendors. Why not go shopping for better quality of products and services. Create a proper supplies sheet with buying related data and analyse it. Check your store stocks. Breakdown your requirements, look for more vendors, bulk buy non-perishable products (at better prices) and negotiate for better pricing for being a regular customer.
Your breakfast has been generating negative feedback? It’s time to fix your vendor now.
Some of the suggestions for items:
- Perishable and non perishable food supplies
- Housekeeping and cleaning supplies
Services like Internet, credit card payments, etc.
Operational Diagnosis and Improvements
Every hostel can save a lot of time and money by managing small operations with more efficiency – cash management, check-in and check-out processes, cleaning or housekeeping time per bed/room, guest laundry, shift timings of managers, and so on. Do a proper diagnosis of all possible operations (big and small) and improve them.
This will not only improve your cost effectiveness in long term but also significantly improve your guest experience. Imagine not upsetting a guest because his/her laundry took too long or was not dried properly.
3. Property Improvements or Renovations
So this might just be the most expensive item in this list, but weren’t you already planning for it? It is best to do preventive maintenance and any property improvements and renovations during this lean period for following reasons:
- To not lose revenue during peak period because of closed sections of property
- Not upsetting other guests because of disturbance and lack of privacy due to labour walking in and out of the property all day long
Hostels plan to change a lot of things in their properties but procrastinating is something that is very human thing to do. End result now is that there are newer and better hostel properties in your vicinity. Heard your guests complain about same things about your property in last season, slow period is the time to rectify and make those capital investments that your hostel needs so desperately. Go into the next season without repetitive complaints.
Most important things to renovate or improve include mattresses, beds, washing machines, deep cleaning, furniture, lighting, plumbing, etc.
Prioritize your renovation and improvement plans in case of funds or resource constraints (this can be done strategically, in case you need help, you can contact me). Make sure that all labour, materials, etc. are in place to complete work in time. Since you are having less number of guests during slow time, it gets easier to manage their expectations and prevent complaints and bad reviews.
4. Improve Marketing Efforts
In lean period, create, review, and revise your marketing plans and finalise ones you see working for you. This will also set the tone of your hostel during peak season.
There are very few hostels in India today that have focussed on marketing consciously. In my experience as a traveller and guest, there are some really great hostels which if marketed properly can do a lot better. In most cases hostels just enlist themselves on online booking platforms and make their Instagram accounts in the name of marketing. Don’t get me wrong, these hostels are doing really well. My drift here is to say that they can do better.
It is really important that the content you share on marketing platforms is regularly updated and is well targeted to your audience. Targeting is the key to your marketing efforts, especially if you are a niche hostel or have a hostel in highly competitive area.
Word of mouth is a great way of marketing, but that only tells half the story for a hostel, as it only covers what guests experience during short stay with you. If you are providing something special at your hostel, then why not showcase it properly – be it ambience, activities, local unexplored attractions, kickass team, and much more.
Local relationship building with various businesses is another way of building up your property’s demand during off or low seasons and also providing guests with better deals/experiences during peak times. I am sure there are local businesses that might be looking for a property like yours for various purposes (business stays, offsite trainings, experiential workshops, etc.) but you never connected with them. Utilize this down period for making this connection (call or visit) to explore more avenues for extra revenue (part of revenue management) even during slow period.
5. Improve Reviews
I cannot emphasise how important online reviews are to a hostel. I book my stays based on good reviews and I can say the same for most travellers too. While working at hostels, so many people have told me that they booked our hostel because of fantastic reviews.
I am not saying that your team should work for reviews only; instead, work towards providing impeccable service all through the year, great reviews then will be consequential. Yes, I have worked with hostels and have turned around bad reviews to great ones not by pushing guests to write good reviews but by placing my heart in providing solutions. Think from a guest’s perspective, if you are in their situation how you would feel and what solution you would expect. Do what best can be done and make sure you keep a transparent, firm, and polite communication with guests.
Having said that, please don’t beat yourself up if you still get one or two bad review. You cannot make everyone happy; there will always be difficult guests.
Here are some tips on how to use lean time for good reviews:
- You are getting less number of guests; take this as an opportunity to build a stronger bond with them. When you are running on full occupancy this becomes really difficult. Connecting with your guests and taking their feedback even before they checkout, makes them feel valued. Seeing you working towards their feedbacks is most likely to result in better reviews and can also tone down bad reviews
- Set goals for your team and put in place an incentive program that rewards them for good reviews
- Create quick and memorable check-in and check-out experience. For example, at check-out, ask guests how their stay was and what areas of improvement are. Believe me you can get so many creative ideas to improve your property by just asking this
- Give guests small token of appreciation with your branding if they post a review while they are still at the property – it’s not the cost of that thing that counts, it’s the gesture
Low period is the time when you can go out of your way to make each stay memorable for all guests, so just do that
6. Keep learning and Think Outside the Box
Last but not the least, this is one of the most important things that any hostel owner or manager can do. Lean period can give you enough time to think and get creative with your hostel. Think outside the box and figure out things that you and your team can do differently. Brain storm with your team to come up with ideas that can make things better in any aspect for the hostel – maybe it is some creative ways of serving breakfast or some new tours or shift timings.
Learning should be a continuous process, be it for you or for your team. You can learn from other hostel blogs, hospitality and travel magazines, talking to influencers, online courses, etc.
Another area where you can learn a lot would be your sales and customer data analysis. This can help you with targeted marketing, re-designing your guest experience, pricing strategies and lot more.
I know these are just general pointers for any hostel to explore. Every hostel has its own strengths and struggles and one size of suggestions cannot fit all. If you have any specific questions where you need any suggestions, please feel free to comment or email me and we shall try to explore how I can be of any help.
Also if you like this article, like, share, and comment below. This will motivate me to share more such ideas and experiences.
Safety Note: In wake of global coronavirus pandemic, kindly implement any suggestions along with necessary precautions to maximise social distancing until the spread of virus is contained.