Replies to hostel reviews-If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. 

Have you ever paid attention to the responses that hostels leave to reviews left about them on Hostelworld or Tripadvisor?

In our past four months of travel, I’ve found that these responses left by hostel owners, managers, or workers to reviews on hostelworld of tripadvisor often do more harm than good.

When I read in a review that a staff member at the hostel was rude, for instance, it ever so slightly lessens my chances of choosing that hostel. Maybe the staff member was having a bad day. Maybe the person leaving the comment was actually the rude one. You never know. But when I see sarcastic, rude, and/or accusing responses from hostel owners/managers on Hostelworld or Tripadvisor reviews my chances of staying at the hostel drop dramatically.

Not sure what I mean by sarcastic, rude or accusing responses? Here are some of the worst I’ve ever seen. These all happen to be from the same hostel, but unfortunately it’s not an isolated issue.

 

 

Pretty bad, right?

Clearly these reviews weren’t great to start with, but the owner only made things worse with his replies.

In my search, I’ve had trouble finding an example of a hostel that replies well to a negative comment. It seems that most don’t reply all, and those who do reply often don’t reply well.

Here’s an example of a good reply to a review from Local Hostel Manaus. It’s professional and polite.

I think that if a hostel wants to reply to a review they should always start by thanking the person for their review and mention how the review will help them improve. Local Hostel does just this in the above reply. 

When it comes to responding to negative reviews, I think that hostels should never argue or get overly defensive. A simple apology and, when appropriate, a non defensive explanation will be much more likely to attract future guests. A person complains about the water going out? Thank them for their comment and mention that you’re sorry the water went out and and maybe note that it was a citywide problem. Tell them about efforts to work on the problem if any have been made, and thank them again. But, never, never, accuse the guest of being dramatic, of expecting too much, of being at fault for choosing the wrong hostel etc… even if that’s what you’re thinking. 

In the end, when it comes to replies to hostel reviews, it seems that what our moms and dads told us as kids still rings true: if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

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The Little Things 

We’ve been traveling for two months now, and we’ve stayed in over 15 different hostels. In every hostel we take note of what we like and what we don’t like. We notice how we feel about the hostel and ask ourselves why we feel this way. 

As we’ve gone along we’ve realized that having a great hostel isn’t so much about doing one big thing super well as it is about doing a lot of little things well. It seems the more of these little things a hostel does well, the more impressive the hostel is over all. 

While hostels with a really great vibe and community can sometimes manage to seem great even when lacking some of these details, it seems to me that focusing on the details is a good place to start when trying to run a successful hostel. 

So what are some of these little things? 

Soap! While I never expect hostels to have little shampoo and conditioner bottles waiting for us, I’m shocked by how many don’t put any form of soap by sinks for hand washing. Especially in a shared dorm, I want people be able to wash their hands after they use the bathroom!

Hooks/shelves- hooks and shelves are small easy additions to rooms that can allow people to store personal items within reach, dry towels/clothes, and in general keep their things better organized. Big lockers are a great addition to a dorm room too, allowing people to store away their whole bag and leave the room much neater.

Mirrors- when mirrors are placed in the rooms and not just in the bathroom it can make it easier for multiple people to get ready at the same time, especially in an ensuite dormroom.

A place to put your shampoo- On the topic of storage, a shower caddy or shelf to place shampoo/soap on while showering is a nice touch. Bonus points if it’s one that a small travel bottle won’t fall out of easily. 

Give guests a map- Again, it’s a small but appreciated touch. It’s even better if you also offer advice about things to do and places to see. 

Outlets for charging- It’s always appreciated to have outlets in convenient locations in rooms or common areas where people can charge phones, camera batteries, tabkets etc. Cruz del Sur hostel in Ushuaia, Argentina gets bonus points on this one. They not only had a lot of outlets, but they had power strips at each one with a few different types of plugs, so people from other countries didn’t need converters. 

Wifi password posted- Guests are going to want to get online, so having the wifi password posted in easy to fnd locations like the back of doors, walls of the rooms, or the fridge in the common area is appreciated. 

Music in common area/reception- A little music, nothing too loud or distracting can add a lot to he feel of a hostel from the moment guests walk in. 

These are just a few of the more basic things that I think all hostels can do to make their guests comfortable without too much extra expense or effort. 

What would you add to this list? 

Brief visit to the USA

Emily and I are spending this semester exploring Latin America, but we spent this past week back in the states for my sister’s wedding in Campbellsville, KY (pretty much the middle of nowhere). I had thought I would get ahead on some blogging, but I actually got very little accomplished. We did think a bit about the hotel we stayed in, Holiday Inn Express, and tried to see if there were any aspects of their service that we might be able to implement one day in a hostel.

One interesting thing we saw was a pancake machine. We’d never seen anything like it before!

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 It actually made some decent pancakes. You push the button one time for one pancake, two times for two, etc., and it takes about a minute for the pancakes to fall on your plate . I think I prefer the similar waffle irons I’ve seen in some hotels, but this was interesting. The pancakes were part of quite the array of breakfast offerings: bacon, scrambled eggs, biscuits, yogurt, cereal, cinnamon rolls, bread, juices, milk, coffee, and more! Probably a bit elaborate for a small hostel, maybe possible for a huge one.

While the hotel is “smoke-free,” you could definitely tell that someone had smokeds in my parents’ room at some point. I just take it as a reminder of how smoke seeps into the walls and floors and furniture of a room. Probably a good idea to make your hostel’s smoking policy very clear.

Our biggest take-away from the hotel experience was the importance of customer service. We were impressed with every staff member we spoke with from the front desk to the room cleaning staff. They were friendly and helpful, and even remebered our names and things we told them about ourselves. While the hotel appeared new, had spacious rooms and comfy beds, it seemed a bit expensive to me for a 2.5 star hotel. That said, the value at this location was in the quality of the service. Friendly and engaging service can really make guests feel like their money was well-spent. I hope that the friendly attitudes are reflective of staff members that feel valued and fairly compensated.

One thing we saw that we don’t expect to deal with at our future hostel is snow. A snowstorm dropped about 8 inches in our area in just one night. I guess if someone has a hostel in a colder climate they should have bags of salt and shovels on hand for these circumstances, but if we have a hostel in Central America like we’re thinking, that shouldn’t be a problem. 

Having grown up in a small town in Georgia, Emily had never seen snow like that in her life! 



Water water everywhere but not a drop to drink 

Travelers often ask “Is the water here OK to drink?” Often the answer is no…or it should be. In Costa Rica in 2010 I was overwhelmingly told that the water was fine to drink. I drank it. I suffered. I’m no longer so trusting when people tell me the water is good. 

So what can travelers and hostels do to best solve the drinkable water delima? 

Travelers have a few options: 

1) Buy water bottles-This Is a common solution, but, in my opinion, it isn’t the best option…at least not for longer trips. Bottled water creates waste, and having to go to the store to get your drinking water can be inconvenient. This is also likely the most costly option long term. 

2) Bring a water filter- A water filter allows you to make the tap water drinkable. Teo and I used the Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter when we traveled through Panama and Costa Rica a couple years back, and we loved it. This filter cost about $50 USD, but you make this money up by not paying for water. Con-It’s a little bit of a hassle to filter the water. The bags are best filled in running water, and we sometimes spilled when squeezing into bottles. After many uses it’s easy to wear a hole in the bag. Pro-You can also use your filter to drink from lakes or streams, and it’s faster than a SteriPEN. For me, this option takes 2nd place. 



3) Bring a SteriPEN- This is my winner. This small UV light makes tap water or any water without sediment drinkable and is small and easy to use. We have the Ultra model which cost about $100 USD and can be charged via USB. Again, this cost can be made up long term. Cons-the pen doesn’t filter out debris, so it’s not quiet as good for streams/lakes (you’ll likely want to pre-filter), and it takes 90secs to clean 1liter, so it’s not ideal for big groups (for big groups I would recommend the sawyer filter). *



Hostels have some options as well: 

1) Leave it up to the guests-this option isn’t awful, but it adds nothing to your guests’ experience.

2) Sell water bottles-This option is Ok, but not my favorite. It’s more convenient for guests than offering nothing, and maybe the hostel makes a little money, but again–waste. And you may come across as greedy.

3) Filter or water dispenser- For me this is the clear winner. It’s convenient and environmentally friendly. Local Hostel in Manaus has a water filter by their reception and it was such a treat to have cold drinking water at our finger tips while we were there (to read more about our stay at local hostel see our post about the hostel). We’ve also stayed at hostels (Including Lighthouse Hostel in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil) that have a big office-style water bottle in a dispenser where guests can refill for free. Red Psych Llama Hostel in Lima, Peru had one such water dispenser and asked for a contribution of 1 sol (.33 USD in March 2015) for each refill (pictured below). Obviously guest prefer free water, but I still thought this system was good, especially since 1 sol coins are easy to come by. 



* We try to always be aware of what contamination might be in the water and make our water treatment decision on a case to case basis. While in Lima we opted to refill from the bottled water at the hostel rather than using the SteriPEN on tap water bc we read that there was a lot of heavy metals and chlorine in the water. 

Local Hostel: Manaus, Brazil

Emily and I stayed at Local Hostel in Manaus the night before we went on a jungle tour and also the night after. The first night, we stayed in a private room with an ensuite bathroom and the second night we stayed in a six-person dorm room. We really enjoyed our stay. As we looked around, we felt like someone had taken all the notes we’ve been writing on our trip and used them for this hostel. When we asked one of the owners, Matheus, how they found so many good ideas he said they picked up the ideas while traveling and staying in other hostels–just like us! We shouldn’t have been surprised.

One of our favorite things about the hostel was the painted art on the walls. Apparently, they had a visit from an international group of artists who offered to do some artwork for them in exchange for accomodations. I think the hostel got a real deal. The artists took the blank walls and made them vibrant with color. Each room is styled around a different type of Amazon tree.

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The hostel is kept very clean and there was always someone behind the desk and ready to help with whatever was needed. They provide cold filtered drinking water for free to their guests. They have an open air area with café tables on the main floor, and also a really nice terrace on the roof. They also have discounts arranged with local restaurants, including a great buffet-style vegetarian place just a few blocks away (we are always very happy to find vegetarian food, especially with a discount!).

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They have a pretty good breakfast selection at the hostel in the morning with coffee, hot milk, juices, breads, cheese, fruit, ham, cakes, guava paste, and scrambled eggs among maybe some other items. I particularly liked that they included a Panini press, with which I made myself a delicious cheese and guava paste panini. I wish I had a picture of the breakfast!

The private room we stayed in was simple, but clean and comfortable. I have a travel pillow that I often use in hostels, but they had thick pillows on the firm mattress and I left mine in my backpack. The room also had an air conditioning unit that looked brand new.

On our second night there, I was really excited to walk into the dorm room and see that their bunks were pod-style, with a curtain that gives you a bit more privacy in your bunk (it doesn’t go all the way around, but it’s still nice and protects you from flashlight beams when your roommate gets up at 6:30am to leave for his jungle tour). I had only read about pods on other blogs, so it was cool to experience them!

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We were so impressed with this hostel, and when we told Matheus and Daniel (two of the owners) that we have a dream of opening our own hostel one day, they offered to share some of the things they’ve learned in their first year (it will be a full year in March) with their own hostel. They also let us bounce some of our ideas off them. I will share more about that conversation in a sec, but I have to say that we just thoroughly enjoyed meeting them and only wish we could have met the other owner, Camilla, as well.

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I don’t want to go into the minutiae, but there were so many little things that made this hostel great. The outlets and reading lights at the head of every dorm bed. The bucket of free earplugs. Such attention to detail.

Matheus and Daniel shared some of the failures and successes of their first year. They told us how they had booked some beds in the hostel for last March but the hostel wasn’t even totally ready when those guests arrived! They said how back in those days a guest might ask for a pot to cook with in the kitchen, and they would run to the store and buy one. They told us how Manaus (like various parts of Brazil) sometimes has public water shortages, and a hostel goes through a LOT of water. They hope to install a well soon, which should make sure there are no more water problems for them in the future– and the well should pay for itself in no time as their city water bill will drop significantly. They talked with us about working with different booking websites, and the software they use for booking guests. They now use a software they paid for, but apparently Hostelworld has a really good free software that they recommend when starting out. They told us how they’ve found that having a guitar available for guest use has been awesome when a talented musician comes through. They often play for the other guests and it really brings people together. They shared how it isn’t too hard or expensive to make pizza for a pizza night from time to time, when the hostel isn’t full. As graduates of a hotel management program, and rookie hostel owners, these guys just really had a wealth of wisdom and enthusiasm to share. We finished the conversation wanting to start our own hostel, more than ever.

Matheus and Daniel did offer one caveat, though. Running a hostel is hard work. They didn’t dwell on it, but we appreciated their candor in saying that we should remember that it’s a 24 hour job and can really take over your life if you let it. Be prepared to be exhausted!

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Local Hostel. It has a professional but comfy feeling that may be something like we’d want for our own hostel one day. And the notes we have from our conversation with the owners will be invaluable whenever we make our hostel dream a reality.

Obrigado, Local Hostel!

http://www.localhostel.com.br/

3 FOR – 3 AGAINST: Air Conditioning in a Hostel

A 20 hour bus ride brought my wife and me from Buenos Aires to Iguazú, Argentina. We arrived this morning and the heat and humidity caught us off guard. When we checked into our hostel and the room had a quality, functioning AC unit, it seemed luxurious.

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As we’ve thought about building our own hostel in Central America, AC is definitely something we should consider. Some people may even expect it. Here’s how we see the pros and cons…

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PROS

1. A lot of people are not used to heat and humidity, and they will be very appreciative if they have some climate control. It will help them sleep, which is a big part of why they’re there. So, yeah, happier guests.

2. I think AC units also help get rid of humidity, which can help keep mold from growing and destroying matresses and other things.

3. A hostel can probably charge more if they have AC, and the unit will probably pay for itself in the long run.

CONS

1. In a dorm room, an AC unit can be a catalyst for conflict. If people disagree about what setting to use, or whether or not to use it at all, it could be a problem.

2. People hate bad air conditioning units. If you say you have AC, and it doesn’t work well, they will complain about it when they write a review. If a hostel spends the money on an AC Unit, they should spend what’s necessary to get a quality unit and maintain it.

3. Some people don’t want AC! It uses electricity and it’s not good for the environment. It makes noise. A lot of hostel guests would go to a hotel if they wanted one, but they come to a hostel because it’s more raw and down to earth. They want to experience the new country, not shield themselves from it.

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I think this is something we’ll want to research more, but if I had to decide now I think I would have AC in my private rooms and no AC in the dorm rooms. Maybe then I’d have something to offer everyone.

What do you think?