Less than 3% of hostel owners have a written marketing plan. Are you one of them?
If you haven’t read the hostel marketing basics yet, you may want to read that blog first. It’s the foundation on which you will build your house aka marketing plan.
Before we dive right into the must-knows for hostel owners, let me set the record straight.
When I’m talking about your marketing plan, I’m NOT referring to a business plan. In my personal opinion, a business plan is just a bunch of nonsense juiced up with steroids.
Unless you’re asking for a loan, I highly recommend you use your time more wisely than crafting a traditional business plan.
But why do you need a plan for your marketing?
Imagine you’re in hospital waiting for the surgeon to begin your open-heart surgery. You then ask him “how are you going to fix it?”, whereupon he replies “Oh, well… I’ll just wing it.”
Would this hit your panic button? Hell yes.
The bottom line for the impatient: Professionals have a plan. They are geared up to start.
If you want to run a hostel BUSINESS instead of a hobby – this is for you.
That’s why I encourage you to sit down, get your pen and paper out and use this blog to create your own individual marketing plan.
The 3 Phases Of Hostel Marketing
Think about your hostel marketing as a process – a never-ending journey, rather than an event.
Your overall goal is to guide your ideal guest from not knowing that you exist to becoming a raving fan who can’t stop visiting and recommending your hostel.
This seems like a huuuuuuuge task.
So, the question is: how do you eat this massive elephant? The answer is: One bite at a time.
Let’s break it down.
There are three major phases in a guest’s stay:
- #1 Phase: [Before]
People in this stage are labeled “potential guests”.
The goal here is to turn potential guests into actual guests, who show up at the agreed time.
- #2 Phase: [During]
People in this stage are labeled “actual guests”.
The goal here is to wow your guests during their stay.
- #3 Phase: [After]
This is the stage that most hostel owners aren’t really aware of or neglect completely.
When executed correctly, people in this stage are labeled “fans”.
The goal here is to start a never-ending virtuous circle that reinforces a positive feedback loop.
Example: Kate loved her stay at the Happy Hostel in Sydney. Therefore, she not only plans to visit again next year, but also recommends the hostel to her best buds. Two of them are going to visit the hostel as well, become fans and introduce it to their friends too.
And this, my friend, is what we aim for. With every single guest we have.
The Canadian ice hockey player, Wayne Gretzky, was right when he said:
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
All three stages demand a plan and require action. There’s a reason why market-ing ends with the suffix “ing”.
You get to DO something.
I don’t know about you, but I still have that queasy feeling when thinking about planning these three stages.
So, how can we overcome our paralysis? Again, the answer is: step-by-step.
Let’s break it down further.
11 Steps To Master Hostel Marketing
Before we dive into all steps in each phase, I want to be sure that you’ve got the right glasses on.
To recap, marketing is the STRATEGY we use, not a tactic. Therefore, I will only scratch the surface of each step instead of going into the technical details.
#1 Define Your Target Market [before]
Defining your target market is a crucial step in your hostel marketing journey.
It dictates ALL of the following steps.
Ask 100 hostel owners what their target market is and approximately 80 will tell you “everyone”. This is one of the major mistakes hostel owners make.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing bad about accommodating different kinds of people.
However, in terms of marketing, “everyone” means “no one”.
A carefully selected target market will make your marketing FAR more effective because you can focus on the specific needs and demands of a certain group.
It allows you to
- a) dominate a market segment
- b) make your prices secondary
- c) accomplish a better return on investment (ROI)
- d) make your business more enjoyable.
So the question is, who is your ideal target market you want to focus your marketing upon?
And if you already run a hostel: how much percent of your current guests consist of your ideal target market?
#2 Study Your Target Market [before]
Your goal with your marketing is to create the impression of “Oh yeah, that’s for me”.
Therefore, you need to know exactly WHO your target market is and HOW they think. You achieve this through an in-depth target market research.
Have you ever wondered why your close family or perhaps your best friends have such an influence on you?
It’s because they know you. They know your values and your language. They know your triggers, your motives, your secret desires, your everything. In other words, they know what strings to pull to make the puppet dance.
That’s why they’re your biggest influencers.
My most recent encounter with an influencer of this kind was a conversation with my sister. And even though I am aware of the fact that she has been naturally studying my behavior while growing up, her influence still gets under my skin.
She manages to quash my objections with my own language and reasoning. That’s because she knows how I think, my friend.
And that is what you are going to study for your target group.
Every single minute you invest in studying your target market comes with EXPONENTIAL effects on your marketing.
Answering the following questions should be considered as the starting point of your research:
- What do they REALLY want?
– E.g. an unforgettable and Instagram worthy experience, get to know awesome people, etc.
- What are they afraid of?
– E.g. other people stealing their valuables, having uncool roommates, etc.
- What frustrates them?
– E.g. having too few sockets for their devices, cramped kitchens, etc.
- What language (words & phrases) do they use?
– E.g. “a sick trip”, “banging food”, “away from the party madness”, etc.
- What values do they have?
– E.g. hates waste (eco), needs freedom, etc.
- Where can you find them?
– E.g. Facebook, Hostelworld, etc.
Before you write a single word of your offer or think about the design of your hostel, be sure to do your homework.
This is where it pays off to be a geek 🤓
#3 Choose The Right Media Channels [before]
Media channels are the medium you use to reach and communicate with your target market – also known as “distribution channel”.
Think of it as a bridge. A bridge that connects your hostel on your island with a potential guest.
Some of the most common media channels for hostels include:
- Online Travel Agencies:
- Social media:
- Hostel Website
- Print media
One approach I see with lots of hostel owners is to find as many channels out there as possible.
There’s nothing wrong with having many media channels.
However, every single media channel has its own characteristics that you need to know BEFORE you write a single word.
- Booking.com attracts generally more guests that are just looking for an accommodation, whereas people on Hostelworld.com rather look for a hostel
- An email requires a much more personal message than your copy on your website
Or in other words:
Your media channel dictates your message.
You also want to make sure that your hostel marketing is built on a solid foundation. Therefore I advocate to have AT LEAST three reliable media channels.
Hence, the question is, what are the best media channels to reach your ideal target market?
The last thing that you want is to attract guests that have completely different expectations and leave a disappointing review after their stay.
#4 Create Your Sales Funnels [before]
Depending on the media channel you use, you need to invest more or less time to turn potential guests into actual guests. This process is often called a sales funnel.
It can be as simple as listing your hostel on Hostelworld, where they receive an automated confirmation email with all the necessary details after they’ve booked their stay.
But it can also be a series of different social media posts, personal emails and telephone contact.
No matter how you turn a potential guest into an actual guest, you need to have a strategy for every single media channel you use.
- Conversation guideline for the first contact with walk-in traffic
- Automated email sequence for new subscribers from your website
Whatever media channel you choose, be sure to maintain ONE standard procedure.
If you just do it randomly, you’ll miss out on the chance to improve your process along the way. This is one of my key learnings from my career in consulting. Thus, I recommend to have a written plan.
So, what can your sales funnels look like?
#5 Develop Your USP [before]
Don’t worry. You don’t need to be a Utmost Sarcastic Person or an Ugly Smelling Punk.
In my opinion, this fancy buzzword leads to more confusion than anything else. I prefer to keep it simple so that even the dropouts among you can follow easily.
Think of your “Unique Selling Proposition” as your “specialty” or better your “competitive edge”.
You might be thinking – “Dude, I manage a hostel. There’s nothing really special about that.”
Then why aren’t all people just taking the cheapest hostel?
Why are there some hostels that charge up to double the amount per bed and are fully booked?
The answer is, they’ve carefully and consistently developed their USP.
It’s like being the only one who has the cheat codes for GTA San Andreas – incredibly powerful.
A good USP makes prices less relevant.
Unless your USP is to be the Ryanair of hostels, an easy test to see how well you’ve developed your USP is to ask yourself the following:
What’s the primary reason why guests book my hostel?
If it’s the price, you might want to rethink your current USP.
Allan Dib, the author from my #1 favorite business book The 1-Page Marketing Plan brings it straight to the point when he says
“The entire goal of your USP is to answer this question:
Why should I buy from you rather than from your nearest competitor?”
#6 Define Your Pricing Strategy [before]
You might be thinking – “Pricing Strategy, what? I always just looked at my nearest competitor, chose a slightly cheaper price and also charged a bit more during the summer than in the off-season. Isn’t that enough?!”
Well, to be clear, you wouldn’t spend time to read up to this point if your gut feeling wasn’t already telling you that your hostel would benefit from some bigger improvements.
So, keep reading and listen carefully.
The price that you charge for each bed not only determines your margin but also how you’re PERCEIVED from potential guests.
Especially the latter is often overlooked by many hostel owners who wonder why guests disrespect the house rules and their facilities.
Critical aspects when thinking about your pricing strategy:
- How many different options do you want to offer?
– Too many options lead to paralysis and prevent guests from booking
- How much do you have to charge to prevent a loss?
– You need to know your numbers – Period.
- What’s the current season?
– Guests expect lower prices in the off-season and also higher prices in the high season
- What free bonuses can you provide to make your offer more attractive?
– E.g. free pancakes for breakfast, free bike rental, the fifth night for free, etc.
- Can you offer a guarantee?
– E.g. free cancellation if the first night didn’t meet their needs, etc.
In my personal experience, it’s the low value, price-sensitive guests that give you the biggest headaches. Positioning yourself with a higher price therefore often leads to a more pleasant, enjoyable hostel atmosphere.
So, how are you going to set your prices?
For further information, visit my in-depth article about 13 Pricing Strategy Tips For Hostels.
#7 Craft Your Irresistible Offer [before]
This is where all your previous work comes together.
And it is also the part where many hostel owners start by creating an “one-size-fits-all-offer” 🤔
Hopefully, you’ve noticed that your offer is COMPLETELY dependent on your individual target market, your media channel, your USP and your pricing strategy.
As a rule of thumb:
A good offer focuses on your ideal guest’s problems and offers a solution.
There are thousands of books about this topic and it’s way beyond the scope of this blog.
However, here’s a good starting point for crafting your offer.
Try to imagine yourself as the doctor of your ideal guest.
- How can you solve his biggest challenges and frustrations?
- What are the biggest benefits you can offer?
- What media can you use to tell them about your hostel? (Videos are more powerful than pictures and pictures are more powerful than words)
You also want to describe your offer in the language of your target group
Even if that means that you have to give them the “sick project X party” they so desperately want.
If I had to recommend only one single book for crafting your offer, it’s Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion from Robert Cialdini. This book teaches you scientifically proven methods to push psychological triggers like social proof and scarcity – e x t r e m e l y powerful.
Don’t worry. There’s nothing underhanded in using these techniques as long as your offer is really the best option for your target market.
On the contrary – You actually do them a favor by making their decision process an easy one.
What’s your strategy to make potential guests think “Hey, that’s for me”?
#8 Wow Your Guests [during]
This is what most hostel owners can and do best. And it is also the reason why so many people work in the hospitality industry.
The satisfaction that arises from serving guests, not just to make money, but to make them happy, is incredible.
Hopefully, you now realize that the love of serving guests is just a TINY part of the whole picture.
That’s the primary reason why I’ve founded the online resource TheHostelHelper: to give you immaculate support on the business aspect of building a successful hostel.
Long story short, your goal is not only to satisfy all your guests’ needs (e.g. providing a clean bathroom), but to wow them! The stay at your hostel has to become a mind-blowing experience!
If executed correctly, coming back to you and referring your hostel to others becomes a logical and natural consequence.
So, how do you achieve this?
In a word: Overdeliver.
Studies have shown that small, unexpected things are the ones that cause people to become raving fans.
This can be the USB ports at the bedside, the free beach towels or the free sunscreen you provide on the roof deck.
Be creative or shamelessly steal concepts you’ve seen in other businesses.
This is also the part where you can play your BIGGEST wild card:
Be personal and social.
There’s a reason why your guests have chosen a hostel instead of a hotel.
Among other hostels, people might choose you because of your reviews and your facilities, but what makes them stay longer are people and your community!
Putting it all together: What is your strategy to consistently wow your guests?
#9 Ask For Reviews & Referrals [during]
Did you know that 43% of an average Amazon web page consists of reviews and recommendations?
That’s because they’ve realized how powerful social proof is. Reviews are one of the top reasons why people choose a hostel.
Notice, that the heading begins with the active verb “ask” instead of a passive verb like “wait”.
Many hostel owners fear asking guests because they don’t want to appear needy.
However, from my own experience of running a consulting business, I know that this is simply a matter of the right mindset and the right wording.
During or at the end of your guests stay is by far the best time to proactively ask for reviews and referrals.
This is when they’re still emotionally involved and are happy to give something back! #reciprocity
Ask, and you shall receive.
This can also be combined with a free voucher or a lottery to further increase the effectiveness.
No matter which strategy you use, make sure it’s a CONSISTENT part of a stay in your hostel.
Because reviews play such a crucial role, I’ve dedicated an entire blog series to online reviews:
- 6 Reasons Why Online Reviews Are Crucial For Your Hostel
- How To Get Better Online Reviews For Your Hostel
- 6 Hacks To Get More Online Reviews For Your Hostel
- How To Deal With & Respond To Online Reviews
So, how are you going to ask for reviews and referrals?
#10 Add Additional Income Streams [during + after]
If you’re already running a hostel, I probably don’t have to tell you that the hostel market is getting more competitive every year.
Not only are you compared to other hostels on OTAs, you also have to compete with Airbnb and other hotels.
No worries, I’ve got your back.
That’s why it’s increasingly important to expand your portfolio of income streams.
What do I mean by that?
Simply put, you do not want to be solely dependent on your margins for accommodating people.
Common applications in the hostel industry are:
- 1) Upselling = offering the same product & service, but better
– Offering room upgrades (e.g. 8-bed to 4-bed dorm)
– Asking for extending their stay (e.g. 3 extra nights)
- 2) Cross-Selling = offering complementary products & services
– Offering food & beverages (e.g. bars, breakfast, etc.)
– Rental services (e.g. bicycles, surfboards, etc.)
- 3) Lead-Generation = recommending others
– Affiliate marketing (e.g. for travel gadgets, books, etc.)
– Commission for recommending (other accommodations, restaurants, bars, tours, trips, etc.)
The beauty of some of the examples above is that they can be completely automated and lead to sales long AFTER they’ve visited your hostel!
That’s like finding fifty dollars in a jacket you haven’t worn in a long time.
So, how are you going to add additional income streams?
Want to learn more about how to earn extra money with your hostel?
Check out my article about 15 Ways To Make Additional Money As A Hostel Owner.
#11 Repeat And Improve [always]
As mentioned in the introduction, marketing is rather a journey than an event.
Accept that the odds of you having everything right at the first shot are not only low but unrealistic. What might sound like a superstar in theory often turns out to be a disaster when applied.
Therefore, you need to consistently measure and improve your marketing efforts.
Among engineers, like I used to be for 3 years, this process is called the PDCA cycle.
How To Master Hostel Marketing
The Ultimate Checklist
Before you leave: Answer this quick question and help our community.
What’s the most outrageous/negative incident
that has occurred at your hostel and how did you deal with it?
Share your opinion in the comment section below!