Hostel Marketing Basics – 6 Keys To Become A Thriving Hostel


Hostel Marketing Basics - Guide

“Hostel marketing success is a natural consequence of…” – can you complete this sentence?

While weirdo marketing geeks like me love social media, SEO, blogs, landing pages, email marketing, etc., most hostel managers feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start.

That’s why many still hope to find that “one super-secret SEO hack that brings you 300% more guests overnight”.

I’ve got good news and bad news for you.

Let’s start with the bad news.

If you’re looking for an article full of ear-tickling marketing tactics – let me get this straight – this is not the place.

There’s no magic bullet for your marketing success.

Hostel marketing is a process – a journey – rather than an event.

Jim Rohn, a legendary American entrepreneur and one of my favorite authors, used to say that “[X] is a natural consequence of consistently applying the fundamentals of [X]”.

Examples:

  • Wealth is a natural consequence of consistently applying the fundamentals of wealth
  • Health is a natural consequence of consistently applying the fundamentals of health

And guess what.

Hostel marketing success is a natural consequence of
consistently applying the fundamentals of hostel marketing success.”

What might sound trivial, is the essence of your business success.

Here’s the good news: there’s an antidote to overcome this paralysis caused by all those complicated buzzwords.

Focus on the basics and go step-by-step.

Too many hostel owners fail because they are focused on their passion for serving people while being ignorant of the business side. And one of the biggest business parts is your marketing. Period.

Therefore, consider this article – in conjunction with the hostel marketing plan – as your retard proof way to thriving success.

But before we dive into the basics of hostel marketing, let’s play MythBusters, one of my former favorite TV shows.

Mythbusters - Hostel Marketing

The 2 Biggest Myths About Hostel Marketing

#1 Myth: “I’m going to build a great hostel. Do I really need to focus on marketing?”

If you’re still unsure about the importance of marketing, ask yourself the following question: When does your guest experience how great your hostel is?

Obviously, the answer is, once he walks through the front door and experiences your service first-hand.

It holds true to some extent that the better your hostel, the more guests will automatically be attracted. However, the law of diminishing returns explains why this effect won’t work once your hostel reaches a point of “good enough”.

When you’ve surpassed that level, additional effort doesn’t pay off anymore. Or in financial terms: you’ll get a negative return on investment (ROI) for further improvements.

That’s the reason why you find so many outstandingly great authors who can’t sell a single book. In the meantime, other way less talented authors – but good marketers – get awards for their best-SELLING books.

The bottom line: Your hostel is a great way to preserve guests, who will come again, refer you to others and help you build your brand. But it is a bad tool to attract new guests.

Allan Dib, author of my #1 favorite book The 1-Page Marketing PlanOpens in a new tab.

A rule of thumb I like to use when it comes to your marketing efforts as a seasoned hostel owner is this:

Spend 50% on wowing guests and 50% on marketing.

There’s a reason for this huge gap between struggling and thriving hostels.

Successful hostel owners are the ones who understood that they’re not only in the business of serving, but also in the business of marketing their service.

After all, money is where marketing is understood and consistently applied. Show me a successful hostel owner and I’ll show you a prolific marketer.

#2 Myth: “The best marketing strategy is to copy what other big, successful companies are doing.”

There is nothing wrong with copying successful concepts.

In fact, that’s a pretty clever idea and can save you lots of money!

However, it develops into a problem when you’re a small, single hostel and you’re copying concepts from big hostel chains.

Anti Copy-Paste - Hostel Marketing

There are two primary reasons for this.

Big hostel chains

  • 1) have very different goals and
  • 2) a very different budget.

A typical agenda of big hostel chains looks like this:

  • A) First and foremost: Satisfy shareholders!
  • B) Prepare the US market for further international expansions
  • C) Win design awards
  • D) Rank #1 for “Book Hostel”
  • E) Take measures to whitewash the balance sheet

The point is: they have a big amount of diverse strategies for different goals. Hence, it is not visible to outsiders what actions belong to what goals or intentions.

By way of example, you can see many small hostels copying the big chains when they focus on branding by “getting their name out there”.

Think of your brand as the personality of your business. Your brand tells what you stand for and thus can be molded into a magnet when it comes to acquiring new guests.

Example: I love dogs. Over time, transparency will become one of the main character traits of TheHostelHelper and thus, could attract more people who share the same value. I mean, ‘love’ is how excited my dog is when I get home, right?

And again, there’s nothing wrong with branding, but as you might have noticed, this is a long-term marketing TACTIC and shouldn’t be your top priority.

So, how should the agenda of your hostel look like?

  • A) Be as freaking profitable as possible!!
  • B) Focus on A

Just remember that in order to make mass marketing effective, it has to be done over a loooong time and on maaaaany media channels. How big is your marketing budget to do this?

Don’t worry, there’s an easy solution for this: Let the big chains do that while you focus on the proven marketing basics.

Before you walk away and shake your head in disbelief – we’ll go over the subject “branding” later on.

Let’s first get a mutual understanding of what we’re actually talking about.

What Is Hostel Marketing?

Ask 100 hostel owners what marketing is and you will get 100 different answers. But how can anyone improve something they can’t even define?

Therefore, let’s start by clarifying this vague concept of “marketing” with a simple example:

  • If you craft a nice-looking sign with the name of your hostel for the entrance of your city,
    – that’s ADVERTISING.
  • If you put it on top of a horse that is disguised as a pink unicorn and walk it through the city,
    – that’s PROMOTION.
  • If your horse takes a shit in front of your biggest competitor’s hostel and a blogger writes a story about it,
    – that’s PUBLICITY.
  • If your competitor’s guests visit your reception afterward, you explain to them what special offers you have and they decide to stay,
    – that’s SALES.
  • If they didn’t hear that story but came to your hostel because they like what you and your hostel stand for,
    – that’s BRANDING.

…and if you planned all this… that’s MARKETING.

Simply put, hostel marketing is the STRATEGY to turn your ideal target market into paying guests. All the other stuff you hear around marketing (e.g. SEO, social media, etc.) are the TACTICS.

Pink Unicorn - Hostel Marketing Definition

Credit: The definition above is a modified version by marketing genius Allan Dib.

Strategy vs. Tactics

If you don’t want to end up as a blindfolded monkey throwing darts, listen carefully.

Understanding this distinction is absolutely CRUCIAL to your hostel success.

Imagine you’ve purchased a piece of land and want to build a hostel. Would you just grab a shovel and start digging?

Probably not.

Yet this is what 95% of hostel owners (!) do when it comes to their marketing efforts. They just roll up their sleeves, grab a shovel (e.g. social media) and start digging (e.g. share a picture).

  • … they just create a beautiful voucher and give them to local restaurants.
  • … they just choose the most popular Online Travel Agency (OTA) and sign in.
  • … they just call the local tech geek to set up a website.

They do not have a plan.

Does that sound familiar?

Imagine you’re having a new hostel built. How would you go about it?

Surely, you’d hire some professionals who plan everything from the layout down to the material of the front door. And guess what; this is typically all done BEFORE your hands get dirty.

The thing is, you need your strategy FIRST. Otherwise, you’ll end up in a mess. A mess that is neither targeted to your goals nor a good use of your financial resources.

Blindfolded Ape Throwing Darts - Hostel Marketing

2 Elements Of Your Hostel Marketing Strategy

A successful hostel marketing strategy consists of two parts:

Think of the marketing basics as the foundation of your hostel. Without a solid foundation, there’s no chance to build an even and sturdy building.

That’s like trying to fill a sieve with water.

If the marketing basics are the foundation, your marketing plan is the actual building – it starts on top.

Your marketing plan is the way you choose to get your ideal guest from not knowing that you exist to becoming a raving fan who can’t stop visiting and recommending your hostel.

In this blog, we’re going to focus on the six keys to successful hostel marketing.

Hostel Marketing Plan & Hostel Marketing Strategy

6 Keys To Become A Thriving Hostel

#1 Get Your Naming Right

If you’re just starting out, this is the perfect time to think about the name of your hostel.

However, If you’re a seasoned hostel owner, you might be thinking: “Hell, what?! My name’s been there forever. Seems like way too much trouble to rethink this.”

Truth be told, it can be difficult and in some cases costly to change your hostel name down the road.

BUT – and this is a BIG BUT – I don’t know of any industry where the name is more important than in the hostel branch! It can mean the difference between a thriving business and one that’s struggling.

But… why is your hostel name so important?

Your name is the VERY first impression you make on potential guests. It means the difference between love at first sight and bad breath on your first date.

In other words, your marketing starts with your name. And if you have a naming problem, you have a marketing problem!

If you want it or not, your hostel name evokes a subconscious emotional reaction in your potential guest’s mind. And this quick judgment can mean the difference between a bed booked or not, because

People buy on emotion and justify with logic!

That’s why I want you to think of your name as a Google ad that runs 365 days a year.

I’ve already written a comprehensive guide that covers the Top 7 Tips To Choose Your Hostel Name.

For the seasoned hostel owners among you, I’ve also dedicated a whole chapter about when to consider renaming.

A well-chosen name can save you thousands in advertising costs and can make you thousands in new bookings. Don’t miss out!

Need inspiration?

Check out my list of 149 hostel name ideas. All names are still available in 2020!

#2 Know Your Numbers

Good marketing is no substitute for neglecting your numbers.

Especially with the tools available to you today there is no excuse for not being on track with your numbers.

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”.

As a former Engineer, I have always loved measuring and improving numbers. However, this is where a great software and perhaps an accountant can help you out.

While successful concepts can be copied, the actual implementation of your marketing is always unique and prospers only through trial and error.

Therefore, you need to know how to first measure and second adequately improve your numbers.

A good start is to know the following Key Performance Indicators (KPI):

  • Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)
    – Shows how much money you spend on average to get one guest
  • Customer Lifetime Value (CLV)
    – Shows how much money you make with an average guest in total
  • Base Rate / Break-Even Point (BEP)
    – Shows your minimum bed rate to make a profit

Breathe, just 3 more.

  • Occupancy Rate (OCC)
    – Shows the percentage of available rooms or beds being sold for a certain period of time
  • Average Length Of Stay (LOS)
    – Shows how long guests stay at your hostel on average
  • Average Total Online Review Score
    – Shows the level of customer satisfaction for various media channels

If you don’t know some of the above numbers yet, don’t worry. A comprehensive and easy-to-understand blog post is already in the works.

You don’t have to walk this journey alone. I’m here for you. TheHostelHelper will guide you along all the necessary steps.

Hostel Marketing Basics

#3 Deliver Great Guest Service

When I traveled through Australia, I spend a few days in Brisbane. As I checked in my hostel, I noticed the funny mug in front of the receptionist that said “Grumpy is the new happy”.

As I complimented him for his cool mug, he told me that it was a present from his workmate who then waved at me with a smile.

Grumpy Is The New Happy Mug - Hostel Marketing Basics

While the conversation and atmosphere was anything but welcoming, I’d still consider it an “average” reception.

But what really hit me was what followed.

Guess how I was greeted the next morning?

I’m generally not a morning person, but when I came down the stairs, I still greeted him with a kind “good morning” and a friendly smile.

…whereupon he mumbled a quiet and lethargic “morning” in his computer without even looking at me.

No joke. This really happened.

Bottom line:

  • Whenever your reception staff receives such a mug, it is past due to reevaluate your priorities 😉
  • Your service plays a HUGE role when it comes to your guests’ overall experience!

At that time I didn’t even know that I’m going to work in the hostel industry later on. But still, this experience remained and I’ve shared the story with several other people. Heck, now I’m even publishing it on my blog!

Great customer service is one of your key tasks and its importance goes way beyond the scope of this blog post.

But if I had to summarize it in one word, it would be:

Give.

I’m a huge believer of the universal principle “givers get” – what you give comes back several times.

Your guest service starts with your very first email and ends long after they’ve visited your hostel. Always make sure you attend every step along their visit.

There’s no other area that pays such high dividends – or how Damon Richards put this “Your customer doesn’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”.

Therefore, I advocate you measure and improve your Total Review Score on various OTAs incl. Google and TripAdvisor. And ensure you turn this into a recurring process.

Great Customer Service - Hostel Marketing Basics

#4 Build Your System

If you’d have to leave your hostel tomorrow morning for a period of 6 months, would there be something left to come back to?

If this thought feels uncomfortable, it’s likely that you don’t have a business, but you are the business.

As entrepreneurs, we often tend to focus on what’s coming next rather than starting with the end in mind.

That’s like having too many drinks without thinking about the next day.

One of the main reasons why we’ve chosen to be our own boss is to be able to do what, when and how we want to do something – we want FREEDOM.

Yet, the sad reality is, if you don’t focus on building a system, you’ll be stuck like a prisoner in your own self-made prison.

Even if you have no intention to sell your hostel yet, there will come a time when you are either too old to manage it or you decide to follow another passion.

When – not if – that situation comes, you’ve built an asset that you can sell.

This is when you hear stories about hostel owners who became millionaires overnight. True story.

So, how do you build a system?

Make yourself replaceable.

The easiest way to start is to take a pen and paper and write down all the different tasks that need to be completed in order to run your hostel. When you’re finished, assign the tasks to different roles (e.g. receptionist, housekeeper, etc.).

If you find yourself thinking “wait, there are certain things that only I can do” – that’s fine. Just write them down.

Lastly, find a suitable medium to show how to complete this task. This could be as simple as a checklist or a screen capture video with voice-over.

I personally love to use the latter since you only need to do it once and can easily share it hundreds of times with others.

If you haven’t tried it yet, just go to CamStudio.comOpens in a new tab., download their free version and give it a shot! Chances are, you’ll never go back to the old way of explaining things.

In case it’s not obvious, the same principle of building a system also holds true for your marketing.

This can be easily achieved by creating a marketing calendar where you capture all the daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual tasks.

System - Hostel Marketing Basics

#5 Be Consistent

While it’s true that building a system and being consistent goes hand-in-hand, there’s more to it.

If you maintain the same standard over an extended period of time, you’ve got a chance to start the most powerful virtuous cycle when it comes to managing a hostel:

Word of mouth and branding.

Like we’ve already established in a previous chapter, hostel branding is a long-term investment. It arises from delivering a consistent experience.

That’s why you don’t fear eating at McDonald’s in a foreign country – you know what it will taste like.

Branding and its cousin word of mouth can work for or against you.

Hence, I encourage you to take some time to think about your hostel as a person:

  • What do you want to stand for?
  • What core values do you want to represent?
  • How do you communicate?

With this in mind, your main focus is to represent these attributes in your marketing efforts.

But how do you start? What’s the fastest way to build a brand with your hostel?

In a word: selling.

Having a full hostel is BY FAR the best way to “get your name out there”.

That’s also what all the big brands like Nike, Coca Cola, and Apple focused on when they started.

Consistency - Hostel Marketing Basics

#6 Embrace The Future

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus was right when he said: “The only constant in life is change”.

  • 20 Years ago, we still played snake on our Nokia
  • 10 Years ago, most of us didn’t even have Facebook

Not only does technology change rapidly, but also your guests’ needs!

Let’s face it: The days are gone when offering a bed to sleep was enough.

For this reason, you’ve got two options:

  • 1) Complain about the status quo and pray that the good ol’ days come back
  • 2) Embrace the future with all its possibilities

Truth be told, you’ve got only one choice if you want to have a thriving hostel: roll up your sleeves and make friends with change.

This starts with having a proper business email address, a professional hostel website, an up-to-date Property Management System (PMS), …, and ends with offering several payment methods.

There’s no long-term solution around it if what you truly desire is a hostel business rather than a hobby.

Most often, technology can be a little pain in the butt at the start. But once you’ve figured it all out, it is incredibly convenient and you can no longer imagine a day without it.

How To Become A Thriving Hostel

The Ultimate Checklist

Infographic Marketing Basics Checklist

STOP! 🤚 Before you leave: Answer this quick question and help our community.

Which PMS are you currently using to manage your hostel and would you recommend it?

Share your opinion in the comment section below!

P.S. People who read this article were also interested in how to create a hostel marketing plan. They go hand-in-hand.

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Kevin

Kevin is the founder of TheHostelHelper and a former German engineer in his late twenties. In the middle of his grad school studies, he started a consulting business and broke several branch records within the first six months… until he finally quit this venture to pursue his passion for hostels. Kevin is known for his super black humor – yet, super black might still be an understatement. He also LOVES dogs and drinks too much coffee. When he’s not obsessing about hostel topics you’re likely to find him at the gym – where the heavy weights are.

22 thoughts on “Hostel Marketing Basics – 6 Keys To Become A Thriving Hostel

  1. I’m using cloudbeds. It includes a channel manager, booking engine and comes with nice reports.
    Happy to recommend it!
    Chris

    P.S. I almost cried when I read your definition of marketing!! Well done.

    1. Hi Chris,
      thanks for being so active!
      Trust me when I say that I had to laugh hard as well while writing the definition 😉
      – Kevin

  2. Hi Kevin,
    I use the free PMS from Hostelworld. It’s not the best, but it does the job for my small hostel. Can’t complain.
    Greetings from Maryland
    Sonya

    1. Hi Sonya,
      thanks for your comment!
      I’ve heard from many other hostel owners that they also use Backpack Online.
      It seems to get the job done.
      – Kevin

  3. I just wanted to say “hi” while I’m waiting for my last guest to check-in today haha

    Charlotte from Austria 🙂

    1. Hi Ben,
      thanks for sharing!
      I’ve recently conducted a survey that also shows that most hostel managers use Cloudbeds 🙂
      – Kevin

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