69 Things Owners Wish They Had Known Before Starting A Hostel


How To Start A Hostel

A total of 103 hostel managers took part in my survey about the question: “What’s the ONE THING you wish you had known before you started a hostel?”

In this blog, I’ve categorized the 69 most helpful answers for you. And yes, I coincidentally ended up with 69 answers. 😉

Anyway,… let’s get to the meat.

The ONE THING I Wish I Had Known
Before I Started A Hostel

#1 Hostel Location

#1

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how significantly the location affects the number of guests you receive. If I started again, I would choose a location within walking distance to the train station where most of our travelers arrive.”

#2

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how important the location is. Even if you’re doing a great job, you’re at the mercy of the seasons in your area.”

#3

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how to choose the best location for a hostel. I didn’t know anything back then when I made that decision. I recommend to spend at least a few weeks intensively on that matter. It’ll pay off.”

#4

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…what makes a location attractive for a specific target market. You have to know what your guests truly desire before you fall in love with a property.”

#5

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how to choose the right location.”

#6

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…that our city really needed a hostel. We were the very first in our area and had no clue if it was going to work out or not since there was no comparable accommodation around.

If I started again, I’d look for a location where there are already other established hostels. This way you know for sure that there’s an actual demand.”

TheHostelHelper’s Advice

How to choose a location is a topic where you don’t want to take chances.

Check out my article about how to choose the best location for your hostel. It’ll help you avoid the biggest pitfalls.

#2 Hostel Design

#7

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…that metal beds are better in the battle against bed bugs. We had custom-made wooden bunk beds and had to throw away ⅔ of them due to bed bugs.

Oh, and showers! You gotta have enough showers because most guests have similar habits and time-schedules when it comes to taking a shower.”

#8

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how big the impact of privacy curtains is on customer’s satisfaction. We received many positive reviews that mention our curtains ever since we’ve bought them.”

#9

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…that your furniture and design doesn’t have to be expensive to run a successful hostel. The atmosphere – that’s the real icebreaker.”

How To Start A Hostel Design

#10

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how important the initial space planning is because it can’t be changed anymore. Or well, it could… but only with high costs.”

#11

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…that it’s way easier to manage one central kitchen instead of several kitchens scattered throughout the building.”

#3 Hostel Software

#12

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how to find the best property management software. I recommend using the free trials and really see if it meets your needs or not. Oh, and choose one that is made for hostels!!! Most have been designed for hotels.”

#13

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how to use a property management system from day one. It made my life SO much easier.”

#14

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how powerful a great hostel management software is. In the beginning, I used maybe 20% of all features not knowing what I missed out on.”

#15

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how to choose the right property management system. It’s hard to change once you start and the wrong one might increase human error resulting in negative customer experience and also cost too much.

There are many to choose from and different hostels have different needs. However, be careful! It’s an extremely important commitment.”

#16

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how much time I could’ve saved using a channel manager and property management software right from day one.”

TheHostelHelper’s Advice

I’ve already covered property management systems and channel managers on previous blogs.

Both articles will guide you through all the important aspects you need to know and give you specific software recommendations. 

They also include stunning statistics revealing how many hostel managers actually use a certain software solution.

#4 Hostel Laws & Regulations

#17

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…which laws I have to consider and abide by when making business decisions.”

#18

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…the problems, costs, and delays of bureaucracy. When they say 4 weeks, expect it to be 12 and follow up regularly.”

#19

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…all the laws and regulations in my country. If I started a hostel again, that’d be the very first thing to research on my list.”

Start A Hostel Regulations

#20

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how difficult it is for locals and regulatory agencies to understand what a hostel is.”

#21

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how expensive it is to process all government requirements.”

TheHostelHelper’s Advice

You have to do your homework. There’s no way around it. 

Nate Bunger, manager of the“Casa Miraflores” hostel and author of “How to Start a Thriving Hostel and Retire in Paradise” (recommended read), can tell you a thing or two about laws and regulations.

After opening a hostel in Colombia in an area that wasn’t zoned for hostels, he got lucky that the city changed the zoning in his favor. Otherwise, his place would have been shut down.

#5 Hostel Expenses

#22

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how high the government/city taxes are as well as all the other hidden expenses.”

#23

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…what expenses I should expect when running a hostel. My initial calculations only contained about half of the actual costs.”

#24

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how high the utilities actually are. We allowed for way too little when creating our business plan. Fortunately, we underestimated our revenue as well 😉”

Start A Hostel Expenses

#25

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how important it is to do the math BEFORE starting a hostel.”

 #26

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how high the average occupancy rate is over the course of one year and which costs we have to bare.”

 #27

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how profitable we’re actually going to be. In the beginning, I was overly stressed about being profitable but now we are doing even better than I initially calculated in my ‘best-case’ scenario. Haha”

TheHostelHelper’s Advice

Check out my article on how to write a hostel business plan if you need help with creating your own one. It also includes FREE templates to download.

#6 Hostel Marketing

#28

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…which online travel agencies to choose. I used the ‘wrong ones’ for far too long and attracted hotel travelers who were disappointed not having their own private room with a fridge and a TV. You really need to know which kind of travelers are booking via which OTA.”

#29

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how HOSTEL marketing works. It’s SO different from marketing and selling commodities!”

#30

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“… all the possibilities for additional services that we offer today. We’re now at a point where an average guest brings in 110% more revenue than our beds do ONLY through selling some complementary services. And I’m convinced our potential isn’t exploited just yet.”

#31

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…that great service is the best kind of marketing. When you really care about your guests, they’ll tell others via online reviews or word of mouth.”

#32

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…that it’s better to choose a small niche compared to trying to host all kinds of people. In the first few months, we were hesitant to advertise to a smaller group because we thought we’d attract fewer guests. The exact opposite happened!”

Start A Hostel Marketing

#33

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…that a marketing plan is the centerpiece of a hostel. You also need to know which nationality of travelers come which month and how long they’re typically staying.”

#34

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…what my guests really need in order to attract them with my marketing.”

#35

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how important online reviews are going to be! In the beginning, I thought this was just a trend that’ll fade sooner or later. Hence, we didn’t really focus on increasing our rating.

But now it’s probably one of THE major factors when people opt for a hostel.”

#36

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how significantly bed rates affect the quality of guests. We’re now consciously choosing the higher end of the price spectrum and not only do we get way more pleasant guests, our hostel is also making more money.”

#37

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…what major impact the seasons have. Every off-season, we’re working with new marketing tactics to bring some life into our ghost town.”

#38

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how to attract more customers. It took us 3 years until we figured out what works and what doesn’t. Oh, and don’t waste your time building Zuckerberg’s empire. The return on investment is close to zero.”

TheHostelHelper’s Advice

Here’s a list with my highly requested blog posts that cover the above-mentioned struggles:

#7 The Time-Aspect

#39

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how long it’ll take to establish a hostel. It took waaaaaay longer than expected.”

#40

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…that it’s really time-consuming in the beginning. Basically, your hostel will be your life in the first few months. Your free-time almost disappears. It’s really a 24/7/365-job.”

Start A Hostel Tips

#41

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…that it takes quite some time to grow organically, i.e. without spending thousands each and every month.”

#42

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…that a hostel never stops. I wish someone told me that owning a hostel was putting my life on hold.”

TheHostelHelper’s Advice

Phew, the last one really hit me.

My recommendation for everyone who experiences something similar: Try to work ON your business and build systems as fast as possible. Create checklists, templates, manuals, etc. and use the help of others to support you.

Now, will they do the job as good as you? – That’s unlikely.

But as a general rule of thumb, if they can do it 80% as good as you do it, it’s well worth outsourcing. The last thing you want to achieve with your hostel is to create a home-made prison.

Hence, regularly invest some time thinking about how you can structure your business so that it can work without you.

#8 Hostel Staff

#43

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…that it’s hard to find people with the same level of passion for your hostel. No one cares in the same way as you do for your baby.”

#44

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how to manage employees. When I started, I was the definition of a micro-manager and wondered why I experienced such a high turn-over rate…🙄”

Start A Hostel Staff

#45

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…that it’s hard to find a manager for a short time to travel the world yourself.”

#46

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…that hiring great staff is the most important thing in running a hostel because THEY ARE the hostel.”

#47

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how to properly manage people. I made so many mistakes not knowing what to look for in people when hiring and relied on work/trade staff (which didn’t work at all).”

TheHostelHelper’s Advice

Here’s the answer of a hostel owner to the following survey question:

“What was the worst investment you ever made for your hostel and why?”

And I agree 100%. That’s why I’ve dedicated an entire series of blog posts about how to hire the great staff as well as how to manage your staff in order to reduce the turn-over rate.

#9 Hostel Guests

#48

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…what guests really need. I spent too much money trying to serve people whose needs I didn’t fully understand.”

#49

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how nasty some guests can be. Some try literally everything to stay for free. They make up stories and flat-out lie to you.”

#50

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how different people can be. I’m now in business for over a decade but I still learn new types of people with new needs and wants that I haven’t encountered before.”

Start A Hostel Guests

#51

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how selfish and disrespectful people can be. Don’t get me wrong. Most people are wonderful, but then there’s a category of others who drive me crazy.”

#52

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how important it is to carefully choose your guests and not accept reservations off the bat. One awful guest can ruin the day for the entire hostel crowd. So be very careful who you advertise to.”

#53

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…that some guests will always complain no matter how great your hostel is. Whilst others are used to hotels and thus expect hotel-like service for just a few bucks.”

#54

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how different cultures are and which kind of people fit best to our hostel. But I guess that’s a matter of trying out all kinds of people and focus on the one that best fits your hostel.”

TheHostelHelper’s Advice

“I spent too much money trying to serve people whose needs I didn’t fully understand.”

Wow. What a KEY insight!

Do YOU understand your target market completely? I mean… really?

If you’re unsure, check out my article about how to research your target market.

#10 Miscellaneous

#55

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…that bed bugs are REAL. I thought this was not going to be an issue in developed countries. Turned out, I was WRONG.” 

#56

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how important it is to delegate tasks to others and build a system that can work FOR you. In the beginning, I tried to do everything on my own and spend as little as possible on third party services.

I worked inhuman hours and was close to burn out… until I started to involve others, bought a proper property management system and started to organize all processes so they can work without my physical presence at all times.”

#57

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…nothing. If I knew what challenges I had to face and how hard it’s going to be, I would have never started a hostel. Hence, ignorance can be bliss and I’m SO glad that I took that step.”

#58

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…that it’s all going to be alright. I was overly anxious when I started the business but it turned out even better than expected. So, if you’re in a similar situation, relax and calm down. If you put in the effort, it will all work out.”

#59

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how important market research is. You have to know how many international visitors your country and city get so that you know what to expect.”

#60

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how fast the hostel market is changing. What has been luxurious 5 years ago has now become standard.”

#61

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how many guests I can expect within one year. When I started I had basically no idea and hoped for the best. Anyway, it turned out well but it would’ve been better to do the math BEFOREHAND.”

#62

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how to prevent bed bugs. I highly recommend doing the research BEFORE something happens.”

#63

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…that it’s not easy. You have to work hard and be patient.”

#64

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…that sometimes things are out of your control and you need to get along with that fact.”

#65

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…that you don’t need to know everything from the start. In fact, I barely knew anything about the business of a hostel but I learned quickly by figuring things out when they came up.”

#66

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…that being present is key. When I started my hostel I lived non-stop in the future and pictured scenarios that never actually happened.

In reality, it’s really about being present and concentrating on what you can do NOW to become better than you were YESTERDAY. Only focus on the future for setting your goals but after that you gotta focus on the here and now.”

#67

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how crucial it is to have a proper plan and to stick to it – no matter what.”

#68

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…how much fun this is going to be. Apart from the few times when you hit rock bottom, the ups of running a hostel are so rewarding and fulfilling. I love it.”

#69

The ONE THING I wish I had known is…

“…everything. Haha 😅” 

TheHostelHelper’s Advice

If I had to summarize all the advice in a few sentences, it’d look like this: 

  • Do the math and calculate your profitability as precisely as possible.
  • Create a business plan and marketing plan. It should also include a detailed research about your target market.
  • Hire great staff that help you spend less time IN your business and more time working ON your business.
Best Hostels Worldwide

Dedication:

I want to thank all participants for taking part in my survey, sharing their wisdom and being so helpful. Thank you for inspiring me. You’re the reason why this website exists.

STOP! 🤚

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

Which advice of the above was most helpful for YOU?
And what’s the one thing YOU wish you had known before you started a hostel?

Share your opinion in the comment section below!

People who read this blog post were also interested in:

“What’s the most important piece of advice you’d give to a new hostel owner?”
– 95 hostel managers shared first-hand insights

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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.

20 thoughts on “69 Things Owners Wish They Had Known Before Starting A Hostel

  1. #66 is my favorite.
    However, I can most relate to #38 …… because it’s from me 😅
    Cheers, Michael

  2. Wow, #30 is incredible !!
    Would love to be able to say the same…
    Nice read though!
    Cheers, Steven

    1. Hi Steven,
      good news: I’ve already contacted the owner and he was willing to share what services he offers, how he manages it + some additional advice.
      A blog post about it is in the works! I’ll shoot you an email as soon as it is published 🙂
      – Kevin

  3. I only partly agree with the comments about the time-aspect.
    Yes, operating a hostel is time-consuming… but at the same time it can be so much fun and only a few things really feel like work… at least for me.

    I’m a bit surprised about number 8 (privacy curtains)… gonna check that out!

    1. Hi Glenn,
      if you decide to buy privacy curtains, I’d love to see which one you’ve chosen.
      Kevin@TheHostelHelper.com
      – Kevin

  4. Ask yourself what you would like to find during your travels and your stays?
    – Then organize your hostel accordingly.

  5. Looking back, I think #13 would’ve helped us a lot (using a PMS software from day one).
    We started with a mixture of Excel and some handwritten notes but it was a mess.

  6. Interesting read!
    I’m surprised that bed bugs got mentioned several times… seems like a real headache…

  7. I like #67:
    “The ONE THING I wish I had known is how crucial it is to have a proper plan and to stick to it – no matter what.”
    -> there will be soooo many naysayers along the way. Hence, I think sticking to a plan is key.

  8. EVERYTHING! I’m just in the initial planning stages and trying to suck up as much information as I can before starting my business plan, so many thanks to ALL of you for the input and especially to Kevin for creating this website. My plan is to convert my historic dairy barn – – which was already renovated to house a former architectural salvage business – – into a small hostel with a rustic, high-mountain-hut-like feel, targeting outdoor enthusiasts (hikers, bikers, climbers) on limited incomes. The objective is to put my farm to its best use, and keep me busy once I’m retired (in a few years). I’m approaching this with a completely open mind so keep the suggestions coming!

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