Whether old or young, backpacking is becoming an increasingly popular way of seeing the world; helping meager budgets stretch as far as possible. Every year millions of people embark on extended journeys around the world. Very few of them plan their accommodation before they leave. So how do budget travellers chose where to stay? What makes them chose one place over another?
It’s not just about cost. In most cities there are several budget hostels competing for backpackers’ money, and prices are often similar. So great efforts are made by the best places, to stand out from the crowd and provide a unique experience for today’s more discerning backpackers.
In the past the ‘Lonely Planet’ and ‘Rough Guide’ guidebooks were every backpacker’s ‘bible’, and hostels with good write-ups in these publications quickly became the busiest places in town. Nowadays people still clutch on to their trusty guidebooks, but also recognise that they are quickly out of date. And then there’s the ‘Lonely Planet effect’ – great hostels get great reviews in the Lonely Planet, quickly become full, and owners start to rest on their laurels and stop trying to innovate. Very soon the great review can result in a downturn in quality. And some people simply don’t want to stay where everyone else stays – they want to be different (straying from the ‘banana pancake trail’).
So people turn to the Internet. Many people travel with laptops and connect to wi-fi daily, and for those who don’t, there’s always internet cafés and public computers on every corner in the regular backpacker haunts. They do two things. First they google the hostels and look at their websites. A well-designed, attractive, easy-to-use website almost invariably indicates a well-kept, innovative hostel. Second, before making a booking (online or via telephone), many people will cross-reference their choice with user-generated review sites, the biggest of which being Trip Advisor. If most people agree that the place is great, then the booking is made.
So what constitutes ‘great’?
Yes, everybody has their own taste, and different people enjoy different activities, but for the purposes of this article we’ll divide backpackers’ hostel selection criteria into five distinct categories: cleanliness, safety, staff, fun, and character. Some people may be more concerned about security while, for others, travelling is all about keeping busy and entertained. The ‘perfect backpackers hostel’, then, must aim to excel in all categories, in an attempt to keep everyone happy. Let’s look at each category individually:
This is the first thing people will complain about on the internet. Modern backpackers have grown used to well-maintained hostels, and gone are the days when cockroach-infested filth-pits are considered a necessary evil for anyone wanting to explore the world. Hostels have to be fastidiously clean.
Something else which is now expected, not hoped-for. Lockers in rooms are a must, a safe at reception is a bonus, and building security must be taken seriously. If not, then modern backpackers will simply look elsewhere.
Here’s the big difference between a good hostel and a great hostel. When guests leave, very often it’s the people that they’ll remember most. Hostel staff need to be friendly, helpful and welcoming. They need to be knowledgeable, and willing to do almost anything to keep the guests happy. You’ll often find ‘born entertainers’, people who perhaps play guitar or tell jokes and stories, working at good hostels. Read positive reviews on Trip Advisor, and it’s the hostel staff that people talk about most.
So the hostel is clean and safe but if there’s nothing to do, many budget travellers will quickly move on and leave lukewarm comments online. To cater for every taste, hostels have to provide a range of activities for their guests. Tours and trips around the city, and special events at the hostel. Parties and barbecues are a great way for travellers to meet each other and swap stories. Many good hostels have a range of games and activities for rainy days, from Jenga to pool tables, and from swimming pools to pub crawls.
Something which is hard to put your finger on, and hard to create, character is crucially important when people choose a place to stay. ‘Character’ encompasses everything about the hostel: the building, the rooms, the ‘feel’ of the place, the atmosphere, the décor and the hostel’s people all work together to create character. Developing character is often something which happens over a long period of time, and is also one of the most commonly-mentioned plus-points in hostel reviews we’ve seen.
For hostels, then, there’s a lot to think about. After all five criteria have been addressed by the hostel management, the key to future success is to constantly innovate and change. Hostels should always be seeking new and interesting ways to be safer, cleaner, and more fun, and must always focus on hiring and training the very best staff possible. When hostels get it right, there are few better places in the world to stay.
If you’re in Jakarta, one hostel is leading the way. Six Degrees is a budget hotel which meets all five criteria in unique ways. If you don’t believe us, just check out our online reviews from happy guests!