You know those guests who show up and are clueless about the area because they clearly didn't look up a single thing before arriving? Yea, that was me a few days ago. I admit it. I flew to Sydney without having looked up…anything. There's a famous Opera House here, right? And a cool bridge? And…um…water? Yikes.
Let's be real, no one really likes that person. It's not that we should expect guests to have thoroughly researched everything in our area before they come. After all, over-planners can be just as exhausting to deal with, if not more. ("Tell me the best way to see these 5 main attractions of your city, located in 5 different neighborhoods, all in one day, because my self created itinerary has no flexibility to extend an extra night. Oh, and my budget is for $37 per day, so it can't cost more than that, total. Thanks!")
It's just that even though we've all gotten pretty good at summing up our city's highlights in a 2 minute spiel, having to start from scratch with someone who has no idea what they are interested in can be a little arduous.
So, at the risk of becoming that person, I got a brief overview with a few things marked on my map and headed to my room. I looked over the map and saw 'Free Walking Tour' advertised on the side, by the company Peek Tours. Perfect. I love taking walking tours when I arrive in a new city because it's like an itinerary of highlights that someone researched for me. I just get to show up and enjoy. I also love learning the history and seeing the city by foot, but this time being able to hide my traveler's ignorance behind the tour was an added bonus. Hopefully by the time the tour was finished, I would have a solid handful of ideas of places to visit and things to do.
Three-ish hours of walking and listening later, I was certainly not disappointed. I didn't just have a handful, I came back with an arsenal of information about Sydney. Our tour guide, Gregg, was both knowledgable and entertaining. I've taken free walking tours in many cities while traveling, and I always love how the guides weave historical information with funny stories. It helps that they are often told with a healthy dose of lame humor, which I happen to love. Gregg was no exception to all of this. He kept us all engaged, interested, and laughing throughout the entire tour. I'm an easy target with lame jokes to begin with (A guy comes through Australian immigration and the officer asks, "Do you have a criminal record?" The guy replies, "Oh, I didn't know I still needed one to get in!" I laughed, loudly.) but the others in the group seemed to enjoy the tour as well. One of the hardest things for me when giving information over and over (about the hostel, about the city, etc) is the risk of sounding like I've given that information...over and over. I'm sure tour guides have the same challenge. Though I know logically that Gregg must have told the stories and jokes many times by now, I never felt like he was just going through the motions. It was a good reminder to me that your 20th guest of the day should receive the same level of service and attention as your first.
One of the best things about the tour was that it was affordable. Yes, it was 'free', but as in many cities the guide works on a tips basis. I had/am still having some serious sticker shock upon arriving in Sydney. ($1.50 ramen noodles? $4 gatorade? $17 for a 6 pack of beer? Poverty. I'm trying a new diet called poverty). So instead of spending $40 on only one attraction, the tour allowed me to get to know the city without becoming much broker than I was already feeling. To add to it, Gregg seemed to know every cheap place to eat, drink and experience Sydney. I've only been traveling for a few days so far, but I can already see so many ways that being on the other side of things will help me to be a better manager. Traveling on a budget again is definitely one of them. -- Why yes, that was me running to catch the free bus yesterday! Yes...that was also me panting out of breath after I missed it. And yep, me again, waiting 20 minutes for the next freebie as many city busses passed. Welp.
It can be easy to push lots of activities and tours on our guests, whether for altruistic intentions because they are great experiences or not so altruistic i.e. commission. However, so many travelers come through seriously strapped for cash, especially if they have been on the road for awhile. Even if they really wanted to do these things, they may simply not be able to afford it. Other guests discussing fun-but-pricey activities they've done can mean great suggestions for some, but leave a budget-conscious traveler feeling isolated. I'm not talking about that kid that is literally surviving on the free food shelf and wouldn't do anything that costs money anyway, whether $2 or $50. Let's be real, someone who manages to make a meal out of an instant sauce packet, 3 leftover crackers and a few lentils is probably going to get by just fine. I'm talking about that in-between guest, who is at risk of falling through the cracks without a little reaching out. We all know that more activities for guests to do can equal extensions and more bed nights. But we would be doing ourselves a disservice- both in customer service and business- if we spent too much focus on the big things and didn't seek out lots of budget information as well.
I know this is kind of hosteling 101, of course we all advertise cheap things, but I just found it to be a good reminder. We certainly don't ever want a guest to feel lonely or out of place, due to money or any other reason, and we also want to stay busy and profitable. Find a wide variety of cheap and free things for your guests to do, and even those with only pennies left may stay and extra night or two. The hostel can stay filled with happy travelers, and your bank account can stay filled with dough. What a win-win! About as exciting as I seem to be in the picture below. Am I trying to hug the Opera House or just happy about the $3 beers Gregg told me about? Hard to say, really.
I guess I could throw a normal one in for good measure. Surprise! Below is what this semi-mystery blogger looks like when not trying to hug giant World Heritage Sites or throwing a mini celebration over affordable booze.
Do you have free walking tours in your city? What about other free activities? Do you find you are able to convince guests to hang around longer by advising activities that are affordable to them, or do your guests have a fairly set itinerary to begin with? Some cities tend to have more free attractions and events than others. For those of you in cities on the more expensive side (or just lacking free events), what kinds of activities do you offer guests to make their stay more enjoyable, and lengthy?
Sharing ideas to keep our guests happy and staying longer can only help us all to build up our industry. Job security folks! If guests feel they can keep their trips affordable, even as prices on nearly everything seem to go up and up and up, we will all be better off. And like the title suggests, turn their pennies into our dollars. So, what are your thoughts? Sign in, comment below and share the hostel knowledge love!
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