I recently read this article about an American tourist turning violent against hostel staff in Thailand. Reason? He didn’t want to pay for the young lady he brought into the dorms with him the night before. 4am is still night, right? The tourist was being detained physically by hostel staff and guests until the Thai police arrived, and in response he lashed out at a hostel staff member, punching him in the face.
I have had to call the police on a couple of occasions, but I don’t recall a situation where my staff were directly affected by physical violence. They have, of course, endured verbal racism, homophobia, and misogyny, but otherwise they were unharmed.
However, there was one incident involving a man who punched his mother at the hostel.
The young man and his mother were assigned beds in one of our dorm rooms. He had been exhibiting anxious behaviour earlier in the day, pacing and shouting. When pressed, his mother assured me that he would take his meds and be calm throughout the night.
Well, of course, he didn’t take his meds and he punched his mother. Guests and staff intervened, coming between them. Agitated, the man ran from the hostel into the night.
The mother insisted she did not want to contact police; however, I advised her that he was not allowed to enter the building again and I deactivated his electronic key. If he did enter, I would call the police straight away.
Eventually the man tried to return late into the night, but because I sure as hell was not getting any sleep that night, I managed to catch him at the door. I handed him his things and explained he could not enter the building. Once he started yelling and stomping out his frustrations, I called police to take over.
This is certainly no isolated incident in a hostel. Let’s be frank here, there is a lot of potential for weird stuff to go down: lots of people sharing a common space; not getting enough sleep due to jet lag and snorers in the dorm rooms; young people socialising with new dorm-mates, previous histories unknown; unfamiliar customs; excessive alcohol and drugs…
So, how do we, as managers and owners, keep our staff and guests safe from other’s violence within the hostel walls?
I wish there was a hard and fast How-To set of rules we could just follow and everyone would then be safe and the world would be wonderful. Yeah.
Since that is not the case, I thought I would just touch on a few tips I have found reduce the prevalence.
- Know that it can happen anywhere. Violence can erupt from someone known to the hostel well, or a fresh face you have only just met.
- Be aware and teach awareness to your staff. Step-in when you see suspicious behaviour before it escalates to violence, try to diffuse it, if you can. Be polite but assertive in challenging anyone acting unusual, pull them aside if possible, so as not to embarrass them. Some Telltale signs to look for: aggression, leering, sulking or even a possible temper-tantrum at check in, disregard for authority, excessively inappropriate statements.
- Put your safety policies and procedures in writing, and make sure every employee reads and understands them. As stated in the previous article about emergency preparedness, make sure every staff member understands what needs to happen should there be a crisis, whether by a violent person or a natural disaster. A written plan of action should be included in your policies and procedures manual.
- Be available for your staff to report any suspicious activities to you. This is not always possible, especially if you are out of town or just unable to respond straight away. But this idea is to have an open line of communication available to staff so that they feel comfortable coming to you when problems arise.
- Teamwork. You can see when your receptionist has 5 people waiting to check in, a pile of hostel laundry still not completed, and the cursed phone is ringing off the hook. When that happens, put the laundry in the washing machine for them, and take the phone for a while. And times when you aren't there to help? Instill in your other staff members that even though they may be off the clock, they can also help put in a load of sheets. **Why is this important? Mental health. Keep your staff from becoming overtired and overstressed. Make them feel like someone has their back and they are not alone. This can help them handle prickly situations better; they can address the perhaps tired and agitated newly arrived guest with empathy and kindness rather than possibly exacerbating a situation with their own frustrations.
- Create a policy around intoxication and alcohol consumption in the hostel. Just arriving into a new town, meeting a bunch of fresh faces in a hostel can be a bit intimidating for some people. To break the ice, it’s totally acceptable to share a bottle of wine with new friends or join in for a lightning round of Kings Cup. However, it is well documented that excessive alcohol and certain drugs heighten violent tendencies. Drinking to excess should not be encouraged within the hostel. Invite guests out to the club if they insist on getting hammered that night.
- Neither hostel staff nor guests should physically restrain or remove a person from the grounds, unless the perpetrator has already turned violent and people are keeping him/her from harming others. Hostel staff are not bouncers and the chances of them being struck greatly increase if they lay hands on the violent person. If a guest is asked to leave and does not of their own accord, then police should be called to remove the person.*In the video embedded in the article, angry guests and staff restrain the guest- keeping him from departing the hostel until he has paid for the extra person. $20 is not worth putting your staff or guests into harm's way.
- Finally, lead by example. As the manager or owner, follow your own safety procedures.
*You could consider providing a basic self-defence and safety course to certain staff, if you have long term staff members and you deem it may be necessary in your area. This would be an expensive option, but it would not only be appreciated, but could potentially save lives in an emergency.
I have linked here to an oldie but goodie forum topic about removing violent or problem guests. Hopefully, with due dilligence we can either quell a potential situation or remove the guest entirely before they actually come to blows. Nobody needs that nonsense!
How have you dealt with violence within your hostel? Are there any tips or stories you can provide?
Editor’s note: I live just outside of Christchurch, New Zealand where we have just suffered a terrorist attack on 15 March. While I started this article the morning of the event, I had a hard time finishing it., trying to get my head around what was happening. I finally returned to it a week later, still feeling a bit of shock and sadness (and a whole lot of anger) at what has happened in my city.
Namaste and peace to everyone.
If you would like to read more on emergency planning and safety tips, please click on the links below.
>>Gal Mor: Dealing with Military Conflict, Preparation and Planning>>
>>In Order to Stay Safe, You Have to Do It Right>>