During our Hostelling Across America Road Trip, Byron Bunda and I encountered many hostels that were increasing their private room selection. Many owners said they had noticed an increased demand for these rooms, especially from couples and groups of friends. Upon further examination, it turns out this is an emerging trend in Europe as well. An article written by Nordic Hotel Consulting stated,
“[Hostel] operators can just as easily meet demand from couples with the introduction of private rooms. Private rooms also cater to less price-sensitive guests (e.g. business guests) who are looking for an accommodation offering a thriving social environment. Finally, the modern and trendy product fits the requirements of an older clientele, including flashpackers, who seek attractive public areas and the possibility to participate in fun events.”
Hostel owners are adding private rooms to appeal to travelers that want both privacy and an active social atmosphere. Here are four factors to consider when deciding to add private rooms to your hostel.
A private room can be much more than just a room that is not shared with strangers. Hostel owners need to decide what furniture and layout guests will appreciate when booking private rooms. What type of beds will you provide--bunks or traditional? How many beds? Will your guest appreciate having other furniture like couches, desks, or a kitchenette?
When Marc from Apple Hostels in Philadelphia, PA was planning a 70-90 bed expansion, he intentionally added more private rooms to his inventory based on increased demand from conference-goers. Not only did he add privates, but he decided to design “family rooms” with living and working spaces with lounge furniture and desks. He’s experimented with a few different bed arrangements to accommodate guests, such as privates with queen beds, or privates with bunk beds. Although this use of space cuts down on the total number of beds, the ability to cater to a broader audience and offer private rooms are a benefit to the hostel.
At Fieldhouse Jones in Chicago, they’re also achieving success by offering “alternative bed arrangements” to appeal to different types of travelers. It was clear when walking past groups of children in the gymnasium-themed lobby that these innovative layouts, such as a queen bed with two bunk beds on top, or a triple-stacked bunk, appealed to families. Owners Robert and Mike said that they designed the hostel based on what they wanted when they travel with their families, and weren’t constrained by what a “hostel” had to look like. When designing your private rooms, put yourself in the mindset of the type of traveler you want when deciding what their needs will be.
Amenities of a Hotel
In addition to offering the comfort of a private room, hostels can upgrade their guest’s experience with nicer amenities. Consider what amenities are being offered at other accommodations, such as hotels. How can you use those examples in your own property?
Sydell Group’s lifestyle hotel, Freehand, is experimenting with a mix of shared and private rooms. In addition to traditional private hotel rooms, their “Quads” (4-person bunk rooms) can be booked privately or shared. Groups of friends traveling together said they enjoyed having their own bunk bed instead of sharing a bed, like in a hotel. However, Hotel Manager Emilia noticed they could compete better with traditional hotels and appeal to private room guests by offering amenities on par with hotels. They added a selection of “Premium Quads” that offer amenities such as plush robes, a minibar, and a flat screen TV, adapted for the private space. If a guest is used to staying in hotels, they’ll enjoy the presence of amenities. If a guest is used to staying in hostels, they’ll be pleasantly surprised by the addition.
Adding private rooms to your inventory may require using different marketing strategies and booking platforms than with shared rooms. Guests that book private rooms may not be familiar with the environment and level of services at a hostel. Where do you find these private room guests? How can you make it clear to guests that their room is in a hostel?
AubergeNOLA in New Orleans, offers a private room that accommodates four and is advertised as a “garden apartment”, complete with a kitchen and lounge space. This luxury private space is ideal for groups of friends, or families that want to spend a bit more money for a premium experience. However, the garden apartment is located off of the hostel patio, which can be a problem if guests aren’t aware that it is inside a hostel and are uncomfortable with guests playing games right outside their door. Robert, the owner, said it’s important to set clear expectations and be descriptive in your marketing to ensure the guest understands this dynamic and is comfortable with a hostel setting.
Another consideration is what platforms you will use to market to private room guests. Will you use the same booking sites as your shared rooms, or do these guests use different platforms when searching for accommodation? Consider the tradeoffs of each platform. For example, in order for the garden apartment to get bookings when listed on Hostelworld, Robert noticed that he needs to keep the price comparable to other hostel private rooms, regardless of the fact that his has additional amenities. However, on a platform like Airbnb, the garden apartment can be listed at a higher price, more in line with the quality the guest is receiving.
Chandler from Hostel Cat markets strategically by using photos and descriptions tailored to each platform in order to attract the right guests and set guest expectations. For example, on Expedia he uses a simple, straightforward photo that clearly shows bunk beds in order to clarify that guests should not expect hotel-like accommodation when booking his private rooms. However, for his shared rooms on Hostelworld, he can use more lively images and descriptions because this appeals to backpacker dorm guests.
Striking a Balance
Okay, you’ve decided you want to add private rooms to your hostel. But how many? What’s the most profitable? What atmosphere are you trying to create? Is there a magic balance between privates and dorms?
Some hostel owners seem to think so, although this ratio will be different for every property, depending on what type of guest you want to attract. For example, owner Nick Johnson of Park CIty Hostel in Utah said his goal would be 50% privates and 50% dorms based on the fact that his business caters to both individual skiers and groups, depending on the season. However, the Fieldhouse Jones owners agreed that 90-95% private rooms is ideal since they’re appealing to more families than backpackers.
Another consideration is how private room guests will interact with your hostel’s social atmosphere. For example, having a few private rooms with couples or small groups of friends might not have a huge impact since these guests will be dispersed among a majority of single travelers at your events. However, if there are too many privates, the social atmosphere could suffer if groups are cliquey or if the majority of guests are business travelers or families.
If you’d like the flexibility to have a fluctuating ratio, Chandler from Hostel Cat suggests having the ability to switch the dorm rooms to private rooms and vice versa, based on demand. This doesn’t require a physical moving of furniture, but simply a designation in your Property Management System (PMS) that allows you to shift room type. Every hostel will have different considerations based on their own financials when deciding how many private rooms to add. Running the numbers for each hostel will involve looking at your occupancy rate, revenue per bed, traveler demographic, and more.
The hostels we encountered on the road trip are having success adding private rooms to their inventory. Each property has found ways to tailor the bed arrangement, amenities, marketing, and supply to incorporate private rooms seamlessly within their business. Given these examples, it sounds like it’s a great time for hostel owners to think creatively about how they utilize each room and what demographics they could be reaching.