For decades, hostels have been the 1st choice of international budget travelers all over the world to save money on accommodation, but if you are from either the USA or Jamaica and have never stayed in a hostel before, you might be confused about what to expect.
Hostels can be Inns, Guesthouses, Bed and Breakfasts, Farms, Cabins, Retreats, Homes or Campgrounds.
Hostels are just like hotels except for dormitory-styled rooms filled with enough bunk beds to sleep anywhere from between 4 to 40 room-sharing guests.
Unfortunately, hostels are fairly uncommon in the USA and Caribbean, so many Small Tourism Businesses in Jamaica – land of the all-inclusive vacation – are clueless about what a hostel is and have a lot of misconceptions.
This guide will teach you how to set up a hostel for maximum privacy in a shared space, with tips and ideas for good hostel management and a list of typical and expected features that you should keep in mind when planning for and operating your hostel guesthouse!
When traveling the world on a budget, the most common sleeping option is a hostel. Hostels are often located in major cities or around tourist sites and feature basic accommodations for cheaper bed rates.
Hostels are many times cheaper and more informal than hotels, a home away from home, with less emphasis placed on premium services because of the lower prices, although cleanliness is always expected.
In the hotel business it is expected that the sheets are changed every day, but backpackers are generally happy to have the sheets changed weekly or when they move out, leads to lower cleaning and manpower costs.
The return on investment for a hostel business is better than the equivalent return for a hotel business because there are fewer costs, most notably in relation to labor and human resources.
Internationally, the largest dorms will sleep about 10 – 12 guests.
An individual dorm bed in an Eastern European hostel can cost anywhere from $20+/night, and around $30+/night on average in Western Europe.
Keep in mind that dorms are the cheapest room types available and private rooms with single and double beds still book for normal market prices.
European hostels have multiple combinations of dorms and private rooms available.
Almost every hostel will have a few traditional private rooms for singles, couples and families, but all will have one or more dorm rooms of various sizes.
For example, a hostel could have 2 dorm rooms that hold up to 6 people each, with 4 normal single privates and 4 normal double private rooms.
Internationally, the largest dorms usually sleep about 10 – 12 guests with bathrooms that will often be shared.
Modern hostels are designed to offer sociable accommodation, lounge and common areas with televisions and books, and self-catering kitchen facilities.
Backpackers can be defined as independent travelers without pre-booked accommodation for every night of their stay, and are informal with flexible travel itineraries.
Many are couples or traveling pairs (friends) from Europe and there are always lots of Australians, Irish and Canadians and are quite a few Americans who visit for 2-3 weeks.
There are plenty of other nationalities that like hostels and backpacking but usually, people who speak the same language tend to stick together.
The Backpacker / Youth market has energy, escapism, a feeling of freedom and are often out to impress others back at home with their Jamaican travel experiences.
A wide range of backpackers stay at hostels, but many tend to be travelers between 18-35 years old. Some hostels only allow dorm room guests between these two ages!
Many have graduated from college or University and may drive themselves or use public transportation while on vacation in Jamaica. Backpackers are generally respectful of each other and try to keep up cleanliness by doing their dishes, etc.
Usual backpacker priorities include budget accommodations, meeting other travelers, social and participatory activities, volunteering for worthy causes and generally getting to know all about their destination.
Some backpackers may be traveling for 9+ months at a time, traveling through entire regions like Central America and the Caribbean, with multiple month-long stops in Panama, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Cuba before returning home to Europe.
A few backpacker travelers will “live” in the same hostel for a month or more – staying in one area for several months to immerse themselves in the local culture, but many will only stay for a few days or a week.
Budget travelers spend considerable parts of their trip in hostels, so really understanding their desire for a comfortable, home-away-from-home experience and building this feeling into your hostel’s operation can really help you stand out in a backpacker’s mind.
As a place for travelers from around the world to gather and save money, a backpacking hostel tends to feature less in the way of formal hospitality and more in regard to organized group activities and building a community spirit.
This guide will teach you how to start and manage a Jamaica Backpackers Hostel Guesthouse, with tips and ideas to keep in mind!
1. Join a Professional Tourism Association: Trust and reputation are critical when running a hostel – happy guests will let others know about your hostel, but some may be wary of staying in cheaper accommodation and want the reassurance of your membership in a professional tourism umbrella organization.
Our long-term vision is to ensure visitor satisfaction by collectively welcoming and taking care of independent budget travelers and rural tourists in a safe and hospitable manner.
Reassure potential visitors that you adhere to professionals standards, take pride in your hostel business and will strive to provide as good an experience as possible for all visitors.
2. Offer 24-Hour Check-in and Reception Availability: Even if staff (you) will not be sitting 24/7 behind your check-in desk where guests pay, get room keys, look at area maps and receive important information about your hostel, it usually isn’t a big deal if arrangements can be made to promptly serve guests with late arrivals who check-in after your front desk closes.
This may be as simple as mounting a doorbell or posting a monitored and responsive phone number or by going the extra mile to establish communication with future guests a few days before they arrive to make arrangements for a smooth check-in.
Guests should never feel unimportant or unsafe no matter how long they wait outside for access and attention! Keep hostel gate and entrance clean, environmentally friendly and safe, with no drug pushing or other harassment allowed.
Consider making checkout 12 Noon, as many backpackers can’t or don’t want to wake up at 8 or 9AM to checkout after a late night out on the town.
3. Post a Bulletin Board with Maps and Information: Clearly written directions and answers to frequently asked questions can cut down on time staff (you) spend answering the same common questions over and over. Ideas include a map of the area with attractions marked on it, directions to the airport, taxi and bus stations.
4. Hire Staff (You) that can Do a Little of Everything: If you are running a simple hostel, hire workers that can do everything. If your business is larger or more complicated, divide staff roles between hostel management, reception, security, cleaning, cooking, maintenance, etc.
It is best to hire a combination of locals and foreigners, easily finding and engaging compatible Work/Exchange candidates by listing available beds and opportunities for Volunteer Tourists right here on RastaRoutes.com.
Allowing travelers to earn a bed for the night in exchange for work duties can be mutually beneficial and personally rewarding.
5. Train Staff (You) to be Helpful and Knowledgeable: Help guests feel excited about being in your area and they will leave better reviews. Front desk staff (you) should have a good idea about tourist-safe and affordable entertainment and attractions in the area.
They (you) should be able to advise guests about safety concerns, recommend visitor appropriate things to do/see around town and answer questions like “where are some cheap restaurants?” or “I’m looking for a fun bar or nightclub, do you have any recommendations?”
Good staff can make a big difference in hostels as some of the best hostels have amazing and fun people working there that mingle with travelers and are friendly, helpful and up for having a good time.
Front-Desk Responsibilities include:
1. Ensuring that Guests experience exceptional service and customer care, during every contact.
2. Establishing quick rapport with Guests and act as a friendly, efficient and professional face of your hostel.
3. Providing professional and knowledgeable information on all aspects of Jamaican Tourism including:
• Tour Services, restaurant reservations/recommendations and additional special travel requests.
• Front Desk and Reservation procedures.
• Promoting individual hostel and the entire Jamaica Backpackers network’s reputation for exceptional standards of Guest care and service at all times.
6. Maintain a supply of both Shared (Dorm) and Private Rooms: To run a good hostel you’ll have to cater to a larger crowd and not just backpackers by offering a variety of room and bed choices.
This guarantees that a wide range of people will stay there – students in their late-teens and twenties in dorm rooms, families with kids in Quad Privates, and retirees and everyone in between staying in Double and Single Private suites, with and without private bathrooms!
Hostel dorm rooms are typically filled with multiple bunk beds with capacity ranging from 2 to 20 bunks. Most common are dorms with 4-6 bunks for 8-12 people, sometimes sleeping in separate rooms by gender.
The most efficient layout for a hostel is a long corridor with rooms coming off both sides, because a square design wastes a lot of space in the middle of the building. Achieve a happy balance between making rooms as small as possible to maximize space, provide comfort and integrate interesting common spaces.
7. Invest In Good and Visible Security: Each hostel will have their own version of security – some requiring a key, buzzer or even a secret handshake to enter the building.
At a minimum, all hostels and guesthouses should at least require a key to enter individual dorm and private rooms, and remind Guests to keep the doors locked.
Dorm rooms should lock from the inside without requiring a key so if the door is locked at night and there is a fire, guests can still easily unlock the door from the inside without having to scramble around for their key.
8. Provide Security Lockers sized for Fully Packed Backpacks: Good hostel dorm rooms have individual lockers, cabinets or lockable cupboards – usually located under beds or standing against walls for each guest to confidently store their backpacks, electronics and valuables.
Backpackers traditionally supply their own padlock or they can buy or rent one from your Front Desk staff (you).
Everyone worries about their valuables on the road and hostel dorm rooms can be breeding grounds for theft. Security lockers should be large enough for a laptop as many guests travel with expensive electronics like MP3 players, cell phones and cameras and want spacious, sturdy lockers in shared rooms.
9. Cleanliness is Next to Godliness: Nothing prompts a bad online Guest review faster than dirty bathrooms, unsanitary kitchens, stained sheets and bed bug bites.
Maintain high levels of cleanliness around the clock as having a nearly-spotless hostel helps improve ratings and increase booking extensions.
Dirty hostels are often a result of cleaners that aren’t supervised well by front desk staff (you)
10. No Smoking Allowed Indoors: Some guests may have asthma or other health problems so it’s best to keep inside of the hostel as No Smoking, or at a minimum, have places inside where non-smoking guests can be away from the smell and fumes.
11. Have a Locked Storage Room for Guest Luggage: Arrange a secure storage area to keep guest luggage when they first arrive (if their room isn’t ready) and for Guests that check-out temporarily to visit others part of Jamaica, leaving some gear locked behind with you and plans to return to your hostel.
Backpackers will also want to keep their bags locked away for a while after checkout, usually because checkout is in the morning and their flight or transportation may not leave until evening.
Don’t let non-employees into the luggage storage area unattended or it will make other guests nervous. If theft is a problem, the luggage storage area should be restricted to only people who have access to the cash register, so if you don’t trust certain employees with hostel cash, then don’t trust them with guest luggage and valuables.
12. Maintain Clean, Well Organized Bathrooms: Each hostel will have a different set-up when it comes to bathrooms, showers and toilets – the best dorms having large community style bathrooms with 3 -4 sinks with mirrors and multiple private shower stalls.
If your Guests have to walk through the kitchen and backyard to get to an Outdoor shower – that is more than acceptable to typical backpackers, as long as it is clean, functional and mentioned clearly at check-in and in your hostel’s online description.
Most of the time each hostel room has its own bathroom – Double Private bedrooms have their own private bathroom, and the dorm room that sleeps 8 people could also share another single bathroom.
Sharing bathrooms is never anyone’s preference, but when they are kept clean, fresh smelling and tidy, backpacking budget travelers don’t complain too much.
Separate facilities for male and female dorm room guests are always optimal.
Showers must always be clean with no mildew or clogged drains. If you wouldn’t step in to take a shower yourself, guests aren’t going to like it either.
Wall hooks in hostel bathrooms are helpful as guests who may have a bag with them don’t have to put anything on the floor.
Keep toilets well-stocked with paper and each stall should have a toilet brush and plunger available.
13. Create Comfortable Common Areas for Guests to Lounge and Mingle:
Most hostels have lounge rooms where people can relax, read and meet other travelers. A lot of these rooms will have a big TV and a DVD player with movies, books, board or video games and large couches.
Lounge areas should be places for guests to socialize, meet other people and exchange travel stories. Common spaces should create a community effect where people gather to communicate with each other.
Most travelers stay in hostels because they are cheap, but also because they want to meet other travelers, hang out, have a good time, and exchange travel stories and tips. This is done best in a comfortable and cozy environment that invites travelers to mingle, making it easier for solo travelers to meet other people.
Some of the best hostels have at least one unique or remarkable common area.
Design your common lounge areas in a way that encourages people to break the ice by using furniture that can be easily rearranged by guests, or arrange heavier couches and chairs to face each other.
Locate books, cards, dominoes and other games nearby. Buy two inexpensive guitars or other musical instruments and make them available for guests to help break the ice, meet each other and have a good time.
Ideally the lounge social area should be a place where guests could sit and talk as late as they want without disturbing guests already sleeping in their rooms.
14. Provide Quiet Spaces and Relaxing Areas: Guests also appreciate other areas where they can sit in private or in pairs, without loud music. Some people prefer peace and quiet, and not all guests will like the same music.
Try to design the hostel with a separate quiet area away from the place for people to chat and mingle at night. Not everyone wants to party and some people are night owls.
15. Organize Activities and Events to connect Staff (You) with Travelers:
Guests who meet other backpackers have more fun and leave better reviews. Community pot-luck dinners, group walks and organized tours can be memorable experiences, especially for backpackers brand new to your area.
Staff (you) can offer tours around town or organize recreational nights, talent shows and barbeques. Consider buying a few volleyballs, footballs and Frisbees to help ensure spontaneous group interaction, or keeping a bicycle or two around in good condition for rental.
16. Maintained a Clean and Well Equipped Communal Kitchen: Many backpackers only book hostels with kitchens available simply because they can save so much money by cooking their own meals, individually or as a group.
Hostels with communal kitchens are also more social, as it gives people a chance to interact and organize shared group meals. The best hostel kitchens have everything needed to cook a complete and diverse meal – stoves, ovens, microwaves, refrigerators, sinks, utensils, cups, plates and anything else one might need.
Backpacker hostel kitchens need to be constantly checked and rechecked for cleanliness regularly by staff (you), as they get a lot of use and neither hostel staff or backpacker guests seem to enjoy cleaning kitchens.
17. Promote and Provide a Free Daily Self-Serve Breakfast: Budget travelers love free stuff so many hostels offer free breakfast, even if it’s fairly basic. A bit of effort on your part to add some local Jamaican food specialties will easily go a long way.
The usual hostel breakfast consists of corn flakes or porridge, pancakes, toast or bread with jam and butter, fresh fruit or juice, and some combination of milk, tea or coffee.
An alternative to providing a “made” breakfast is supplying things like pancake mix and raw eggs – limit one per guest if necessary – for people to make breakfast for themselves.
A clean, properly working Electric Griddle or Hot Plate will be necessary for self-serve arrangements.
18. Operate a Hostel Bar to Keep Guests Spending Onsite Longer: Hostels with bars and affordable beer prices usually have a lively social scene that encourages guests to drink at the hostel and spend their entertainment money onsite – rather than wander the streets drunk and at risk after a big night out in town.
People will book and re-book beds in a particular hostel just because it gives them the chance to mingle, enjoy good music, drink cheap alcoholic beverages and end each night with some great memories and experiences.
The bar scene might not be for every hostel as bars tend to get noisy, so you might want to locate it away from popular or premium private rooms and other areas important to guests looking for a quiet place to stay.
Young people may appreciate a bar that stays open later, but you don’t want to annoy all your guests with the noise.
Though it’s not possible to operate a bar at all hostels, a bar can be great for encouraging guest interaction and can add the “party atmosphere” to a property, significantly increasing the hostel’s income.
Hostel bars can be open to the general public or cater exclusively to the hostel’s guests, but guests usually prefer to party among themselves inside the hostel for security reasons and to avoid local old men who come to stare at young female tourists and backpackers.
If your hostel bar is open to the public, operate separate entrances for the hostel and the bar so that locals and non-guests can’t enter the hostel area directly from the public bar.
19. Offer Free WiFi and USB Charging Stations: Free 24/7 WiFi has become standard in hostels and many have free desktop computers available for use too.
The area designated for guest computer use should have plenty of chairs, a table or two and a sociable place to sit for guests waiting to use the computers. Set it up well, this area of the hostel can be one of the best places for backpackers to meet and interact.
20. Location, Location, Location: Location can really have a big impact on your guest’s hostel experience. Ensure that your new Hostel will be in a safe, well lit area. Run-down areas are cheaper, but most travelers won’t compromise safety for saving a few bucks
Write detailed instructions for getting to the hostel from the airport, bus terminal or wherever guests can potentially arrive from. Getting lost overseas is no fun and some hostels can be hard to find.
21. Provide Services that You Would Want Yourself: Many hostels have towels for rent which is much better for guests than carrying their own stinky wet towel around in their backpack.
22. Write and Clearly Display Simple Hostel Policies: If you only accept cash, or have a lockout period between 11AM and 4PM for cleaning, or have a lights-out curfew at 9PM – make it known up front in your advertising and marketing, and again at guest check-in.
23. Furniture Design is Also Important: Use durable furniture that is easy to replace, as cheap mattresses and other fittings will require more frequent and costly replacement.
Furniture made to order is a good idea, especially dorm beds. Larger open framed beds that taller guests can stretch out fully on without kicking a closed bed foot end can all be ordered specifically for a better guest experience
24. Don’t Forget the Small Stuff: Other potential ideas you’ll need to consider are first aid kits and fire extinguishers, USB stations for Mobile phone charging, displaying Art & decoration by people who have stayed at hostel.
25. Grow your Hostel Business and Profit with Rasta Routes:
We give Jamaican Small Tourism Businesses access to a growing worldwide audience of Backpacker Tourists – including Budget and Long-Term Travelers, Rural/Eco Tourists, as well as Volunteers and Work/Exchange candidates.
Rasta Routes focuses on online targeting and exposure of our entire suite of Travel Services to US, UK, Canadian, Australian and EU passport holders that do not need a visa to enter Jamaica, with additional attention to Ex-Pat Jamaicans and their foreign-born offspring.
Rasta Routes Travel Services provide solutions that increase hostel revenue through positive online exposure and high quality distribution to value-conscious travelers in Jamaica and all around the world!
Our biggest demographic is budget travelers in their 20s and 30s who come to us for advice for where to visit, what to pack, what to buy, and how to have a successful trip to Jamaica.
If you are interested in buying advertising space on our site please contact us.
We are always interested in working with Jamaican companies to promote travel related products and services, sponsored blog posts, giveaways and other promotional activities!
By Winston Irie