Last week I had the privilege of presenting at the American Hostel Conference. My talk was on trends in the economy, society, and the travel industry, and how they will affect hostels in 2019. Just as I hope the hostel operators in attendance learned from my presentation, I learned so much from the other presenters and attendees of the conference. We'll cover some of the topics from presentations in the coming weeks, but today let's recap what we can learn from the conference overall.
Multiple hostels represented at the American Hostel Conference have been open for less than one year. We had Melanie and Justin Steele from Hostel of Maine located in Carrabassett Valley, Heather Loeber from the Black Elephant in Portland, Maine, and Deidre Mathis from Wanderstay in Houston, Texas. Deidre and Heather attended the conference last year and were both back to present their newly opened properties. It’s exciting to see so many new operators on the scene. It's also encouraging to find so many owners who changed careers to open a hostel. For anyone thinking that a decade of hostel management experience is a pre-requisite to starting your own hostel, let these founders who figured it out as they went along illustrate that you can too.
I was excited to meet some of the entrepreneurs that are working to bring hostels to American cities where they will be the first in town. Wendy Mesich and Carolyn Weber were at the conference representing Cream City Hostel, which will be coming soon to Milwaukee. This will be the first hostel in the city and the third in Wisconsin. Joe Hindman and David Stone are co-founders of Modal, a hostel opening soon in Greenville, which will be the first hostel in town and only the second in South Carolina. Robert Weinstein is working on his second hostel, Auberge Clarksdale, which will be the very first hostel in the entire state of Mississippi!
It’s great to see new hostels opening, but it’s even better when they are in new places. Opening hostels in different communities helps grow awareness of the hostelling concept. It also expands the network and makes it easier for budget travelers to traverse the country, jumping from hostel to hostel. These hostels take on extra risk, bringing a new business model to an untested market. They also face the highest hurdles when the community and the government do not already understand the modern concept of hostelling. As hostel industry insiders we should support all hostels, but go out of our way to aid those who are blazing new trails.
Some of the hostels attending the conference have been around for a while. These hostels realize that the world is ever-changing and even the most established operators need to stay in the loop. Presentations on Google products for small businesses and the latest shifts in Airbnb regulation covered important, dynamic topics that even the most seasoned hostel industry veterans can learn from. Besides being able to further their knowledge, it’s great to see established hostels attending the conference because of their ability to provide mentorship to new hostel operators following in their footsteps. It’s important that anyone who endeavors to unite the hostel industry has something to offer operators both new and experienced, and hostels both big and small. We’re all an important part of the hostel industry’s ecosystem and we have something to learn and something to teach.
Conferences are a lot of work! There’s an entire industry for professionals working full-time to plan and organize conferences. That being said, even small gatherings with other professionals can offer a great return, especially in the hostel industry. Your fellow hostel professionals can offer unique information that you’ll never unearth through Google searches. Hostels are a small industry and it can be hard to organically connect with other professionals. If you own a restaurant, it might be easy to create ties with other restaurateurs in town. In our industry, the closest neighboring hostel might be five hundred miles away. We need more hostel gatherings around the world. The multi-day conference format is great for bringing in operators from around the world, but it’d be even better to see more frequent, easier to plan, regional meetings. Could you organize a casual, low-budget, day-long gathering for hostels in your region?
Byron has worked with hostels big and small, city and rural. His first job was as a receptionist in San Francisco and his favorite was leading the events for a 500-bed hostel in Sydney. Besides all things hostel related, he enjoys motorcycle riding, especially because it's the perfect way to get from hostel to hostel!
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