HostelSkills group shot

What I learned from attending HostelSkills Lisbon

The HostelSkills conference in Lisbon saw more than sixty industry insiders gather in Portugal for two days of presentations, networking, and parties. Many American hostels asked me about the conference, whether it was valuable and worth attending. Today I'll describe the big picture of why the HostelSkills conference was a valuable experience. If you missed the conference, subscribe to the blog to receive future posts sharing specific learnings from the presentations. Were you at HostelSkills Lisbon? Leave a comment and share your perspective on the conference.


There's always opportunities to grow

It doesn’t matter if a hostel has been operating for decades, the HostelSkills conference demonstrated that there is always room to improve further. The conference in Lisbon had 3 sessions related to revenue management. This is a discipline that is a prime example of an opportunity for growth. Most hostels are switched on to using weekend and weekday, low season and high season rates. However, most hostels can do a lot more to offer different prices based upon how far in advance the customer books. Lior from Hostel Consulting cited an example using real hostel data of two similar hostels, with similar ratings, in the same city, with the same number of beds. Based upon their revenue management strategy one hostel made $168 more per night. What could your hostel do with an extra $168 per day, an extra $1,176 per week, or an extra $61K per year? Whether it’s increasing revenue or guest satisfaction, or employee retention, we can always learn more.

“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” -Albert Einstein

Trends constantly change

Even the most expert hostel operators had something to learn in Lisbon because trends are always changing. Stay the Night gave an excellent presentation on Instagram. In a few years, Instagram has exploded from a fun little time waster to the best way to connect with the hostel customer demographic. Charlotte and Rosie outlined specific, actionable steps that hostels need to take with their Instagram in order for it to have maximal effect. We also heard from Cloudbeds (affiliate link. Cloudbeds is awesome and you should use them) about niche OTAs for special interest groups and how to cater to the next cohort of hostel guests, Generation Z. It’s important to be aware of these trends and react quickly. It’s the difference between leading your competition and lagging behind them. Just as we are never done learning, the world is never done changing. There are many lifestyle hostel owners who are comfortable with where they are and have no ambition to grow further. This doesn’t seem very realistic. Your hostel might stay the same, but the guests, the staff and their expectations will change. Reacting to trends is important not only for competing, but just maintaining your hostel’s success.

“The only thing that is constant is change” -Heraclitus

It's best to learn soft skills from other hostels

Besides all of the hard skills that we learned at the HostelSkills conference, there were also a few presentations covering the softer side of running a hostel. Ambrose from Podstel explained how even not-so-perfect hostels can delight their guests by ensuring that you underpromise and overdeliver. He explained how a simple change in how they communicated with guests was enough to see an increase in satisfaction and ratings. Benedita from Good Morning Hostel offered an interactive presentation that covered strategies for managing staff. The audience was asked to vote on what they would do in a given scenario and Benedita explained how her hostel handled it, and what was the outcome. Hard skills like revenue and social media management can be taught in a book. These sorts of soft skills are something that hostels must learn from each other’s experiences and they are focus areas that make hostel-specific gatherings indispensable.


Plenty of time for meeting with other hostel pros

Most things we have in common

​The majority of hostels in Lisbon were from the European Union, however, we also had attendees from the United States, Indonesia, Mexico, and Russia. Yes, there will always be situations at the city, state, national, or regional level that hostels on the other side of the planet cannot relate to. However, the majority of our experiences managing and owning hostels was common ground in Lisbon. As I work to connect US hostels through American Hostels and spread hostel ideas worldwide through BackpackerBiz, I was delighted that 100% of the content presented in Portugal would be just as interesting and applicable to a hostel in Atlanta, Georgia as it would be to a hostel in Tbilisi, Georgia.

What I took home with me

egg tarts

Definitely had a few of these tasty treats

I left Portugal with a basket of souvenirs, and I don’t mean egg tarts and colorful tiles. I have new tools in my hostel toolbox. These were real, practical lessons in disciplines like social media and revenue management that I can share with hostels back home. I received feelings of empowerment and inspiration. My fellow conference attendees were all so full of ideas diverse experiences that it uplifted me to see what’s possible. I also left with new connections. The conference gave ample time for one-on-one conversations and I now have a handful of new hostel experts that I can share my insights with and that I can reach out to when I need help.

BackpackerBiz takeaways:

  • It doesn’t matter how great your hostel is, you can always improve
  • Trends change rapidly and being on top of them will keep you ahead of the competition
  • There are “soft skills” that you’re best learning from a fellow hostel than from a book
  • Globally, hostels have more experiences in common than experiences that separate them
  • We need a HostelSkills conference in the US!

About the Author Byron Bunda

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. Today he's a Market Manager at Cloudbeds. Besides all things hostel related, he enjoys motorcycle riding, especially because it's the perfect way to get from hostel to hostel!