When it comes to marketing, you might think that hostels and hotels have the same practices. After all, both are speaking to similar audiences and aiming to hit a target occupancy rate. In this digital age, it’s important for both hostels and hotels to have a user-friendly website, a strong social media presence and a recognizable brand.
However, these similarities aside, all accommodation providers are marketing an experience – and the hostel experience differs greatly from that of a hotel.
Hostels should make an effort to emphasize these differences when marketing themselves to potential guests. They can do this in 8 distinct and unique ways, including:
When guests decide to stay in a hostel, their booking motivations go far beyond seeking a budget bed for the night. Hostels place an emphasis on shared social experiences and this is one of the main reasons that guests would opt for a hostel over a hotel.
Millennials and Gen-Zers in particular are prioritizing social interactions when it comes to their travel choices. Solo travel has also become increasingly popular in recent years, with those going it alone often choosing to stay in hostels in order to meet other like-minded adventurers.
A huge part of hostel marketing should, therefore, focus on showcasing their social experience. Social media is a great place to do this – especially since it’s where more and more travelers are turning to find inspiration for their next trip. Sharing snapshots of guests enjoying themselves, reposting user-generated content and using features like InstaStories and live video to capture events are all great tactics for selling the hostel experience. Sant Jordi Hostels’ recently published video on their social media platforms is a good example of using social media to promote a unique social experience.
The opportunity to ‘live like a local’ is a growing desire for many travelers who are seeking authentic experiences in their chosen destinations.
Unlike large hotels – whose headquarters are often located elsewhere – hostels are usually integrated into their local area with staff members that are passionate about their neighborhood. Translating this home-grown knowledge and enthusiasm into shareable content will hugely enhance any hostel’s marketing output.
A great way to do this is by sharing blog posts with unique trip itineraries, top local hotspots, and off-the-beaten-track activities. This practice encourages potential guests to head to a hostel’s website, provides quality original content for social media posts and boosts search engine ranking.
While the appeal of hostels has widened in recent years to include families, business travelers, and older couples, the original target audience is youths and traditional backpackers.
These travelers are more likely to move around the country they are visiting rather than stay rooted in one area for their entire trip. Millennials especially are leading the charge when it comes to spending more money on longer trips as they seek to see as much of the world as possible.
This trend means that it’s important for hostels not only to market their local area but also their country as a whole. Partnering up with other hostels on popular backpacking routes to offer shared special offers is one way to not only sell the destination but also provide a great booking incentive for potential guests. Some other ways to showcase the destination include sharing local companies’ social media posts and collaborating with local tour companies to offer discounted activities and excursions.
It goes without saying that staff members are the backbone of any hostel or hotel. In most cases, hostels have smaller teams than hotels which means staff tend to have more one-on-one interaction with guests. Their opportunities for guest engagement includes everything from welcoming new arrivals at the reception desk to running social activities and encouraging guests to make the most of happy hour at the bar!
Guests who opt to stay in a hostel – particularly solo travelers – want to know they’ll be in good hands during their stay. This is why it’s especially important for hostels to include a ‘Meet the Team’ section on their website, feature staff profiles in their social media updates and generally place their people front and center across their marketing output.
Hostels offer a whole host of unique -and often free- events and activities for backpackers to have fun and bond together, so much so that this feature is often a deciding factor in why travelers choose to stay at a certain property. In fact, 86% of travelers between the ages of 18 to 34 participate in tours and activities while traveling.
When guests book directly through a property management system like Cloudbeds, hostels (and hotels) will receive booking information that can include guest nationality, age, and reasons for travel. Based on this information, hostels are able to send personalized emails with offers of tours and activities they think that particular guest would enjoy. This technique can also be used to encourage advanced activity bookings and share special offers.
As mentioned above, hostel guests are more likely to visit different parts of a country rather than stay in one location. Youth travelers are also more technologically connected and are comfortable booking accommodations on their mobiles while on the move.
While both hotels and hostels should be using paid social media advertising to reach potential guests, hostels can especially utilize the Facebook ad feature that can target people who are currently traveling within a set radius of their destination. This gives hostels the opportunity to catch travelers while they’re already on the road and share special last-minute deals to fill their beds.
The rise of digital nomads and location-independent businesses (like Cloudbeds!) has caused an increased demand for budget accommodations as people working remotely set up bases in locations for a longer period of time. This new work trend is set to continue with 50% of people predicted to be working remotely by 2020.
Many hostels – like the Tribe Theory chain – are already adapting to appeal to this relatively new target audience. Their marketing efforts emphasize shared co-working spaces, a start-up culture, and the all-important fast, free WiFi connection.
For a long time, hostels were seen as a low-budget – and sometimes a low quality – accommodation option. Over the past 10 years, the industry has transformed to meet the needs of modern travelers and undergone an image overhaul in the process. With ‘poshtels,’ design hostels and eco-hostels on the rise, hostels are now positioned as a cool alternative to traditional hotels.
Despite these great strides, there is still work to be done in changing the guest perception of hostels – and a lot of this shift in viewpoint comes down to marketing. Hostels need to show their ‘flashy’ side -including sharing images of glam private rooms and their most ‘Instagrammable’ areas- to tackle any lingering negative connotations and promote the stylish transformation the industry has undergone in recent years.
As the hostel industry continues to develop, it will be interesting to see how places successfully use digital marketing tools and tactics to promote both their facilities and experience to an ever-increasing target audience.
Rosie is Co-founder of Stay the Night, a creative digital marketing service for hostels which she runs alongside her business partner (and travelling companion!) Charlotte. Between them, they have over 10 years’ combined experience in areas including social media marketing, content marketing and PR. As travelers, they have stayed in hostels around the world, giving them a unique perspective on what works best – and, just as importantly, what doesn’t – when it comes to hostel marketing. Stay the Night offers a full range of services designed to help hostels increase bookings, reach more potential guests and grow their brand.