Santê Hostel, located in Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro opened in November of 2013 by siblings David and Isabela. The hostel has up to 26 beds during their busy season and prides itself on its laid back nature.
Interestingly enough, the hostel is what used to be their childhood home. Guests stay in the two rooms that Isabela and David once slept in every night. They describe their hostel as a baby and have enjoyed seeing it grow over the past two years. David decided he wanted to open up his own hostel after a trip to Peru and experienced first hand what it was like to work in a hostel.
Their story and attitude about life are inspiring, check out the full interview below to learn more about Santê Hostel.
Alex: So, how about we get started by you two telling me about Santê Hostel and yourselves.
David: We are siblings, I am 27 and Isabela is 25. I actually had the idea a couple years ago and Isabela decided to work with me from then on. We have worked together for two years. I graduated with a degree in biology and she is a designer. It really helps with branding and decoration. We work together as a team and family members.
We used to live in the house that is the hostel.
Isabela: It’s our parent’s house. They still live on the first floor and the hostel is on the second and third flood. It really is a family business.
David: Our parents live upstairs but they don’t actually work in the hostel. We run the business and actually pay them a tax for being here. We rent the house from them. This is the first time we are employees, so we are learning a lot. We are making mistakes and learning from them, improving every week as employers, as a hostel, as owners, and as people.
Running a hostel means meeting people every week, all different kinds of people. It’s good for our personal development too. Isabela can talk more about it.
Isabela: I agree with what he is saying. With this job, you cannot get bored. With everyday there is different knowledge and more people. They can teach you different things and you can teach them things too. You can make new contacts for life. It’s a pretty good job. We have done this for almost two years, we worked together since July 2013. The hostel opened in November 2013, so almost two years and everyday is a new lesson.
Alex: How many beds or rooms does your hostel have?
David: Well it depends. Normally we have two shared rooms/dorms and two private rooms. But, dependent on the high or low season, we change one of the shared rooms to private. Right now we have 21 beds, but we can go up to 25 or 26.
Alex: Nice. So, I hear there are a lot of hostels in Rio. What makes your hostel different and unique from the other hostels?
David: What I think makes us unique, for example, is that we used to live here in this house. So, basically when the guests arrive here they feel at home. It is there home while traveling. That’s really good for us and them. We like to have guests who feel at home because they will be more respectful and will take more care. For them, it’s good because they are very friendly with us. This is one of the main points, the feeling of being at home.
Also, the local tips for Santê makes guests feel like local, and at home. We also have really good prices.
Alex: What’s your typical rate?
David and Isabela: The shared rooms are $10 and the private rooms are $50.
Isabela did a really great job with the design and we really try to reuse things.
Alex: What types of guests do you typically attract?
Isabela: Most of the guests are really nice and open people. People who we would like to be friends with. It’s the best. Young people like us, 20-35. Even older than that, people are always nice. I think that we are able to attract people that we like through the branding and the marketing. We have a lot of couples here too.
David: Yeah, I think they are really easy to deal with. They are open to new relations and that is really good because we can make new friends and contacts for life, as my sister told you.
They are from all different places around the world. From Europe, a lot of guests from South America. We just had guests arrive from Mexico, and that’s not so common for us. But, it’s good to have people from different places. We have had guests from Japan, that was one of our first guests. China, a couple from China. It’s always good to have people come from all over the world.
Alex: That’s awesome. What’s the most rewarding part of running a hostel for you two?
Isabela: I think it’s when the guests check-out and they are really happy. We have a guest book.
*David shows guestbook*
David: For example, we have entries in all different languages. This one is in Japanese and in my opinion, this is amazing. I don’t know if it’s possible to read, but it’s great.
We have people from Syria and it was a really intense experience. We are still friends today. They are always coming back and trying to make their degree legal in Brazil and it’s really hard, so we are helping them.
It’s really great to help people and see that people like us and our mood and what we have to offer. We feel complete.
Isabela: We feel like we are doing the right thing and it makes you want to move forward and get better. It makes us want to do our job better.
Alex: So are your guests pretty laid back and calm, looking to meet other people and explore the city?
David: Yeah, we aren’t really a place for drinking games and that sort of thing.
Isabela: But, it can happen sometimes. Sometimes, we even stay after our shifts. It’s not like a Copa Cabana hostel. It’s much more of a friendly space for you to relax and make friends maybe even read a book. Sometimes, we have parties and those can get crazy. Not like Copa.
David: Our mood is more chill and to experience the city as a local with access to different cultures and art. You can pass this on to the guest. of course, the drinking happens, but that’s not all.
Isabela: In specific seasons, like Carnival…
David: Yeah, Carnival is Carnival. We are trying to change the mood of our parties to more like sunset mood. We are bringing in people to sell different products from food to art to clothes to cosmetics and usually those people are our friends. We always have music and bring bands.
Alex: What’s your biggest challenge as a hostel owner?
David: Well, I will let me sister tell this part.
Isabela: *laughs* I think one of the most difficult things we have to do here is also one of our strengths. Family is sometimes difficult because we go to have lunch or dinner with our parents in between shifts and if we have a fight, we lose our productivity and energy, and it happens. Sometimes, we can fight too because we are siblings. It’s common for us to go away from productive discussion about the hostel and start to fight about silly things. That is really difficult.
The other thing that I think is difficult is what we had to deal with yesterday. Bureaucracy in Brazil is difficult and we are learning a lot of things.
David: Yeah, we are learning a lot about Bureaucracy in Brazil.
Isabela: We are paying a lot and paying to them. It is just difficult sometimes.
Alex: Which pieces of the Cloudbeds software do you use?
David: We use myfrontdesk and myallocator.
Alex: How long have you two been Cloudbeds’ customer?
David: Since March.
Alex: Have you noticed significant change? Is it helping?
David: It helps a lot. We went through an adaptation phase, we had a different system before. We were adapting to Cloudbeds and it is still updating and improving. That’s really good to see. Cloudbeds is making our lives easier.
We remember when we didn’t have a PMS and it was very difficult.
Isabela: Many more over bookings before.
Alex: What’s your typical working day like?
David: Well, we work from 7am-4pm in reception and usually we extend this and work from home. She does the design part at home, sometimes in the hostel. I do the financials and organizational parts from home.
We also invest time in talking to our employees. They are our friends, close friends. We also try to get close to our guests and go out with them when we aren’t too tired.
Alex: How many employees do you have?
David: This changes depending on the season. Normally we have me and my sister, one official receptionist, and we always try to have a work away system. The person work four shifts a week as a receptionist and she can sleep here if she wants. And we also have someone who cleans the rooms 5 days a week. When they aren’t here, the receptionist has to do the breakfast and the cleaning.
Alex: What’s another hostel that you admire that you have visited or want to visit?
David: Well, I don’t remember the name. But, there is a hostel in Japan that we used to model our hostel after we opened. Also, Discovery hostel here in Brazil.
Isabela: It’s one of the best rated hostels on TripAdvisor. And there is another one that is really well decorated that we admire. We are always looking for more hostels to inspire us and give us ideas. I think that’s important, to look for other hostels to benchmark.
Alex: When you go on vacation, where do you like to go?
Isabela: We went on our first vacations this year, David went to El Salvador and I went to Maceur. It was really good.
David: I really love traveling and I really love nature, so that’s what I’m looking for when I travel. It was amazing. A lot of hiking and walking. It’s what gives me energy. Working here is good, but it drains your energy.
Isabela: Something that I’ve realized since opening the hostel is that it’s like a baby. Sometimes an employee calls us in the middle of the night and there is an emergency and we need to go take of it. And we check Cloudbeds all the time to make sure everything is alright. It’s like a baby that is a 24 hour commitment.
David: It’s like a 2 year old baby.
Isabela: And one day, it will grow and be able to walk on its own.
Alex: I really like that analogy, it’s a great way to think about it.
Alex: Who or what inspired you to open your hostel?
David: I took a trip with some friends to Peru and at the end of the trip I started to run out of cash and I still had time. I wanted to keep traveling as my friends were ready to head back. An opportunity appeared to work in a hostel and stay for free with some discounts. So I did this, and during those two weeks I thought, I can do this in my own, in the house of my parents.
This was in 2012 and I was still in university and I hadn’t graduated yet. It was just an idea that I developed. I convinced my sister and my parents, it was really hard in the beginning to work with just my mom. Then, when my sister arrived and started to work with me, things were in flux…
Those times were humbling and mind opening times as I made something. I put everything on paper, the ideas, numbers and possibilities. This helped me convince people to believe in my idea.
Isabela: Yeah for me, I was just graduating when he was dreaming up this idea. I was kind of afraid. I think it was a good idea that had everything to work, but who inspired me to do it was David.
Alex: If you had a message to people who wanted to open up their own hostel, what would it be?
Isabela: Search and do a lot of research about the city you want to open in. If someone wants to open up a hostel in Rio, I would tell them not to. There are too many hostels and hotels and everything. But, what people should know is that hostels are a 24 hour business, like a baby.
David: I think research a lot. Check out the universe of your city, your country, the next years of the world scene. All of those things will change your routine. We were thinking about the World Cup and the Olympics. You need to know more or less your daily routine, because you will have to work a lot more hours than your previous work. You need to at least like most of the business. Ideal would be to love it, but love is hard to say. That’s my recommendation: study and plan. A lot of planning is always good.
Alex: Last question: what are the top things we need to do when we visit Santê Hostel?
David and Isabela: Everyone knows the basics. Around our area, Santa Teresa, it is a charming place. We always recommend guests walk around. There are the trams, Bonde, that are being reconstructed. There was an accident four years ago and they just started working again. They are nice and touristic but also for the locals.
Also, we are obsessed with Pão de Queijo, we go there all the time, it is two minutes away from the hostel. It’s like a cheese bread.
We are also close to Lapa, it’s a must go to in the night. The center is beautiful and we recommend the stores in that area. Also, the bars are worth it drink some beers and meet people.
Alex: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today, we really appreciate it.
Santê Hostel has officially been added to my travel wish list. Charming neighborhoods and cheese bread? I’m sold.
Check out Santê Hostel’s website here. Also, be sure to check out the gallery of photos from their property below.
Hear the full interview on Soundcloud below:
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