Remember when you would travel on a budget, stay in hostel dorms, meet new people and nurture lifelong friendships? Well, hostels are reopening again.
While their reopening may come as a respite for budget travellers, the biggest challenge that lies ahead for hostels is that of maintaining physical distancing.
Mayank Sahai, founder of The Madpackers Hostel, feels that hostels are still going to be quite social in nature. “We really need to be social right now. We have been cooped up in our rooms and people do need to make new friends and share their stories. I think hostels are going to be great places to socialise while also maintaining physical distancing."
The Madpackers Hostel manages six properties including two in Delhi and one each in Manali, Agra, Pushkar and Jaipur. They are not allowed to operate in Delhi right now, and Manali remains in a self-imposed lockdown. Rajasthan is the only state where they are operational. “We are opening our Pushkar hostel from August 15, and we are already taking bookings for it,” informs Sahai. The entrepreneur is confident that by the end of September, their branches in Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan will witness a decent footfall.
Discussing the new normal, Sahai says that all the safety precautions have been taken, hygiene audits have been done, and the staff is being trained. And wherever possible, disposable cutlery is being used. All their shared dorms will operate at 50 per cent occupancy. Sahai also believes that hostels have a slight advantage in terms of upping the ante in cleanliness. Most hostels are used to hosting a large number of people in a limited space, and already have their own set of protocols for hygiene and cleanliness. “Even before the pandemic, we used to host a lot of people, so we already had pretty stringent cleaning norms in place,” he says.
Sahai adds that his company has only added some new chemicals for sanitisation based on the recommendations of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and WHO guidelines. Talking about the social aspect, Sahai says his company will ensure their guests’ safety. “For instance, if they want us to take them for a food walk, we would take seven people instead of a large group of 20 people like we used to. We will adjust the common room furniture so that no two people are sitting shoulder to shoulder,” he says.
It’s been a challenging time for Sahai but now it’s behind him and the company is focussing on marketing and extending its reach. They are targeting working professionals in the 25 to 35 age bracket who are well-informed and looking for a vacation or workation.
“With the inquiries that we have been receiving, people are still okay with the idea of staying in a dorm. They are trusting their hostel partners to maintain hygiene standards,” says Sahai. When asked about the company’s strategy to make up for the losses, he says that full recovery is going to take at least two years. The company doesn’t want to discount too much because that will undermine the industry, he says. They don’t want to increase their fare either because hostels are preferred by those travelling on a shoestring budget.
Sahai’s company has received many queries for workations. He feels that it’s going to be the buzzword till the end of 2020.
The company has also started two new campaigns to attract travellers. The #KeepStaying at Madpackers campaign aims at welcoming digital nomads for long-term stays, who could make their hostels their workspaces. The best part? The longer a person stays for, the more the discount. Then there’s the #TravelToWork campaign, where the company is making remote working truly remote. “We have remote travel packages where our guests change a destination every two weeks and are literally travelling to work from a new spot every fortnight. We are also working with some start-ups to offer this to their employees,” says Sahai.
While The Madpackers has come up with these interesting campaigns, leading hostel chain Zostel has rolled out their #movein with Zostel campaign, where they are inviting people who wish to work from a pristine and offbeat location and unwind by reconnecting with nature after being confined indoors for months.
“The guests have the choice of working from a scenic locale or just relaxing and soaking in the beauty of the place to get over their lockdown memories, far away from the hustle and bustle of urban life,” says Dharamveer Singh Chouhan, Co-Founder & CEO, Zostel. While dorms are being run at 50 per cent occupancy, those traveling in groups have the option of booking an entire dorm for themselves.
They have reopened their hostels in Udaipur, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Gokarna, Mysore, Bangalore, Varanasi, Mashobra and Theog. The hostel chain is encouraging contactless check-ins via WhatsApp to ensure safety. Travellers are being advised to be careful while using the common washroom, carry their own toiletries, and refrain from sharing any items with others.
The staff encourages the use of bio-degradable and disposable cutlery and if the guests use any utensils they are requested to wash them before and after usage. All common areas are being cleaned and sanitised thrice a day, resulting in restricted timings for access. All staff personnel is being provided with fresh masks and gloves every day. They have also been guided to maintain the highest possible levels of self-hygiene.
On the social activities front, Zostel will be hosting only those activities that permit physical distancing and do not compromise anyone’s hygiene or safety. Keeping in mind the deep longing of people for outdoors, Zostel is also giving special packages. The 15-day dormitory package starts at Rs 4,000, the 30-day dorm package starts at Rs 7,000, and the 15-day private room package starts at Rs. 10,000 while the 30-day private package is for Rs 18,000.
The hostel chain is also reaching our to relevant industry stakeholders, which include cafe owners, adventure companies, alternative accommodation providers, property managers, and franchise owners, among others. By inviting them to join its ecosystem, Zostel aims to support the ground-level staff as well as business partners relying on tourism to tide over the crisis. Under this campaign, the brand will also facilitate redeemable, credit-based travel packages for new-age travel-seekers at nominal prices.