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.
In the second of our two part series, we look at the how hostels are repositioning themselves post lockdown.
The Hosteller is offering special discounts including a 10 percent monsoon discount and 10 to 15 percent discount on long-term stays and regular bookings. Monthly plans for long stays start from Rs 9,000. The company will serve three meals a day for long-term customers while also offering special indoor and outdoor workspaces with an unlimited supply of tea and coffee. You can either chose to stay in a private room or a dorm depending on your budget.
When the company decided to restart operations, they weren’t expecting much traction but they were amazed to see the overwhelming response. Out of their ten hostels, they have reopened the ones in Kasaul, Mcleodganj, Bir, Pushkar, Jaipur, and Goa.
Kuldeep Sharma, Senior Business Developing Manager at The Hosteller informs us that the company has already received 40 percent booking for the rest of August and September. “We are running at 50 percent of our total occupancy and the best part is at least 12 to 13 percent of people are staying for long stays,” says Sharma.
The company is also asking its guests for regular feedback which will assist them in hosting future guests. The Hosteller started operations from August 5 as they needed permissions from the concerned states even after the central government had allowed them to reopen. Since then, they have hosted 22 guests in Himachal and two guests at their Jaipur property. The company is also offering free hikes and free local explorations for long-term guests. The idea is to lure IT employees from metro cities, who have been told to work from home till December.
Speaking about losses the company has incurred, Sharma says that they expected an annual revenue of at least 2.5 to 3 crores but that’s not going to happen now. The company was also looking forward to increasing their properties from ten to at least 18 properties. That seems a distant dream, for now. “We are only leveraging on our brand name and the trust we have developed in the market. Our social media is getting great traction. We try to inform our guests through our posts and stories. This is what is going to attract our potential customers and convince them to come,” says Sharma.
Shraddha Khandelwal, Co-Founder of The Moustache Hostel tells us that the last few months have been a pretty frustrating period for her. “We are excited about reopening but we know we will be opening to thin occupancy rates,” she says adding that there’s a great deal of uncertainty. The entrepreneur believes that staying in hostels is all about community living and exchanging ideas. “Now, the whole scenario has changed as we have to tell them to sit together but two feet apart.” she laughingly says. “Our plans are in place to ensure social distancing in the common areas."
The company has only opened its Jaisalmer hostel right now but the number of bookings has been disappointing. “People are not ready to travel,” says Khandelwal. “Very few guests are willing to stay in our Rishikesh hostel too, because of the seven-day quarantine rule."
Discussing their safety protocols, Khandelwal says that sanitisation methods and SOPs are in place with existing government rules. Guests are not allowed inside the common kitchen, and dorms have only half the usual number of guests. All common areas have been readjusted according to social distancing while regular housekeeping hours have been increased. Like other hostels, The Moustache Hostel is also looking forward to having more long-term stays on board. “We are working on some long-term staycation plans for guests since many companies have announced work from home for the rest of the year,” Khandelwal informs.
The biggest challenge for the company right now is the lack of interest people have in travelling. “We can’t just open one room for the guests, we will have to open everything again because the guest pays for all our services, like laundry and lounge. For that, I need my entire staff and I have to pay them,” she points out. However, Khandelwal is hopeful that people will start travelling by September and business will pick up.
Prateek Jain, Co-Founder, Le Pension Hostels also believes that normal business will take quite a while to return. The company is offering 25 to 30 percent discount on long term stays. “We receive more than 50 calls a day inquiring about long-term stays and we want to make the most of this newfound opportunity,” says Jain.
Le Pension has five properties, of which they have reopened two in Udaipur, one in Jaipur and one in Daman. Jain says that the company has recovered 23 percent of its business so far.
Safety measures being followed at Le Pension include regular temperature checks, fresh linens for every guest, at least 72-hour gap between allotting the same room to new guests, and regular sanitisation with industrial disinfectants.
The company has also initiated a contactless check-in and payment process. “Our check-in is through Google forms that are sent in advance to the guests. They can also upload their ID proof in that form. Payment is done through payment links powered by Razorpay or bank transfer, and feedback forms are generated through Google forms. So, there is no paperwork, everything is on the cloud right now."
They conduct temperature checks for their staff every four hours and have also increased the number of CCTVs for close and better monitoring. “Our staff wears masks, gloves, and face shields. In terms of food and beverage, we have closed common cafes in the properties and have initiated in-room dining. People can scan QR codes to get the menu in their room and for placing the order,” says Jain. “We are not really promoting the common spaces but the ones that we have opened. We have put markings for social distancing, and guests are mandated to wear masks when they step out of their rooms,” he adds.
In an attempt to mitigate some of the losses, the company has renegotiated its rental contracts for the period of the next six months and reduced manpower as per government orders. The company is spending generously on marketing and focusing on brand equity. They are also trying to promote their post-COVID protocol campaign called We Care, which aims to educate travellers about safety measures and protocols being implemented at their hostels.