Hostel Marketing 101: 4 Tips for Success
I love to travel, so the opportunity to work on more travel and hospitality-specific marketing content has been a real treat. I've met some cool people, attended a great conference focused on NY travel and helped put together a virtual panel dedicated to travel marketing in the Internet Age, hosted by one of those really cool people I met (Hint, it's Kae Lani Kennedy and she's seriously awesome.)
One thing I have not done yet, however, is stay in a hostel. And before you wave the idea off, hostels have come a long way since the 1970s AND not every hostel is like Eli Roth's movie. That said, our awesome Target Marketing Group intern, Jaclyn, HAS experience with hostels and suggested a piece on them. How could I say no? So here she is, rocking your minds with four ways you can improve the marketing of your hostel.
As a business built around low budgets and minimalism, a hostel requires crafty solutions to marketing and advertising challenges. Target prospects don't access typical marketing channels in the same patterns as the general consumer (which is probably good news for the locals!), and cost of acquisition would most often exceed revenues from conventional tech-aided conversions.
As an avid hostel-goer, I've seen a lot of hostels struggle to increase guest turnover and profits because of these challenges. But I’ve also seen a lot of creative, successful marketing solutions along the way, and have become quite familiar with the backpacker/hostel-traveler demographic.
Here are four marketing ideas to help generate more business for your hostel — or offer a little inspiration for your other low-margin business.
1. Connect With the Community
Those looking to stay in hostels are looking for authentic, community-oriented, cultural experiences (jellied moose nose, anyone?). Connect with individuals and local businesses in your area and build relationships with them, so that you can later share these connections with your guests to improve their customer experience.
Use cross-promotional tactics to achieve greater word-of-mouth velocity. Your guests need to eat and want to explore your city, so offer these details — perhaps via the savvy use of well-placed fliers or a custom guidebook.
But don't advertise these other businesses for free! Instead, approach eateries and other relevant businesses to see who’s willing to cross-promote your hostel to their customers, or recommend you to travelers getting into town.
2. Capitalize on Environmental Appeal
Environmental issues and conservation are higher priorities for this target demographic than for the general consumer. Thus, your environmental efforts will be much more appreciated by this market — so take advantage! Install shower timers, start a compost pile, encourage less paper product usage, consider installing solar panels. Or, you can get really creative and do something like installing a power-collecting dance floor to power your lights AND throw some wicked parties.
Not only will adopting eco-friendly policies boost your marketing efforts and lead to higher revenue, but your ROI should start increasing while your costs decrease (this may take a little time depending upon your initial investments on policy changes). So it’s a win-win-win — for your business, your customer and your planet.
But wait, there’s one more thing! Make sure you advertise your environmental efforts and policies both on your website and on premises. Post signs explaining your mission and policies, along with a call to action asking your guests for their help protecting the planet. Engage with your customers.
3. Set Yourself Up for Free Social Media Marketing
When people are traveling, they like to take pictures to share with others. Your hostel can harness that tendency into free social media marketing. Put something outlandish or cultural in your lobby or right outside your hostel. Passersby and guests alike will not be able to resist taking pictures and posting them to social media if it is impressive enough.
The key factor for success here? Make sure you put your hostel’s name and location (just the city will do — you don’t want to crowd the space) in a highly-visible spot for photo shoots. Offer your guests a strong Wi-Fi connection to ensure posting capabilities. And have some fun with it! You could have a monthly Instagram contest offering a free night's stay for the most creative photo posted — and of course tagged with your hostel and hashtag!
4. Offer a Second Service
Down-time and slow seasons leave a lot to be desired for a hostel business. A great way to counter these inefficiencies is to offer a second service: bike rental, a café, a bar, travel services, a brothel (Just kidding! Making sure you’re paying attention).
Catering to a second, distinct crowd will increase your word-of-mouth advertising as well as your conversions. Additionally, you will be decentralizing risk and labor between the hostel and second component, effectively reducing costs and increasing profit margins for both aspects of the business.