I realised that there is one thing about El Salvador, that you almost do not find anywhere else. And that are the very good hostels. When I start thinking about it, El Salvador had by far the best hostels here in Central America. Not because they were very clean, new or fancy, no, because they have a very personal way in treating their guests. I only came across a kind of similar approach in Mexico and partly in Guatemala.
In El Salvador you were never alone at the hostel. Either the staff came to the table for a little chat or you just joined other travelers. Everybody used to come together, talked about their trips and experiences, had a beer together, went out for dinner. This “we all live together feeling” was very strong in El Salvador and now in Nicaragua everybody sticks more or less to themselves. So I started wondering, is it because of the people or does the hostel atmosphere have something to do with it.
I guess it is both. On the one side, it is the people itself. In Nicaragua everybody seems to travel in groups of two or more people. In all the other countries I have been so far, most people traveled alone instead. Of course, that may be because of the holiday seasons that started now and friends just go together on vacation over christmas. However, when people already travel together, they do not feel the urgent need to group up with other people in the hostel unlike people traveling on their own.
On the other side, I also think that the hostel setup and atmosphere has something to do with it. First of all, there are different types of hostels. The most common ones are either “party hostels” or “very quiet hostels”. However, both of these terms belong to a kind of “hostel code” and actually mean something else. I figured out that being in a party hostel does not necessarily mean that there is a party all the time. It just means that there is a high probability that there are other travelers around at the same time as you are. These may party or not. In contrast, a very quiet hostel just means that there will be no one except you and the staff.
So of course, to meet other travelers, you need people in the hostel. But in my opinion that is not enough. That is exactly the point where the hostel setup and atmosphere comes into the game. In hostels where there is just one common dining table or a huge couch area, interaction between travelers just gets way easier. Obviously, if you eat with other people at the same table, you are going to talk to them. If you sit with other travelers on the same couch, it is probably going to be a long night with a lot of chatting. Viceversa, if there are a lot of small tables or sitting areas, the travelers just spread around the whole place and stick to themselves.
Another important fact is the owner himself. He is the host and it does make a difference if he is an entertainer or not. Be an interested host and ask your guests about their day, their well-being, their plans for the next day or their concerns. This will make the guests feel much more comfortable and cared for at the hostel. Also, like that a conversation has already started and maybe other travelers will just join in. A good host also introduces himself and knows the name of his guests. El Salvador hostels are a very good example for that, where you get greeted by your name every morning. It makes you feels that the staff just cares for you and that you are not just an indifferent traveler.
|Hostel „Los 3 Hermanos“ at Playa Madera, Nicaragua.|
Maybe the tourism student in me comes out in this article. And if this were my bachelor thesis, I would write the following now: Rules to follow not for a good, but for a great hostel:
1. Be personal with your guests. Remember their name and present yourself to them.
2. Provide common areas where interaction between guests is simplified. Have one huge dining table where coming together can’t be circumvented. Or one huge couch area. This makes interaction between your guests easy.
3. Be a good host. That’s a simple rule from hotel entertainment. Talk to your guest. Ask them about their day and their plans for tomorrow. Give them tips that really come from the bottom of your heart. Not just the off-the-rack ones that every tour operator provides, but tell them about hostels you enjoyed or tours you would even do on your own.
4. Give them all they need and more and do not charge for it. That includes drinking water, a well equipped kitchen (oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, spices), towels, lockers, toilet paper, etc.
5. Be present at your hostel. It is your home!
Last but not least, there are also some things you should just not do. I figured that many hostels privilege themselves by offering free breakfast. It is a nice thing, that is not to deny. But if you are just offering two paperthin and soggy pancakes with cold coffee, then just leave it. I came across some hostels that understood to include some nice, small breakfast, Of course, you cannot expect a 5-star meal, but at least something small that fills you up for at least two hours. Also, do not say free kitchen to use, if your kitchen does not even have plates to eat from, a functioning fridge or cutlery. That will be just so useless!
Be prepared that your guests just may ask you, where they can go out and grab some food. But do not just advise the first restaurant that pops up into your mind. Choose options where even you would go to. Keep also in mind, that the traveler is traveling on a budget and is not interested in fancy restaurants.
But the most important fact is the following: If you as an owner feel at home at your hostel, then also the guests will do so.