The hostel industry is far from being known as fast adapters to new technologies, however one thing is true – those hostels that are have a substantial advantage over those who aren’t. There has been much attention to not only using techonolgy to attract guests, but now the attention is even including communicating with the guest, while they are staying at your property. Below, Michael Norton and Mia Grosen of Comundu will take you deeper into this new trend.
A digital revolution in the hostel industry?
Tech in the hostel industry is not very diverse, being heavily dominated by a few OTAs (Online Travel Agencies) and a large number of Property Management Systems (PMSs). Now this is understandable considering that two thirds of travelers use online channels to make their bookings and PMSs are essential to the efficiency of a hostel. However, there’s an emerging trend in the hostel industry that is yet to firmly cement its place among hostel tech. Now because the tech is yet to establish itself, I haven’t come across a standard title defining it. So for now we’ll call them Guest Communication Platforms (GCPs). Simply these are platforms which focus on providing hostels a direct digital channel to their current guests during their stay.
Young travelers going mobile
It’s not surprising seeing these platforms popping up. 75% of all travelers and more importantly 87% of millennial travelers consider their smartphone as a travel essential. They are more likely to pack their smartphones than their toiletries. Another important number to note is 46% of all travelers and 55% of millennial travelers believe in-room Wi-Fi is a must have. Only 6% of all travelers would pay extra. I’m sure as a hostel manager/owner, you don’t need to be told these numbers, and you can see it happening in your common areas, bars and reviews mentioning the performance of the Wi-Fi. The combination of these trends present a number of problems. It’s difficult creating the social atmosphere, which is so unique to hostels, and drawing guests’ attention to events and promotions etc. when they pay so much attention on being connected. But, they’ve also created the market for GCPs.
Hotels are already there
GCPs are steadily planting themselves in hotels and are being characterized as mobile concierges. Through these platforms, hotels are able to understand their guests’ needs before they arrive, allowing for a more personalized stay. For example, a guest can select a room preference, view preference and even a pillow preference. They are seizing the opportunity to drive commerce through their apps, allowing guests to order drinks, food and check in/out with ease. But, would a mobile concierge find a place in a hostel?
Hostels are slowly following
LobbyFriend Inc. who launched in 2012 in Canada, was the earliest indication that the concept could be established in hostels. They describes themselves as the first ever ‘temporary social network’ and aim to connect guests to each other at their hotel, improving their social experience. While the guests also have access to exclusive offers, nearby attractions and events provided by the hotel. Unfortunately, this was received with some skepticism by frequent travelers and industry professionals, mainly in the form of concerns with privacy and unwanted attention from strangers. The issues arise due to the combination of the type of guest at hotels and the primary function (social) of this particular platform.
Hostels are more likely to succeed than hotels
Social is however, part of the hostel culture. So far there have been a few attempts to create an effective GCP for hostels. Gulliver, Rm8 and Hallways all released their platforms in 2014. Their platforms were similar, offering hostels and guests a platform to communicate with one another and to promote and view events/activities. Rm8, a Russian startup, offered some additional functions, allowing guests to book directly at the hostel, view who was staying in what rooms and claimed to give hostels extensive marketing opportunities. Rm8 was also the only platform to generate their revenue from charging the hostels. Unfortunately, as promising as these platforms looked, none of them broke any ground for the same reason, lack of users. Without users, it is impossible to generate revenue, no matter how strong the concept. However, the social aspect of the GCP’s are more likely to succeed in hostels, given their existing social focus combined with young mobile travelers.
Now, there are currently two Guest Communication Platforms for hostels attempting to cement their places in hostel tech; Comundu and GuestU. Both platforms generate revenue by charging a fixed fee for usage. GuestU advertises itself as the world’s number 1 mobile concierge and is aimed towards both hotels and hostels. They offer to build hostel’s personalized branded apps based on their existing framework with a degree of customization. GuestU focuses on hostels providing their guests with information on services and points of interest with GPS routes. GuestU is different to its predecessors as it builds individual apps for each hostels and doesn’t have a function for guest to guest communication. Although it still seems they are yet to crack the issue with on-boarding guests at the hostels, however, as part of their service they offer help hostels to promote their app through different channels. As a result of building separate apps, GuestU may face an even bigger challenge at on-boarding guests in the hostel industry. They do claim that ‘guests will download an app if the benefits of doing so are clear and emphasized’, which I do agree with, but when a traveler stays at around 10 hostels they may be put off by having to download 10 separate apps.
Comundu is targeted specifically at hostels and aims to create a network of hostels in one app which both guests and hostels will benefit from. The platform is similar to Comundu’s predecessors, offering a comprehensive platform, allowing guests to connect to each other and the hostel, view events and recommendations from the hostel, see other guests staying at their hostel, make direct bookings for the hostels and ample marketing opportunities. There is a lot of focus on the social aspect of this platform. Comundu’s goal is to encourage guests to reach out to one another and connect to ultimately get them off their phones and meeting and talking in person. What separates this platform is that Comundu are doing something creative to on-board guests to their app. They are taking advantage of travelers’ need to be online and have integrated their app with the hostels’ Wi-Fi. By doing so they are turning the hostel’s Wi-Fi into a communication channel allowing the hostel to reach all of their guests who are connect to their Wi-Fi. This two-channel platform ensures that hostels are reaching their guests with their content and are on-boarding them on the app.
GCP’s in the future
Currently Comundu has 19 hostels on their platform throughout Europe. When the network grows it will develop into a useful tool for travelers to select which hostel they will stay at next and as has been proved, hostel networks provide unique marketing opportunities. It’s going to be interesting to see the development of both these platforms and whether or not either of them are able to make a significant enough impact on the hostel industry to establish themselves as essential tech.
HostelTrends Note: GCP’s feed off of the rise of the ‘Silent Traveler‘, a millennial guest who would rather communicate through an app than walk up to a desk. An more millennials (and those younger) travel more often, CGP’s models will most likely become more and more validated. Even Hostel Rocket is focusing on this space now too, under the Hostelite Brand. This space of online travel will surely heat up, so look into weather a GCP is right for your hostel.
*All statistics taken from TripAdvisor’s TripBarometer Report for Travel Trends 2016