World Hostel Conference Trip Report
I just returned from the World Hostel Conference in Vancouver, Canada. This was my first time attending the event, and I have to say I was very impressed. Over 150 hostel owners from around the world attended the event which was hosted by Gomio.com. Special thanks go to Michael Tumminia and Danielle Brumfitt for organizing and hosting the event. Samesun Hostels Vancouver and HI - Hostel Vancouver Downtown also did a great job hosting the evening social festivities. Even though hostels are very social places, sometimes the busines of actually running one can be lonely work. Sometimes owners think the challenges their have are unique to their hostels. However when you come to a conference like this it's great to meet other hostel professionals that also care about making their hostel (and the industry as a whole) the best it can be.
There were many great presentations and panel discussions during the course of the 3 days. Here are some of the presentations that stood out for me.
Powers of 10 in Hostels
Ludo Verstraete did the first presentation via Skype from Belgium. By the way, I was a little skeptical about conducting a presentation via Skype. However, I was impressed at how well the technology worked. Ludo's presentation borrowed a concept from an old film I loved back in high school science class called "Powers of 10"by Charles and Ray Eames. Ludo applied the exponential aspect of the Powers of 10 film to the world of hostels. Although hostels are a very old concept (ancient in fact), the modern hostel movement and it's social acceptance toward a mainstream accommodation option has really only been going for about 10 years. As a matter of fact, I first met Ludo Verstraete in London about ten years ago at another hostel conference when I was trying to promote using the Internet as a traveler's tool with a small website I had created called Hostels.com.
Inside an American Hostel – Ten years in Charleston, South Carolina
Vikki Matsis of the NotSoHostel in Charleston, South Carolina began her presentation with a video poem that she wrote and produced. As a longtime small hostel operator who fell in love with simple travel over 25 years ago, this video moved me to tears. Vikki has managed to encapsulate the feeling and urge of wanderlust into this video. You can see this video at the bottom of her hostel's website. NotSoHostel is a small hostel in a city that recently surpassed San Francisco as the friendliest in the U.S. I've always had an affinity for small hostels, now I think I may have to visit Charleston South Carolina.
Matchbox The Concept Hostel in Singapore
Magdalene Wan told about her hostel in Singapore called the Matchbox. Small sleeping spaces with community spaces below (a.k.a. capsule hotel) is a concept I would like to see catch hold in the US. I believe hotels like this would do very well in cities like San Francisco and New York where the cost of real estate is so high. I have been working with architects and code consultants to research how sleeping spaces can be made smaller and smaller and still provide a high level of health and safety for the occupants. I believe if it's possible to have large numbers of people on cruise ships in a very small space in a way that's both comfortable and safe, it should be possible to do this on land.
Social Media, Passion, & Travel
Aaron Nisson of Think! Social Media, Canada had an outstanding presentation on how to use social media. I was blown away by his macrolevel view of social media marketing. I have attended many seminars on social media marketing and each time these seminars focused on the tools. Aaron started his presentation by saying “I'm not going to talk about the tools. You already know what the tools are.” What Aaron described was how proper application of the tools creates the kind of social media marketing you want for your business. As a matter of fact, it was his presentation that prompted me to start the owner's blog on this website. In the past, all of the content on my website tended to be about my hostel and the sorts of things travelers might want to know about it. However, Aaron's presentation and the conference in general made me realize that there is an entirely new audience that may be interested in reading what I have to say. So now I'm interested in helping small hostel operators get into the business, and I hope my owners blog will help.
Building a Green or Purpose Built Hostel
Anthony Arts, Founder of Planet Traveler Hostel, Toronto, had a presentation that showed how environmentally friendly hostels can be. Most people who know me consider me to be environmentally and technologically minded myself as evidenced by my project to convert my Prius into a Plug-In Hybrid. I have long touted the environmental benefits that community living and cohousing have to offer. As an tourist accommodation choice hostels make far better environmental sense than private hotel rooms since the building facilities, heat, and electricity are shared to a much greater extent in hostels that in hotels. However, Anthony Arts has taken the environmental concept of hostels to an entirely new plateau. His presentation showed how the Planet Traveler Hostel uses green technologies (such as photovoltaic solar, thermal solar hot water, geothermal, wastewater heat recovery and many others) to vastly reduce it's carbon footprint. I recommend you check out his website and watch this video. In short, I would LOVE to create a hostel just like this in San Francisco. Interested parties, feel free to contact me about this. On a personal note, I have always emensely enjoyed talking with Anthony Arts and find him to be funny, animated and very friendly. Everything you want in a hostel owner.
Innovations and Trends in Online Travel
Michael Tumminia and Jason Baker (via Skype) showed a new face of the Gomio.com booking platform called Socialbooker. This facebook app allows travelers to make secure reservations on the hostel's Facebook Fan page. (Shameless Plug: Pacific Tradewinds already does this, and we don't require a credit card and our site even allows guests to create their own hostel events and blog posts.) I believe social booking or "Facebookings" as we like to call it, is the future of reservations on the internet. Travelers will be able see who is going to be at the hostel in ADVANCE of their arrival, which I think is a great feature especially when it's done on a large booking site like Gomio. By the way, there is another hostel booking site startup that I'm also fond of. It's called inBed.me and it was was built from the ground up on this "social booking" concept. By my count it's perhaps a little further in development. Perhaps a possible partnership exists here. inBed.me has a cute video that explains it all.
A Good Time Had by All
Overall, I think the conference was a big success and I really appreciated meeting new hostel owners and operators and reuniting with old ones. I would like to have had more presentations from hostels outside North America since hostel industries are more developed in places like Europe and Australia. However, I also think a larger conference would dilute the networking benefit. Therefore, I am excited about Michael Tumminia's goal to have simultaneous European and North American conferences that are joined with some presentations via Skype. This use of technology seemed to work very well for Ludo Verstraete's presentation I think it's a great way to have more diverse presentations, local networking opportunities, prevent participants from having to fly across oceans (not that I would mind a good international trip).