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In a digital age, hostel brands are still actively facilitating social environments  

12 March 2015
12 Mar 2015 -

“We invest in our common areas, as it is these rooms that create a social atmosphere within the hostel and provide the catalyst for travellers to meet,” stated Anne Dolan, Co-Founder of Clink Hostels, during a STAY WYSE panel discussion on youth travel accommodation trends at ITB Berlin last week.

Facilitating face-to-face interaction

Sabine Ranft of Generator Hostels echoed Anne’s views on the importance of ensuring that hostel common areas are designed to encourage interaction between guests, even during an increasingly digital age.

Panellist Laurel Robbins, a travel blogger who depends on being digitally connected to make a living on the road, agreed that “People still want face to face interaction”.

Anne and Sabine went on to explain that common areas need to be multi-functional, effectively catering for the wide range of activities that happen there; while some guests want to chat, have a meeting, or meet other people, others need a suitable place in which to work or go online – and they may go back and forth between these activities.

The three hostel representatives on the panel also highlighted the benefits of the communal events they run in the common areas of their hostels, with Laurel adding that events such as free walking tours can also be great for encouraging interaction between guests.

In line with the fact that 72% of millennial travellers pack their smartphone when they travel, as revealed in the WYSE Travel Confederation Millennial Traveller report (2014), Clink Hostels is using digital technology to promote face-to-face contact through its free Clink Social app. The aim is for guests to connect with their peers online both before and during their stay, in the hope that they will be more willing or confident to introduce themselves in person. “We experimented with no WiFi in rooms – we won’t do that again,” said Anne.

The free WiFi debate

David Chapman, Director General of WYSE Travel Confederation and moderator of the panel, confirmed the importance of providing free WiFi in hostels with a real-life example: “When the showers in a hostel go cold, they often don’t receive complaints for over an hour. Yet, should the WiFi go down, the guests let the hostel know within minutes.

Oliver Kersholt from Swiss Youth Hostels highlighted that while the availability of WiFi is important, it doesn’t necessarily have to be provided throughout a property. At present, Swiss Youth Hostels only have WiFi availability in their lobby areas, although a move to provide free WiFi throughout its locations continues to be discussed.

Despite concern that the dependence on free WiFi will negatively affect the social environment in hostels, WYSE research has shown that young travellers who want to meet other travellers are more likely to choose a hostel over any other type of accommodation.

Put simply by David Chapman, “The difference between a hotel and a hostel is the ‘s’, which stands for social”, and it’s clear from this session that hostels are keen to cultivate the ‘s’.