Meet Clink founder, Anne Dolan
From backpacker to founder and owner of Clink hostels, Anne Dolan is a woman with a love for people and travel. We spoke to Anne about combining these passions in the hostel industry, and her commitment to remaining true to the concept of a hostel and the values of the Clink brand while delivering what guests want.
SW: You’re a backpacker turned hostelier. How did you make the transition from being the guest to successful owner/manager?
I studied languages at university with the view to eventually work for an international company that could offer me travel opportunities. After university I took some time to go backpacking with my sister – a truly amazing experience and one that has shaped the rest of my life!
On my return I was given the opportunity to manage a hostel and soon realised that working in the hostel business could allow me to combine two of my favourite things; travelling and meeting people. I feel so lucky that I can do a job I am passionate about.
SW: what is it about the hostel industry that makes you tick?
Hostels bring people together; they make travelling accessible even for those on a budget; they’re a place of cultural exchange where interacting with other travellers is both fun and enriching; the hostel environment is dynamic and vibrant.
As a place of work, the atmosphere is positive; both guests and staff are often on a voyage of discovery and it’s exciting that we can be a part of that. Our target audience have their fingers on the pulse and I love them for it.
Hostels are always evolving and Clink is constantly working to stay fresh and in tune with our guests.
SW: ClinkNOORD just opened in Amsterdam, the first Clink property outside the UK. What challenges did you encounter in setting up your first hostel abroad? And words of wisdom for someone wanting to do the same?
The road to opening ClinkNOORD hasn’t been a totally smooth one! I can’t claim to know it all but we’ve certainly learnt a lot along the way. Importantly – keep your feet on the ground.
We’ve remained true to ourselves throughout the process and kept our reasons for being in this business front of mind.
Many cities and councils have negative perceptions of hostels. This can mean a lot of extra work when looking for new locations and, subsequently, when working with the communities to ensure you’re accepted there.
I think it’s worth pre-empting potential issues and having a strategy in place to demonstrate the value you will add to an area. This is actually one of the main reasons I want to be on the STAY WYSE board. I want to promote the understanding that hostels are amazing places and should be part of any city’s strategic tourism plan.
I believe Amsterdam is really ahead of the game on this, but other major tourist destinations are lagging behind and sidelining youth tourism.
SW: You’ve spoken previously about the ‘s’ in ‘hostel’, that it stands for ‘social’ and that this is what makes the difference between a hostel and a hotel. What do you do in your properties to engineer the ‘s’?
We focus on the common areas. We want to encourage people to come down to the reception, bar or kitchen. Our rooms are efficient, however, our common areas are unique, lively spaces that are designed to encourage guests to mix and mingle.
Another strategy was to have Wi-Fi only in common areas to attract guests from their rooms, but it hasn’t proved popular so we’re working on getting it extended throughout Clink78 and Clink261 (Wi-Fi in ClinkNOORD is up and running throughout!!!).
SW: Your hostels are housed in re-purposed buildings, sympathetically brought into the 21st century, highlighting historical attributes while being given a modern, funky edge. How do you feel about the term ‘poshtel’?
We are really proud of our buildings; Clink261 is in a former student union building giving it a really friendly and intimate feel. Clink78 is set in a courthouse, which is steeped in history. The Clash stood trial there and Charles Dickens worked as a scribe.
ClinkNOORD, our newest hostel, is housed in the former Royal Dutch Shell laboratory, a beautiful 1920’s building. The emphasis is still on chemistry, but of people!
The term ‘Poshtel’ isn’t a favourite for me, although I do understand how it reflects the evolution of hostels as they’re beginning to offer travellers more things they’d come to expect from the higher end of the hospitality sector. The word ‘posh’ suggests something that we definitely aren’t though – a Michelin star restaurant is posh!
Yes, the industry may be changing so that hostels offer slightly more stylish and design-led facilities, but what we do at the core of our business remains the same.
SW: Why do you feel it is important for Clink to have a corporate social responsibility programme, and to get behind local charities and community initiatives?
Very simple; we are so lucky and it is a privilege to travel for leisure. We aren’t big enough to change the whole world but it’s important that we make an impact where we can.
That means using our privileged position to make use of our time and money in ways that are going to positively affect the communities we inhabit and the wider world. All this said, we know there is a lot more we can do here and are working on it.
SW: there’s been some renewed discussion in the media recently about women and the gender gap, particularly at the higher levels of business and politics. From one hostel, you and your sister Shelly have since grown the Clink business to expand to three high-end hostel properties across central London and now Amsterdam- no small feat. How would you describe your experience in the hostelling industry as a woman? How has the industry reacted to you and your sister’s success?
I’d like to think Clink’s success has nothing to do with me being a woman, but rather that we are clear, focused and passionate about backpackers and have a good strategy and a great team. For me, it’s a given that men and women are equally capable of developing a successful business.
That said, as a woman, I might approach a business challenge differently to a male counterpart –and that is the beauty of having diversity in a business. Many successful women I admire have a real strength of character and the ability to make well-informed business decisions – from both a moral perspective and from a business savvy angle.
I do find it disconcerting when women are not equally nor proportionally represented on boards of businesses. I am, however, encouraged that shifts in legislation, along with changes in attitudes towards women in high level positions, seem to be changing this gradually.
If I am honest, I have not only nominated myself as a board member of STAY WYSE because it is an organisation I believe in and to which I would like to make a productive contribution to, but also because I want to address the balance of women being under-represented on boards, as Gandhi so eloquently put it “be the change you want to see in the world.”
Once upon a time it was very simple; hotels were hotels and hostels were hostels, and “never the twain shall meet.” Now the lines are more blurred.
For the customer, it’s great – there really is something for everyone, whatever your requirements or budget. Travelling was once so exclusive, now it has become more accessible to the masses and the more people who enjoy it, the bigger the market will become. This industry is one that must constantly innovate and that makes it hard to predict exactly where it will head.
We service a young market and they’re expecting more and more from their travel experiences. Hostels have got to keep up! Technology, then, will inevitably play an ever increasing role in streamlining services – from booking to checking-in to socialising – and helping us to be more responsive to guests’ needs.
‘Experience’ is a real trend too, with young travellers valuing experiences over material purchases. The industry is shifting to try and provide one-of-a-kind experiences – something Clink does really well I think!
I believe the biggest challenge for hostel operators is, like I mentioned before, that hostels are not being embraced for what they are. They’re sidelined for hotels, preferably luxury ones.
Without the support of the local municipality it is very difficult for hostels to establish themselves in some of the major cities, like New York and Paris. In the long run this could be damaging for those cities.
If they are not attracting young, innovative travellers, these cities could begin to feel a little staid and old fashioned. I am charmed by the progressive attitude Amsterdam has towards youth travel, and I think they will benefit hugely from those attitudes.
To be authentic. One of the best things we have done in the last few years is establish our company culture. We have our values, and these are our foundation blocks- they help us make the right decisions, are instrumental in the design of our buildings and they assist us in a plethora of ways.
SW: Why is STAY WYSE membership important to Clink?
Given that our hostels are aimed at young travellers, it’s really important for Clink to be connected and in-tune with what’s going on in the youth travel market. As I mentioned earlier, innovation is crucial in this industry so keeping up-to-date with trends across the board is a real priority for us.
STAY WYSE provides us with a great network of industry peers, intelligence and a support system that helps us keep Clink current. The organisation also represents the interests of the sector at various levels to influence wider government policy creating more opportunities for members and protecting the interests of the industry.
SW: The opening of ClinkNOORD has seen Clink expand into Europe. What’s your vision for the future of Clink?
Our vision is clear, we want to open Clink Hostels in more major cities and continue to provide great affordable accommodation to travellers, who are looking for a unique social travel experience. Clink is authentic, we believe in what we are doing, we are travellers and although not perfect, we offer what our fellow travellers want.