Efficiency Meets Heart: The Manager’s Guide to Hostel Volunteers

Robert DrgalicHostel Ideas, Operations

In the world of hostels, each one is unique and has its own way of operating.  The utilization of volunteers in the hostel is certainly no exception.  Some rely completely on volunteers, others have never worked with them, while others mix things up. From our experience, we’ve found that, for most hostels, short-term volunteers add great value when utilized alongside ongoing paid staff. Of course, this depends on many aspects such as local labor laws and each hostel’s specific needs.

Think of it like putting together a well-balanced team. There is the staff who knows the hostel well, stay longer, and are fully competent and responsible. Then there are the volunteers who bring fresh energy and excitement to the hostel. This variety creates a well-balanced hostel operation. The experienced staff keeps things steady while the energetic volunteers add a unique touch to the guest experience.

In this blog, we’ll explore why finding this balance is important and how having both dedicated staff and the right volunteers can turn a hostel into more than just a place to sleep — it helps it become a friendly community. Join us as we discuss attracting awesome volunteers, what they do, and the considerations of having them in your hostel.

The Benefits of Volunteers – More than Saving Money:

In the world of managing hostels, having volunteers can certainly have a positive financial impact. But it’s not just about potentially saving money.  Supercharging the guest experience through the proper utilization of volunteers can increase ratings and along with it, occupancy and revenue.  Volunteers can help bring a fresh vibe to the hostel. They tend to fit right into a hostel’s atmosphere and mix of cultures sharing their stories, experiences, and skill sets.  Think of them as both your star guests and your hostel ambassadors. They often become the heart of the hostel, creating connections that enhance the guests’ experience. From impromptu music sessions to exploring the city together, passionate volunteers add a lot more than just savings.

What Jobs Should Volunteers Do:

Hospitality:

Volunteers can play a key role in making guests feel at home from the moment they step through the door.

Take the check-in for example. Here the staff member takes the lead. They handle the more intricate tasks like taking payments, filling in guest details, and ensuring everything is in order in the system. This requires more training and experience, and the staff, being familiar with the hostel’s operations, can handle it with ease. However, the volunteers can also play an important role in this process. Imagine a friendly volunteer welcoming guests at the entrance. Their enthusiasm can be contagious as they give a tour of the hostel, leading guests right to their beds. This simple act not only ensures guests feel at home from the start but also starts building connections. Volunteers excel in these warm, personal interactions, and this role requires less training than the tedious tasks of reception. Their natural eagerness to help and chat with guests makes them perfect for creating that initial positive vibe. 

None of this is to say that the reception staff should not be just as hospitable or need to delegate good customer service.  The volunteers are just an added friendly face representing the hostel, especially when the staff is busy with other responsibilities.   Finding this balance is key to making every guest feel not just welcomed, but a part of the hostel community.

Spreading The Vibes with Social Events:

One of the special talents of many volunteers is their ability to bring people together. By organizing and running social events, they add an extra layer of enjoyment to the hostel atmosphere. From casual gatherings to themed parties, volunteers infuse the space with positive energy. Their enthusiasm encourages guests to mingle, make new friends, and create shared memories. These events transform the hostel into more than just a place to stay; they turn it into a lively community where everyone feels included and connected.

A good example we have seen great success from is volunteers leading guests out for a night on the town after quiet hours at the hostel.  This allows the receptionist to close their shift.    

Keeping Things Clean and Tidy:

Maintaining a clean and tidy hostel is essential for a comfortable and enjoyable stay. Volunteers contribute to this by handling basic cleaning and maintenance tasks. Whether it’s spot-checking the common areas, ensuring bathrooms are well-stocked throughout the day, or giving the communal kitchen a quick evening clean, volunteers play a crucial role in upkeeping the hostel’s overall cleanliness. This not only creates a pleasant environment for guests but also fosters a sense of shared responsibility within the community.

This is not to say volunteers should be tasked with undertaking comprehensive housekeeping duties.  Such responsibilities are better entrusted to a dedicated and skilled professional housekeeping team.

In essence, volunteers wear multiple hats—welcoming hosts at the front desk, event organizers, and caretakers of the hostel’s cleanliness throughout the day. Their varied contributions enrich the hostel experience, creating a warm and inviting space where guests feel not only accommodated but truly part of a vibrant and friendly community.

How to Get Good Volunteers:

Play to the volunteer’s strengths:

Crafting the right volunteer experience is not just about filling roles but ensuring a harmonious fit between their passions and responsibilities. Placing volunteers in positions that resonate with their interests, such as orchestrating events, guiding guests to local hotspots, fostering social connections, or offering warm welcomes at the front desk, is pivotal.

Consider the alternative: dedicating the volunteers to tasks like housekeeping solely to cut costs can lead to a cascade of issues. They may lack motivation, necessitate constant training and supervision, and may not excel at the assigned tasks. This mismatch can result in a lackluster experience for both the volunteers and the guests. In contrast, when volunteers are engaged in roles that align with their enthusiasm and strengths, they not only enjoy their tasks but become enthusiastic ambassadors for your hostel.

By tapping into their natural inclinations and talents, you create an environment where volunteers thrive, ensuring they not only enjoy their time but also become dedicated advocates for your hostel. When their experience is fulfilling, volunteers are more likely to stay, actively contribute, and enthusiastically recommend the opportunity to others. It’s a win-win scenario that not only enhances the overall atmosphere but also sets the stage for a continuous influx of passionate volunteers.

Using Online Platforms:

Check out websites like Worldpackers, Workaway, and HelpX. They connect hosts with volunteers excited about helping out in hostels. It’s a great way to find people passionate about making hostels special. 

Worldpackers has grown quite popular with both hostels and volunteers and is full of great, quality volunteers. 

It aims to create a community of like-minded individuals who are passionate about travel, cultural exchange, and learning new skills. Travelers can search for opportunities on the platform, apply for positions, and connect with hosts who are looking for assistance.  You can even search through profiles for specific skills you are looking for at any given moment.

Tip for making your search easier

Consider requiring a short video from applicants presenting themselves and telling you why they want to volunteer with you. It will help your filtering process and allow you to find truly interested quality volunteers.

We also recommend implementing a structured timeframe for the duration of their commitment, setting both minimum and maximum lengths of stay. We find a one-month commitment with the possibility of renewal is a great starting point.  Too short of a stay will not see a return on the time you need for procurement and training.  Too long and the energy they bring to the hostel may start to burn out.  

Your hostel has a unique vibe that attracts like-minded people. Share your values and what your hostel is like when reaching out to volunteers. This way, you’ll get volunteers who fit right in and add to your community.

Potential Cons of Hostel Volunteering Programs

Now that we have discussed the potential pros of having volunteers at your hostel, here are some potential cons to consider

Dependence on Volunteer Availability:

Relying on volunteers means schedules may be subject to their availability, potentially leading to challenges in maintaining consistent coverage.  This is why we recommend that their roles and responsibilities not be necessary for daily operations, but rather an added value to the hostel’s day-to-day and guest experience. 

Training and Supervision Requirements:

Proper training and supervision are crucial. Without these, the benefits of having volunteers can be overshadowed by misunderstandings or mismanagement.  For this reason, there is some added difficulty in ensuring a proper recruitment and training program is in place for volunteers.  However, if utilized properly, volunteers can certainly help balance the responsibilities within the team to allow for this. 

Potential Decrease in Revenue: 

In exchange for their efforts, hostels provide volunteers with a bed (and sometimes meals as well).  So, depending on your specific hostel and its occupancy, this could mean losing out on revenue if those beds would otherwise be filled with paying guests.  

Some hostels have a dorm that is not as suitable for their guests but works perfectly well as a volunteer room which helps to prevent this loss.  However, although volunteers do not need the best room, they should also be comfortable for the duration of their stay.  Ideally, a room in the hostel that is dedicated to the volunteers is best. This way they have a place away from guests when they need to switch off from the demands of hospitality and guests do not have to share a room with those they see as staff. 

We have also seen many instances where the volunteers are accommodated outside of the hostel.  This can have a better return on investment if the hostel has a high enough occupancy where not selling the beds used for volunteers does not compensate for having them.  However, keep in mind that it is more difficult for the volunteers to feel part of the hostel and contribute to the communal atmosphere if they are not consistently there.       

The revenue impact of occupying beds with volunteers varies from hostel to hostel and depends on many factors. Each hostel must consider this and analyze the potential loss vs. the potential increase in review scores bringing a potential increase in revenue with it.

Conclusion:

In the world of hostel management, volunteers are like the colorful threads that make the experience unforgettable. Beyond saving money and adding cultural richness, a well-organized volunteering program can turn a hostel from just a place to stay into a real community. As you bring volunteers into your hostel, remember that success isn’t just about the tasks they do but the connections they make and the shared memories they create.

Experience the magic that happens when people’s passion meets the purpose of making hostels welcoming. Whether it is the owner trying to improve the hostel or a traveler eager to contribute and live and experience, a special synergy between hosts and volunteers can truly create a win-win strategy for hostels.

Veranera Hostel Estepona
Volunteers running activities at Veranera Hostel – Estepona, Spain
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