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Long-term ‘working’ guests in hostels. It’s a love-hate relationship

January 22nd, 2018 | | Accommodation

You arrive at the room door, pairs of well-worn and crusty work boots inhibit your entry. The door is ajar, so you give it a nudge and an indeciperable and not all together pleasant odor greets you. Once open you see piles of clothes stacked to the ceiling. The long-term working holiday maker is a character unique and significant to Australia, and these guests require extra consideration when looking at hostel operations, finances, and social atmosphere.

An Australia-specific guest

Australia is distinct in the fact that a large portion of travellers plan on staying for months, if not years. According to a study by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection & Tourism Research Australia in 2017, there are 333,000 Working Holiday Makers arriving each year, staying for an average of 151 days. Meanwhile, the average trip length for all tourists in the United States is only 18 days. This unique travel itinerary results in „long-termers” staying in hostels for weeks or months, instead of only a few nights. Sometimes, over 50% of hostel occupancy is from long-term guests. These long-termers have a significant impact on the hostels through a variety of ways, both positive and negative.

A valuable customer

Financially, the longer these guests stay, the more money they spend, both at the hostel and in the local economy. According to the survey, Working Holiday Makers spend an average of $10,100 per trip, or $67 per night, making them a valuable customer. Accomodation was the top spend for this group, and nearly 50% of them stayed in hostels. The Minister for Tourism and Major Events, Adam Marshall, remarked at a 2017 BOA event about the importance of extracting a higher spend from this group by encouraging them to stay longer. Since most of these guests start as normal short-term guests, many hostels encourage them to extend their stay with discounts or weekly rates. This is a common strategy especially during winter when numbers are fewer and occupancy is lower.

Long-termers get comfortable

Socially, hostel managers have reported mixed experiences with long-termers. Sometimes, long term guests serve as an extension of staff by welcoming newcomers to the „hostel family”. Other times, there is a tendency to segment themselves away from newcomers and form their own cliques. Often, hostels accommodate long termers in a separate room so they’re not disturbed by people coming and going, and it gives newcomers a chance to meet other short term guests. One strategy to minimize the cliquey behaviour is to rotate the long term rooms on a regular basis to encourage social mixing. Big Hostel in Sydney has a large percentage of long-termers with consistent jobs, so they’ve strategically created an early-to-bed, early-to-rise room for the workers with similar schedules. Another strategy is to focus on creating a vibrant social atmosphere. Mad Monkey Backpackers accomplishes this by hosting weekly events to encourage mingling between long-term and short-term guests. Having great staff to stir up the group during these events can make a significant impact on the social atmosphere. Guests that are working for accommodation can also be expected to attend events and mingle with guests as part of their role.

Operationally, with longer stays, there is less attention needed from front desk and housekeeping staff, freeing up resources and time. However, long-term guests have earned a reputation for being messy, which requires extra attention every so often. Along with rotating the rooms, having regular „deep cleans” are necessary to maintain the cleanliness and standards of the hostel. These cleans can be weekly and involve asking guests to clear their belongings from the floor, allowing housekeepers to thoroughly cleanse the room.

Balance is the key

Even though these guests are extremely valuable to the hostel and local economy, it is important to have specific strategies in place to accommodate long termers. Making this relationship a positive one requires a balance of making them feel comfortable, but not to the detriment of the short-term guest experience. Despite the extra attention needed for this group, they are a unique, and crucial traveller demographic.

Sources:

Department of Immigration and Border Protection & Tourism Research Australia, International Visitor Survey June 2017
U.S. Travel estimates based on U.S. Department of Commerce – National Travel and Tourism Office