With an ongoing pandemic and international travel restrictions still largely in place, the backpacking community is wondering whether the hostels will survive or not.
Conveniently located a short walk from NÃ¡mÄstÃ MÃru metro station in Prague, the Czech Hostel is close to the main sights of Prague such as Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square. The hostel’s collection of eight, 12, and 16-bed dorms, as well as its 34-bed basement dormitory, sell out regularly on a typical summer night, housing over 200 guests at a time. Mathias Schwender, co-owner and co-founder of the Czech Inn, recorded 8,340 overnight stays at the hostel in August 2019, with the majority of guests coming from the US, followed by UK, Germany, Australia and Japan. Its hostel bar has a regular rotation of nightly events, starting with a pub quiz on Mondays and ending with live DJs and karaoke nights at the end of the week. Its boisterous atmosphere was especially welcoming to solo travelers keen to mingle. But by the end of August this year, the number of overnight stays at the Czech hostel dropped significantly to 2,392, with most of their guests coming from other parts of the Czech Republic and neighboring Germany. .
“This year there are a lot fewer guests,” Schwender admits, adding that backpackers who choose to stay with them now will find the hostel to be “more low-key” and the experience “more meditative.”
Continue reading the article after our video
Fodor’s Recommended Video
So far, dealing with the effects of the pandemic on the Czech Inn has been “one of the biggest challenges of my life,” Schwender says, “and [itâs] difficult to navigate through this time, especially being responsible for many staff members and other financial obligations. “
Being part of Famous hostels in Europe (EFH), a network of more than 30 of the continent’s best independently run hostels, Schwender has been in regular contact with other EFH hostel owners across the region during this pandemic. While hostels have been empty and silent since their temporary closure in March, EFH hostel owners have constantly exchanged information on COVID-19 best practices and discussed strategies for a safe reopening while providing the affordable experience. and sociable that enthusiastic backpackers know and love.
In a hostel, your roommates change from day to day. Who you meet at the bar downstairs and in the communal kitchen while you cook dinner is one of those chance-determined scenarios, with the possibility that they will become an indispensable part of your trip. Hostels operate on the very idea of ââuniting people, which is the reason for organized events like walking tours and cooking classes, and the raison d’Ãªtre of common spaces like lounges, communal kitchens and bars. Backpackers and budget travelers sign up for more than just affordable accommodation when they book at a hostel – they’re signing up to be part of a community. The hostel community comes together to share stories and make new friends, bonding with a destination and its people. The one thing that hostels are known and loved for is sociability, and that’s the one thing hostels are taking steps to protect now.
As the majority of travel restrictions slowly eased across Europe in June, hostels began gradual reopening and put safety measures in place to regain the confidence of backpackers. But they continue to compete with hotels and Airbnbs who have cut prices to stay competitive in the market. While some hostels survived the worst of the pandemic in March, others have closed permanently, closing their doors permanently to backpackers.
Nowadays hand sanitizer is installed in all common areas of a hostel, check-in counters are protected by plexiglass and these businesses operate with reduced occupancy to give travelers sufficient space. The ability to access masks depends on the state of the pandemic in that country; while some hostels provide them easily, others are only available on request. Breakfast buffets have been replaced with take-out breakfasts, and social events have been temporarily suspended or reduced in frequency. To attract more backpackers, hostels have lowered prices and are offering the option to cancel until the day before they arrive, in case the borders unexpectedly close.
Both Flying pig The locations in Amsterdam, which operated at an average occupancy of 50% throughout August 2020, up from 96% in August 2019, there have been a number of operational changes based on government advice and comments from the hiking community. This includes reduced dorm occupancy, contactless check-in and payments, and the move of non-essential communications to a digital platform.
On how backpackers have so far adapted to these new changes, Tom Noom, Managing Director of Flying Pig, notes âthat there is a level of respect towards the changes that we have implemented which makes us feel safe â. He added: “We also offer private rooms inâ¦ our hostels, so if there was a problem they could still enjoy the common aspect of the hike, just with a little extra space.”
Hostel owners across Europe have also had to change gears and cater to domestic travelers and European nationalities of all ages while waiting for international restrictions to be lifted, even converting some dorms to private dorms for the time being. âOur guest profile is generally young backpackers. However, due to travel restrictions, we may see a slight change and their absence at the moment, âsays Veronika Solarova, hostel manager at St Christopher’s Inn, the London Bridge Inn in London, England. She adds: âSharing rooms with other unknown travelers is not possible at the moment due to [government] regulations and we see that travelers are turning to the private sector. However, we also sell a lot of dorms to groups of the same household. “
Despite the challenges currently facing hostels, owners are eager to welcome their customers again and hope that hostels stays after COVID will be similar to those before the pandemic. But Solarova admits it’s difficult to estimate when that will be the case, as the hostel industry relies heavily on tourism. All she can do right now is wait until all travel restrictions are lifted.
Kash Bhattacharya, digital nomad since 2009 and voice of the blog Budget traveler, remains optimistic about the fate of the hotel industry. Since travel restrictions were relaxed across Europe, he has stayed in four hostels in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. âThey give you an experience that you just can’t have in a hotel. No two hostels are the same, and each has its own kind of connection to a city, âKash says fondly of the hostels.
âIn each hostel you meet a different crowd of people and you have this amazing experience of falling in love with travel and a distinct community,â says Kash. His deep appreciation for the hostel culture led him to lead the Adopt a hostel campaign to save hostels around the world from the financial setbacks of the pandemic.
Few hostels have emerged from the pandemic relatively unscathed. Long story short, a contemporary design hostel in Olomouc, a budding gastronomic tourism destination in the Czech Republic 160 miles east of the capital city of Prague, is one example. Eva DlabalovÃ¡, general manager of the hostel, attributes the success of her business to the location of her hostel.
âWe are very lucky to be in a city that is not the capital. This is the key for me, âsays DlabalovÃ¡. Prague is one of the cities in the country with the highest number of coronavirus cases. Instead, with the easing of restrictions in the Czech Republic, city dwellers are looking to Olomouc for a getaway.
When the pandemic first struck in March, the hostel temporarily closed its doors and DlabalovÃ¡ let go of 20 of its 25 staff with a promise to hire them back. DlabalovÃ¡ and his management team focused on diversifying the hostel’s sources of income through their on-site restaurant and cafe. In addition to offering take-out, the team designed a week-long website to deliver ready meals to customers who were on lockdown, even working with local farmers to sell their produce that otherwise cannot. because of the coronavirus. DlabalovÃ¡’s efforts garnered support from the local population, and DlabalovÃ¡ was able to rehire 18 of the 20 employees she laid off. âThere was no income from the hostel, but there was income from the cafe and the restaurant. It was enough to survive [the pandemic]. “
The hostel, which reopened in May and can accommodate up to 56 people, is back to full capacity.
Backpackers have mixed feelings about staying at hostels during this ongoing pandemic. Among those who have recently returned to the European hostel scene is Jordy Schep, 32, a rock-climbing enthusiast from Amsterdam, who flew to Mallorca for 10 days with EasyJet. Usually a regular backpacker who makes several climbing trips a year, Schep notes that this trip to the Spanish island in August is his first in 2020. The hostel he booked in the town of Esporles, at the west of Mallorca, has a maximum capacity of 50 guests, but the owner capped it at 15 to give ample space for backpackers. While Schep acknowledges the actions taken by his hostel, he says that the communal nature and shared environment of a hostel “is not really corona proof,” adding “I don’t think you can escape the corona when someone brings it here “.
However, comfort levels among hostel visitors vary. Joe C. from the UK, who recently traveled from London to Trogir, Croatia, booked a six bed dorm. But for the two nights he was there, he only had one other roommate. Joe reveals that he wasn’t worried about sharing space with another traveler and explained that “Croatia had a [coronavirus] rates, plus the few other travelers came from countries with equally low rates.