How to Improve Hostel Reviews

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If your hostel is not getting the best online reviews, consider some of the suggestions below.

Hostel Review Issues

This page offers ideas about why ratings may be low in certain areas, and how to improve hostel reviews and ratings. The content on this page is related to the section on reputation management and online reviews. This page is a place to brainstorm ideas, so please feel free to add suggestions. It is a collaborative writing effort.

Free Tools

There are a couple of free spreadsheets in the Forum to help hostels plan their review improvements:

Common Hostel Rating Criteria

Common criteria used by hostel rating systems:

Character, Atmosphere, or Personality

A hostel with character.
  • Is the interior decoration too plain or stark?
    • Ask some backpackers for their advice on interior decorations.
    • Maybe some of the hostel employees have good taste for interior design.
    • Some hostels get backpackers to paint murals.
    • Furniture doesn't have to be perfect, but make sure that it's not dirty or dusty.
    • Have chairs and tables that can be rearranged by guests. Avoid sterile interior design styles.
  • Are the guests backpackers, or are they long-term local residents? Does the hostel attract shady people? Having a lot of long-term, local guests can sometimes have a negative effect on the atmosphere of the hostel.

Maintenance

  • Look at the reviews and see what guests are complaining about. E.g., if they complain about the hot water not being reliable or the stoves not working, fix the problem.
  • If something is broken, fix it ASAP. If there is a significant problem with a room, such as a broken lock on the ensuite bathroom door or hole in the wall, consider not putting guests in the room until it's fixed. If you have to put guests in the room, let the guests know about the problem before they go to the room and send someone to fix the problem before the end of the same day.
  • Good plumbing is important. Hot water should be reliable. If your hostel is in a country where toilet paper can't be flushed down the toilet, be sure to put a clear sign in multiple language in front of the toilet.
  • If you don't have an effective system to keep track of maintenance items, create a computerized maintenance log. The front desk should add items to the maintenance log whenever guests complain about something being broken. Have housekeepers report any maintenance issues that they find while cleaning rooms. Use the log to keep track of everything from broken air conditioners to burned out light bulbs. If you have a dedicated maintenance staff, give them a printout of the maintenance log at the beginning of their shifts.
  • Check if there is adequate temperature control in the rooms.
  • If doors, lockers or other things squeak, spray the hinges with a lubricant like WD-40.
A broken bathroom lock stuffed with toilet paper by the guests. It might have been best to shut this room down, or at least to leave a note for the guests so they know the hostel isn't ignoring the problem.

Cleanliness

Don't let your hostel get this dirty.
  • If ratings are bad in this area, check on the housekeepers after they have cleaned to make sure that they've done a thorough job.
  • Are housekeepers missing spots? Is the shower clean enough to step into barefoot? Mildew in the bathroom? Clean shower curtains? Does the room smell? Check the corners of the rooms, under the beds, under couch cushions (dusty?), on window blinds, in refrigerators, etc.
  • A housekeeping checklist can help. Designate certain rooms to get deep-cleaned and rotate the deep-cleaning daily. For example, if you have 15 rooms, designate two of them to get an extra thorough cleaning each day. That would mean that each room gets a basic cleaning every day, and a thorough "deep-cleaning" once every week.
  • Clean up mold problems before they get out of hand. Mold in air conditioners, walls, lockers, and other places should be carefully cleaned. Mold can be a dangerous health issue for guests and staff.
  • If there are problems with roaches, ants, and bugs, be sure food is never brought in the rooms and that the kitchen is kept clean. Don't let dirty dishes sit in the sink. If you spray for bugs, seal cracks in the walls and hiding places before spraying or the roaches will just run into the walls and into another room to escape the spray.
  • Monitor the online reviews carefully and address each problem that comes up. Find out if the front desk is handling cleanliness complaints well enough. Are front desk staff on different shifts able to communicate with each other and with the manager(s)?
  • Charging for sheets and pillowcases encourages people to use their own linens or sleeping bags which could spread bedbug eggs to your hostel, lowering your reviews.
  • See also the page about Bed Bugs and Pest Control.
An example of a very clean & tidy dorm room.

Security

Hostel lockers can help guests feel more secure, especially guests traveling with laptops and cameras
  • Many backpackers travel with expensive electronic gear like ipods, cameras, and laptops. Free lockers that are large enough for a laptop can help make guests feel more secure.
  • Some people will complain if there is no security filtered entrance (keycard, buzzer, own keys).
  • People feel more secure if they see the reception on the way in.

Safety

  • If guests complain about strange or violent guests and their concerns are not addressed, they may complain in online reviews.
  • Some guests will complain if non-guests are allowed in the hostel.
  • Some female guests will complain if men are allowed in female-only dorms at any time.

Location

  • If a hostel is getting bad "location" ratings, it might be possible to improve that by providing more information on transportation and nearby things to do. Consider a poster-sized map on the wall marked with things to do.
  • If the atmosphere in the hostel is fun the guests may consider the location to be better than they otherwise would, because they are having fun with other guests rather than going to tourist attractions
  • Provide clear directions to the hostel, as well as a prominent sign out front

Facilities

A shower with (1) a locked shower head and (2) no way to control the temperature. This shower was very uncomfortable to use.
  • Facilities are significant and helping the guests environment/comfort satisfaction.
  • Backpackers prefer to have laundry and internet access as a must; otherwise luggage storage, phone access, Skype-access, memorycard-reader/cd-burning is more popular these days.
  • Good showers and bathrooms are important to guests. There should be consistent hot water and the ability to control the shower head direction and water temperature. Because fixed shower heads can't be pointed to the side while adjusting water temperature, they can be uncomfortable if the water is too cold and dangerous if the water is too hot.
  • Make sure any motion sensor and timed lights don't turn off when the guest isn't expecting it, for example, while taking a shower or in the middle of walking down the stairs.
  • If you offer Internet access, make sure that it's as reliable as possible. If guests complain about the connection being offline or slow, make an effort to troubleshoot the connection. Internet is the way that many backpackers keep in touch with people back home and to plan the next stages of their trip.
A painfully slow wifi connection. This will make guests very frustrated.

Staff

  • Staff is one of the most important aspects of getting better hostel reviews.
  • At a smaller hostel, welcoming the guests into your hostel as if it were a home is beneficial. Guests are less likely to leave bad reviews if the owners/managers have gone out of their way to help the guests.
  • Have the front desk employees give a good "welcome speech", and make sure the guests feel like you're paying attention to them as they check out. The first impression and last impression are often the most memorable.
  • If there are complaints about rude front desk staff, it might help to train them to say "I don't know, but let me try to find the answer for you", instead of just "I don't know." Having a front desk manual that lists the answers to common questions can make it easier for front desk to help answer guests' questions. The hostel employees should try to go beyond just providing the minimum answers to the questions and whenever possible should provide additional information that would be useful to the guests.
  • Hire front desk staff who have a genuine interest in helping other people. Encourage front desk staff to not just answer questions, but to ask questions -- for example, "what did you do today?", "what do you think of the city?", and other questions/conversations that show the guests that the staff is genuinely interested in them.
  • The guests want to know that you and the staff care about them. If they ask something and you think it's a stupid question or request, at least show an effort to do something about it. For example, if they complain about a rat in their dorm room, don't say, "Yeah, his name is 'Bob', we can't do anything about it." Show them an attempt to fix the problem even if you don't think you can fix it before they leave.
  • You might want to have the front desk staff give a rundown of the facilities for each new guest. Guests hate to find out on the 5th day that there was a free daily breakfast that no one told them about.

Fun

One reason backpackers stay at hostels is to meet other people.
  • People generally stay at hostels because they want the social atmosphere. Guests want an environment where it is easy to break the ice and meet other people. If guests aren't meeting each other, they probably aren't going to have much fun.
  • Make group-oriented board games available. Playing cards, poker chips, chess, checkers and backgammon are all good. Dudo is a great game for hostels.
  • A free pitcher of sangria on the common room table can liven things up.
  • Forcing guests to use the hostel bar rather than bringing their own alcohol can dampen the atmosphere. Consider lowering the price of alcohol or allowing people to bring their own.
  • The interior design of the hostel can affect the fun rating -- e.g., a lounge with all chairs bolted to the floor and facing a TV vs. a lounge with couches and chairs arranged facing each other.
  • If people are just sitting around looking bored and are too shy to break the ice, an employee could help start an activity (card game, party, group meal, pub crawl, BBQ, impromptu walking tour, etc.). Larger hostels might benefit from an activities coordinator.
  • Consider buying a couple of inexpensive guitars and making them available for guests to use. Two or three guitars is better than one because it's likely that several people play guitar. A group of people playing guitar attracts a group of listeners, and guests meet each other.
  • Music is important to the hostel atmosphere. Related forum thread: Hostel Music and the Hostel Atmosphere

Value

  • How does the hostel compare to other hostels in the area?
  • Be sure not to "nickel and dime" guests. Consider giving them some free things in the price.

Tracking Guest Complaints

It may be useful to have employees keep track of guest complaints. The front desk could keep a paper or computer log of things that guests complain about. At bigger hostels it's a way for management to keep track of issues that guests may have.

An anonymous suggestion box is another way to get feedback from guests.

It is useful to monitor online reviews so you can stay updated with what people are saying about your hostel.