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So You Want To Start A Hostel?



The hostel movement started in Germany in 1907 but became popular during the 1920’s as a way of promoting peace and world understanding as well as communing with nature with a view to protecting the environment, promoting healthy exercise and camaraderie among other backpackers. It is no wonder that the first hostels in Canada began in the Canadian Rockies. Today hostels are found all over the world.


Collingwood, Ontario: the former Blue Mountain Auberge


Hostels can be inns, budget bed and breakfasts, farms, residences, retreat centres, hospitality homes, camps campgrounds, or houseboats. There’s an ice house hostel, a school bus hostel, a tepee hostel, an old jail, a hostel in rail cars, renovated motels, historic buildings, revamped hotels, a Presbyterian camp, an eco-centre, a white water rapids hostel; the list goes on.

You might own a building that could serve as a hostel, perhaps your own home.


Nanaimo International Hostel


The rule of thumb: are you zoned for the purposes intended? Check with your local municipality is to the rules. Best bet is commercial zoning.


Ottawa Backpackers Inn, Ottawa, ON


Any changes to your structure will require building permits, fire inspection, and even a health inspection.


the former Mabou Hostel, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia


You may see a building and say “Wouldn’t that make a great hostel?” Well, pretty historic buildings don’t always see it that way because repairing these buildings can be costly, almost prohibitive. Best bet: look for a building with the correct zoning. . Have you got a common room for people to intermingle? Do you have a communal kitchen? Have you get some outdoor space around your hostel so folks don’t have to stay inside supping tea in those hot sticky summer months? What about parking space?

Establishing your hostel in a business centre of a town or city is usually a good bet, and if there’s another hostel nearby, you can benefit from the overflow of that hostel. Make sure your hostel is better than the other one.


the former Samesun Hostel, Vancouver, BC

Many folks who have used hostels want to start their own. Financing can be a real barrier to fulfilling that dream. You’ll need a friendly banker and a good business plan. The latter is most challenging but many economic development councils in your community will give you good advice. In addition, try the Business Development Bank or the local college and see if they have business plan




St. John River Valley near Fredericton, NB

advice. Sometimes a student can help you (he may need credits for school) and you could work it out with him/her. Consult other new hostel owners; they’d be glad to share information. Know that many hostellers are from overseas (a good 50-60%) and that contrary to public perception, few hostellers hitch-hike (less than 1%). Know that guidebooks (Lonely Planet, Rough Guide) will bring you business and spread the word to them that you plan to open a hostel. Don’t neglect the Internet…this new tool of communication can be a powerful boost to your new business. Get a business email and website.




No more monstrous floods N. Ontario

Your hostel doesn’t need to be in a gateway city like Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal. Research has shown that if you own a hostel in a rural area, folks will soon find out about them. You won’t become rich overnight but you will succeed. That’s why your hostel may also be your home as well. Why pay someone else’s rent when you can live in your own hostel?

Networking with other hostels is essential. You may have a natural distrust of your competitors down the road, but friendly competition doesn’t hurt anyone. Get to know your tour cycle companies, bus operators, tourist bureau, and the folks that operate trekking and water-related or ski sports. Make up a good brochure and send a few to your neighbouring hostels and even a poster or two. A comment book and a display rack are two common features at most hostels. That way you get a boost for your own hostel and hear comments about the others. Hostellers or backpackers are the best judges of whether a hostel is hot or not.




Freedom of the road

You might plan to offer tours around town, or have recreational nights, slide shows, barbeques. Get a few of the most recent movie videos. Have extra blankets, sheets, and pillows. Consider selling T-shirts of your hostel, post cards and a few items for sale. Have a few bicycles around to rent (or a canoe). Buy a few volleyballs, nets. Offer an internet station. And don’t forget you might need to add GST and PST to the cost of staying with you.


Making of a sign tree Thunder Bay International Hostel


So you’re ready to open. Get a local reporter to cover the opening. Get out the coffee and tea, the doughnuts and have a dignitary (it could be your mom) cut the ribbon.

Go to your local Internet provider for a decent website and a domain name and pick your email address so that you (and others) will remember it. Be palsy with the guide book publishers (especially Rough Guide and Lonely Planet the tops in the business.

Hostel owners can tell you that backpackers are more likely to travel from one hostel to another rather than from one city to another. Encourage others to start hostels especially where none presently exist. Other hostels are feeders to yours. Join your local tourist association- these folks are a wealth of information and support. Be a travel writer yourself and be informed about trends in the tourist industry.

Hostelling can be fun: the world comes to you and you are the richer for it.




Cycling across Canada, Thunder Bay

Many hostel owners and operators can attest that hostels are happy, helpful friendly places. Beez Kneez hostel tell it like it is: H=Helping, O=Others S=Share T=Terrific E=Experiences in different L=Locations. L=Listening, I=international, F=food, can’t forget the great food cooked here) E=explore (our little corner of the world. ) Hostel Life (Nancy Tanner, Whitehorse) Other hosts love meeting people from all over the world. We live vicariously through our guests says Charmead from Fat Salmon Hostel. Sadie House (Fernie Raging Elk) writes, and see people meeting together and becoming lifelong friends. Lloyd from Thunder Bay write: A hostel is hospitality in its rich Biblical sense. Matt Galbraith from Hostel Bear adds: Cela m’offre la chance d’apprendre et de parler plusieurs languages sur une base quotidienne. Claudia from Cand N hostel writes: There is certainly one setback to working at this hostel- a person must learn to say goodbye to people who touch their life like no other.




Proud owner Planet Traveler’s Hostel (Toronto), Anthony Aarts


Information can also be obtained from BHC/ABC at info@backpackers.ca.

For a hostel to join Backpackers Hostels Canada/Auberges Backpackers Canada (BHC/ABC) it requires an annual membership fee of $120.00-$240.00 per facility based on the number of beds and facilities and for your facility to match our mission statement: A friendly, warm, healthy and safe place for budget travellers.


Widmer Street looking north, Toronto; middle is Canadiana Backpackers



So you want to start a hostel?


Here are some tips.




(For more information on starting a hostel, visit this great website: Hostel Management)





Essay On Hostels
by Lloyd Jones
Hostel Management Hostel WikiHostel Management Hostel Forum



Also... Check out this Backpackers Hostel !:

Samesun Backpacker Lodges