Hostels are coming into their own, thanks to millennials who have caught the wanderlust but are not particularly keen on forking out large sums on luxe accommodations.
When you book a room at an upscale hotel, you get great service, lavish rooms, and a feeling of exclusivity. You can sit at the lobby and enjoy a cup of coffee or a cocktail without being bothered by anything more than the ambient noise of chill-out music and maybe the attendant discreetly asking if you would like to place an order to go with your drink. The same goes for the even more private quarters of the executive lounge where you can sit and read the papers or ponder your next deal.
A hostel, however, offers a different vibe, where you are encouraged to interact with other guests in a community setting made for sharing. As such, it’s cheaper because it offers the basics instead of the luxury found in larger hotel chains.
At Lub d Hostel in Makati, for instance, there are private rooms similar to those found in hotels. There are also two floors that have dormitory-style accommodations where you share lodging and bathrooms with fellow travelers, and luggage can be stowed in a baggage room.
What makes hostels different from hotels is that they foster a sense of community. Aside from shared rooms, a usual feature is a common area where you can hang out with other guests. At Lub d, couches are scattered about and you can enjoy popcorn, games, and pre-planned activities where you can get to know other people. It invites guests to mingle and talk about their backgrounds and travels in a setting conducive for conversations.
Lub d is a concept that was brought over from Thailand by businessman Patrick Pesengco. He is also the managing director of Novateur Coffee Concepts, which brought Nespresso to the country, and chairman and president of the Philippine Vending Corporation. “This is our first foray into the hospitality industry, which we have been looking at since 2014. We wanted to find a way to promote the Philippines to the rest of the world.”
He discovered Lub d by looking online. “Since we had no experience in hospitality, we looked at countries with the most competitive tourism, and that was Thailand. There, we saw the luxury hotel brands, which were Shangri-La and the Mandarin, then the mid-class hotel range, then for the budget sector, there was only one–Lub d.” He laughs as he recalls not knowing what a hostel concept was. “I thought, ‘What is a hostel, parang motel?’”
Further research into the concept convinced him that this was the space they could enter. It took two years, starting with a cold email, to convince the Thai owners to agree to set up in Manila. Now, Pesengco is up to task to explain the hostel concept to others.
As each Lub d property is unique, the Manila hostel has added its own feature, which the Thais have now introduced in their other hostels. “The family/barkada room is good for four persons, something they did not have in other Lub d hotels that only have private rooms and dorms,” Pesengco explains. “They saw it and decided to put that concept into their properties.”
Hostels may have previously conjured images of bedraggled backpackers, but with the growing demand and competition for accommodations at popular tourist routes, the image has changed. Hostels are also leveling up to provide value-for-money comfort.
On the local front, they are trying to develop the industry by creating industry standards. “In a focus group that we did in 2014, where we asked locals whether they would stay in a dorm based on our photos, they did not find the idea appealing,” he recounts. Now that the property is up and running, they get locals and foreign tourists from different market segments—backpackers, families with kids, students, and business travelers. They appreciate the convenience of the location, the friendly staff, and the value-for-money room amenities that include five-star beds. “People come here for the functionality, and they are surprised to see the relaxing ambience we offer.”
A rooftop restaurant/bar is opening soon, under the supervision of chefs Nicco Santos and Quenee Vilar of Hey Handsome and Your Local. Santos says that they are preparing food that is approachable in keeping with the Lub d theme. At night, the restaurant turns into a tapas bar where people can meet and mingle while enjoying drinks. Aside from the daily activities held at the common room, there are talks of offering a bar crawl in Poblacion in keeping with the property’s mission of promoting the country and the community.
More friends in the Philippines
In the 23 days that he was checked in at Lub d, American businessman Ricardo Madueno Rodriguez says that he met more people than when he was checked into the private rooms at other hotels. “During my first visit to Manila I was staying at another hotel across the street. This was being built back then, and I remember wondering what the structure would be. When I came back, and was checked into that same hotel, I just wandered over to take a look. I liked what I saw, so I decided to move in the next day.”
He commends the relatively young staff for being friendly and accommodating. “There is nothing you can ask from them that they wouldn’t do for you. You can tell that they have had customer service training.” He describes the common area as “almost like a living room where everybody congregates, there is a feeling of community here and with my long stay, they almost felt like family because they know me.”
Nicolas Mollet and Fanny Gonzalez are a couple from France who have been traveling the world for a year, coming to Manila from Japan. “We are used to booking things at the last minute, we booked the hotel 20 minutes after we arrived at the airport,” Mollet smiles.
They looked at the hostel online and liked what they saw. In fact, they liked it so much they decided to extend their stay from overnight to three days. “We feel very comfortable here,” Gonzalez says. “The staff are very helpful, they are approachable when we have questions, and when we have problems they help us find solutions. I feel their sincerity. This is a different experience from the other places we have stayed in.”
There are more testimonials on booking apps where people are looking to enjoy a different value proposition and experience the feeling of community that staying at a hostel brings. More industry players means more choices for guests, be it in the lap of luxury in a starred hotel or in a hostel where the emphasis is on fostering a sense of belonging.
Originally published in F&B Report Vol. 15 No. 3