For any guest, the hostel experience is way more than its location or its infrastructure: it’s first of all its atmosphere, created by the people who work there. These people can make any hostel shine, and, the opposite, can make it seem absolutely average or even beyond average. It is very common for hostels to use volunteers in exchange for a discounted or free stay, which is becoming an increasingly attractive option for backpackers. To receive volunteers might be easy, but to choose the right ones requires some consideration.
So what makes a good hostel volunteer?
Perhaps the obvious criterion is a match between the hostel type, or vibe, and the volunteer’s personality. Party hostels should want volunteers who at least like the idea of going out while hostels that are more quiet should want volunteers who enjoy that atmosphere, and so on. Yet in addition to this personality-hostel match, there are other important criteria to consider.
What to look for in a hostel volunteer partly depends on what exactly he or she will be responsible for. Even though the list of potential categories is an infinite one, let’s take a quick look at three categories, oftentimes mixed into one hybrid volunteering position.
To begin with, there is the receptionist. If not the face of the hostel, it is definitely the first impression of a hostel. Surely, an unengaged, uninterested and constantly tired receptionist is not a match for any type of hostel (or, well, a not a very nice hostel). On the other hand, a receptionist with a smile, who knows how to give guests a warm welcome, and who makes an appropriate amount of silly jokes seems much better. So, what to look for in a receptionist are three things at least: great interpersonal skills, essential languages, and tech-savviness not to mess up anything in the hostel’s property management system. Perhaps the ultimate test for a good receptionist is this: imagine you are after a long and uncomfortable bus ride, potentially hungry, and — oh no! — maybe even sick (let’s just add all of those unfortunate circumstances together!). You arrive at your hostel exhausted and just want to get to your bed. What kind of welcome, and what kind of person would you like to see at the reception? What kind of person to greet you?
Also, it is extremely important to remember that it is usually the receptionist who is the first one to deal with complaints. Here, just like in life in general, excellent interpersonal skills can help keep everything under control while poor interpersonal skills can lead to amplifying those complaints, potentially resulting in some painful reviews.
In our future articles we will explore the topics of hostel volunteers vs paid employees, but we will leave you with this: the importance of a good reception team can’t be overstated.
But so let’s move to the second category: the IT/art volunteer. These two seemingly different fields are put together here since hostels have been using volunteer work for graphic design, photography, online marketing, decorating the hostel with graffiti, and other areas. Here, what is needed are good intrapersonal skills: self-discipline, time management skills, and the ability to receive constructive criticism well. If one of these are missing, dealing with that volunteer can turn into a very unpleasant experience. Naturally, these qualities should come with the assessment of the volunteer’s portfolio, and, when possible, references.
And, last but not least, there is the volunteer that is helping hostels with their maintenance tasks. Cleaning, gardening, maybe even building or constructing something (where the category blends with the art volunteer): something that might imply some, but not much, interaction with the guests as well. Here, the personality features that hostels should be looking into are self-discipline, attention to detail, and, ideally, some experience with manual labor. Finally, being able to work in a team becomes very important here, as maintenance is a process usually shared by several people.
There is a matrix of things involved in choosing a good volunteer: categories of hostels, combinations of tasks, even different timeframes for which the volunteers are needed and how that affects the selection criteria. But it is essential to set that criteria, and to think of appropriate ways to measure how strongly the candidates match them. Like an exchange of emails, a Skype interview, a quicker or more profound examination of the volunteer’s portfolio, and other suitable ways.
A great volunteer can do unimaginably much for a hostel, just like a badly chosen one can negatively affect the guests’ experience, decrease hostels’ ratings, and even delay hostels’ strategic plans. To choose wisely means to make the hostel special, to make its guests forgive its imperfections, and to see the hostel grow.