Skip to main content

Hostel Owner

More and more people are spending time visiting as many parts of the world as they can. Serving the needs of those travelers is already big business -- and it's getting even bigger.

The number of people becoming owners and operators of hostels is growing. Hostels are already firmly established in Europe. But they are becoming increasingly popular in North America.

Elsa Freeman is the owner and operator of a hostel near Boise, Idaho. She decided to open a hostel because she felt she would have more free time than she had with the bed and breakfast she owned before.

"I chose a hostel rather than any other kind of lodging operation because it is much less labor-intensive," Freeman says.

"I owned a bed and breakfast prior to this and found that it was a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week operation. This is much more casual, and the guests basically take care of themselves. It also allows me free time during the day when the hostel is closed."

Freeman adds that there are a few rules of thumb to follow before launching into a venture such as hostel ownership.

"Before starting any business, one should understand that no matter how smart you think you are, or what a wonderful business idea you have, it takes a lot of planning, organization, time and twice as much money to get started than your careful budgeting allowed," she says.

"My rule of thumb has been that I would support my business for the first year, break even the second and hopefully make money by the third. If you can't do that and stay afloat, then don't even think of going into business for yourself."

Freeman adds that prospective hostel owners also need to ask themselves if they are cut out to be their own boss. Some people make wonderful employees, but are a disaster when it comes to running their own business, she says. You have to stay motivated to be self-employed successfully.

The type of people who frequent hostels played a role in Blair Acton's decision to open a hostel.

Acton says hostel patrons in general are more willing to help out with the chores.

"I preferred the type of customers that the hostels attracted," she says. "They are interested in a community spirit. Less staff is required because hostellers look after themselves -- they wash their own dishes."

Since opening her facility, Acton has become a firm believer in the role hostels play for travelers, especially those traveling alone or on a tight budget.

"Hostels are cheaper for the solo traveler. Even traveling in groups, the hostels can save the traveler money due to the cooking facilities," she says. "The common lounge where travelers can meet each other is one of the best benefits for travelers."

Acton adds that while the idea of hostelling is popular in Europe, it is still catching on in North America. The biggest challenge for hostel owners, according to Acton, is letting other North Americans know that hostels are not shelters for the homeless or government-funded free accommodation.

Anyone interested in owning a hostel might want to consider operating as an affiliate to one of the larger organizations, such as Hostelling International (HI).

Hostelling International has very strict guidelines that its affiliate hostels must follow. But the group can also provide a wealth of information for owners and operators during the set-up process and after the hostels are open for business.

Steve Bloomfield is the treasurer of a group associated with Hostelling International-American Youth Hostels. He adds that organizations such as HI are nonprofit educational organizations, with many operating on volunteer labor.

"There are still a few private hostels within our marketing and reservation network, but they meet international facility specifications and pass an annual inspection," he says.

The standards that affiliate hostels must meet include the number and types of beds available, as well as the number of sinks, toilets and showers available.

Bloomfield adds that American Youth Hostels organizes regional volunteer councils for program and hostel implementation. These councils also provide start-up assistance and ongoing management advice, which may be of use to operators of privately owned affiliate hostels.

Other benefits of affiliation include help with promoting the individual hostels, as well as help referring guests to different locations.

Robert Goulding's decision to own his own hostel came from his experiences on the inside, so to speak. After spending one summer working at a hostel, he decided to try it on his own.

"I was employed as a hostel manager for a season and fell in love with the work, the people and the concept," he says. "I thought that I could do a better job than the local HI hostel where I worked for a season and I was right!"

Goulding opened a hostel in Rapid City, South Dakota. With Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial nearby, Goulding was assured of a steady stream of tourists looking for affordable accommodation. One thing that Goulding quickly learned was that location -- while important -- isn't the only key to success.

"As important as market size is, there is one more thing that is even more important: do you have the temperament for it?" he says.

"Anybody can sell a bed. But can you make people want to come back? Unless you are in a major market and have unlimited funds to buy a place to warehouse people, you need to be out to do more than just make a buck. I run a small hostel and will never get rich at it. I love doing it."


Hostelling International USA
The site includes a budget travel center and links to hostels

Back to Career Cluster


  • Email Support

  • 1-800-GO-TO-XAP (1-800-468-6927)
    From outside the U.S., please call +1 (424) 750-3900


Powered by XAP

OCAP believes that financial literacy and understanding the financial aid process are critical aspects of college planning and student success. OCAP staff who work with students, parents, educators and community partners in the areas of personal finance education, state and federal financial aid, and student loan management do not provide financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice. This website and all information provided is for general educational purposes only, and is not intended to be construed as financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice.