Hostel on to winning formula

Last updated 01:40 03/03/2008
PHIL REID/Dominion Post
TWO IN A ROW: Chris Sperring, whose Wellington YHA hostel has picked up a second top hostel in Australia and New Zealand award in succession, says former travellers are his key employees.

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Wellington's YHA hostel has trounced the Aussies again, picking up the second top hostel award in a row.

As top-earning YHA hostel in New Zealand in a network of 51 hostels, the business formula that manager Chris Sperring has built up in his 10 years running the backpackers has rung true in one of the most competitive accommodation sectors.

The annual Hoscar awards, voted on by 600,000 travellers worldwide, judge hostels on character, security, location, staff, fun and cleanliness.

Winning the top rating in Australia and New Zealand again just bolstered the consistent 90 per cent and over occupancy rates, more than 20 per cent above many hostels. The key was the people, Mr Sperring said.

With more than half the staff employed for more than three years, the knowledge and competency at the hostel had endured - not the norm in a typically transient industry.

Former travellers were the key employees, with the hostel's reputation earning Mr Sperring the privilege of receiving one new CV a day.

Having familiar faces and people they could relate to counted for a lot with travellers. Making that a consistent feature as one of three 300-plus bed hostels in the country with 85,000 guests a year was a challenge.

"There is a perception that big hostels are impersonal. We focus on face-to-face contact," Mr Sperring said.

An active school and group market reinforced occupancy rates, and was attracted by the absence of a bar on the premises.

"That is a massive factor in our high occupancy. Being so close to Courtenay Place, we don't need a bar."

Mr Sperring admitted that the hostel was lucky with location - 50 metres from Courtenay Place on the corner of Wakefield St and Cambridge Tce - and that it had been a former seafarers hostel, which meant 60 per cent of rooms had bathrooms en suite.

Backpackers were increasingly shunning communal bathrooms in favour of their own personal facilities, which gave YHA an edge over other hostels.

Though they had enjoyed a case of Australian red wine after winning a bet with an Australian hostel on the Hoscar awards, Mr Sperring said next year was another challenge.

To be judged in the grand Hoscar Awards category against the entire world's hostels, YHA Wellington needed twice as many feedback forms.

"And that increases the chance of negative feedback, so we have to keep getting better."

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- The Dominion Post

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