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Sunday, 20 October 2013

Balkan Hostels, not exactly best friends of the booking engines

Bunk bed, an inseparable part of many hostel experiences.
If you are a regular user of hostels you might have noticed that the hostel industry runs according to the same principles as any other industry. It is the environment in which bigger businesses and corporations eventually swallow up the smaller ones. And those who take over are not necessarily nicer and/or have better values than those being taken over. However, the dominant ones are more visible (which helps them to get even more profit and grow).

I am not intending to point out 'good' and 'bad' things about the hostel industry here, but, for example, how do you usually search for and book hostels?

Many people simply go to one of the major hostel booking websites: these are convenient to use, include hostels from all over the world, and, usually, contain hostel photos & guest reviews. They charge you a deposit (part of your pay for the bed, normally, around 10 percent of the price for each night) and, sometimes, a booking fee (around 1.50 -2 euros, dollars or pounds).

The deposits and booking fees are how the hostel booking websites make their money. The 10 percent deposit that you pay as part of your overnight stay does not go to the hostel - it stays with the booking website. The 10 percent is your hostel's donation to the mediator. 

In order to be popular with booking-engines-using backpackers many hostels in popular tourist destinations have to lower their prices and this way to lose even more money. In return, the quality of many cheap hostels' facilities suffers. 

The moral would be not to stay at the cheapest places and to support smaller, unique businesses that have got some character, even if they charge you a bit more.

Another good thing you can do to is to book your stay directly with a hostel, avoiding the mediators, or simply to walk in. In this case the hostel of your choice will get 10 percent more income from you than it would have got if you used booking engines.

Surely, in certain locations using the established hostel booking websites may give you a sense of added security and credibility but it is up to you to decide.    

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Here in the Balkans, meanwhile, I have discovered two 'anti-booking-engines' hostel owners' initiatives: the 'Balkans Best Hostels' and the 'Balkan Backpacker'. Both are comprised of different 'hand picked' (read: best, most unique) hostels from several countries around the region, and both currently offer you, the traveller, a 10 percent discount if you book directly with them instead of using a mediator.

The first one has got a website; the second one only a flier which you can pick up at any of the participating hostels and use it to get your discount & collect stamps.

Have not tried the 'Balkans Best Hostels' yet but I have stayed at a couple from the 'Balkan Backpacker' group, and, yes, I can confirm that the quality of the facilities in one of them, the 'Aurora' of Niš, was truly above the average (as well as the setting inside a historical house); while one in Plovdiv had a good location and a nice homely feel.  

Text and photos (c) Agne Drumelyte, 2013.

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