Israel – Dead Sea Tour

Daniel and Jacqueline from Gomio, Ryan from HostelBookers, Dave from Clink

Daniel and Jacqueline from Gomio, Ryan from HostelBookers, Dave from Clink78

Towards the end of 2012, I was hanging out at the ‘Gomio World Hostel Conference‘ in Jerusalem. As I flew in a few days prior, I managed to meet a few of the other early arrivals and check out the sights of Israel. You cannot go to Israel and not see the Dead Sea! I remember being a young boy in Australia, hearing about tales of my friends parents floating on ‘magic’ water while on holiday… with water so salty it stung the eyes… and mud so rich in minerals it soothed the skin. It’s one of the sights that has been on my bucketlist for the longest time, so I was wrapped to finally get the opportunity.

As the majority of conference delegates were staying at Abrahams Hostel (the host property), they were kind enough to organise any tours we wished to participate in. They have a full tours desk inside the hostel – check out their tours operation and choices here:

http://www.abraham-hostel-jerusalem.com/en-us/activities/tours.aspx

The Dead Sea is the lowest spot on the face of the earth, and a natural health spa. Abrahams do a half day tour, which was a popular option for many delegates – a great half day escape! Trading in the cold start of winter in London for a warm sunny Dead Sea experience was definitely a highlight of the trip. Abraham’s Tour Bus takes you there and back, it’s an easy cheap option… you take a lunch or can buy snacks there. The driver doubled up as a bit of a guide and told us a few tales of Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and points of interest along the way – including the Mount of Olives and its churches.

The drive isn’t too long (40mins) and once there, it’s pretty much free time to lounge in the sun, have some mud fights and float in the Dead Sea! I definitely recommend to swim out over the rope buoy barriers and into the lake properly, as you really do get a better outlook as to just how big the area is. You can even see the bordering country – Jordan… and its tourists enjoying the same day you are on the other side of the lake. The lake is huge and we saw just one small part of it – nothing fancy, just a chilled spot with minimal fuss…. it was kind of ‘non touristy’ in a way – no built-up hotels or health spas where we were, which made the experience seem a little more natural, as mother nature intended.

Dip in the Dead Sea

Dip in the Dead Sea

Here’s 10  cool facts I learned about the Dead Sea:

  1. The Dead Sea is a saltwater lake – not a sea
  2. The Dead Sea is 3 million years old.
  3. Water flows into the Dead Sea from streams and rivers, but does not flow out.
  4. The climate of the Dead Sea region is sunny, warm and dry all year round.
  5. The high mineral & salt content of the water make it impossible for fish or plants to live
  6. The Dead Sea is one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world (33% salinity)
  7. You lay on the surface and float – you can’t drown. The high salt content makes you buoyant
  8. Egyptians used mud from the Dead Sea in their mummification of the deceased
  9. The minerals in the Dead Sea all naturally occur within our bodies.
  10. The unique salt in the Dead Sea treats acne, psoriasis, hives, cellulite, dry skin, dandruff, stress & muscle aches….and much more.

I had a great time in Israel and only wish I could have spent more time checking out the rest of the country, its sights and some kibbutz’s. I did mange to get across the border to Jordan to see Petra too… but I will leave that for another post!

You can reach Jerusalem by an airport shuttle bus from Tel Aviv – the most common way. I flew with Easyjet

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Hostels with the Best Staff!

Why are staff so  important? Because they make or break your business. Staff that are upbeat, helpful, courteous, fun, professional and knowledgeable – they will keep your customers coming back. Word of mouth goes a long way too… other travellers they pass along the way will learn of your property largely because of the impression the  staff make.

A hostel could have anywhere from a couple of staff to upwards of one hundred – across areas of reception, cleaners, cooks, guest relations officers, promotional crew, restaurant and bar service… that’s just the ones we see!

There are plenty behind the scenes too – an award for staff is a real team effort, something that all employees and employers should be massively proud of.

As Product Manager for HostelBookers, I am pleased to announce the hostels with the ‘Best Staff’ for 2013 – as  brought to you by HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’. All awards are based primarily on customer reviews. While I have the joy of selecting the winners, it is you – the customer, who has spoken!

Winners from around the world include the following:

Western Europe

oneparelelo

Eastern Europe

hostelone-prague

Oceania

Blue Parrot

Asia

matchbox

North America

usa

South & Central America

bossa

Africa & the Middle East

rainbow

Congratulations to all properties and their owners and staff – and happy travelling to the reader!

For a full list of HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’ 2013 winners – view here

http://www.hostelbookers.com/2013-top-accommodation/

Most European destinations mentioned are cheaply reached by budget airlines

I prefer to use Ryanair or Easyjet

Hostels with the Best Atmosphere!

What makes a property have great atmosphere? It can be a range of things – from fun at the property through events, music, lighting, overall ambience…. the mood, the vibe…. atmosphere is however you interpret it to be. Ultimately, atmosphere should aim to be a combination of all things that are aesthetically pleasing, that awaken the senses and make you happy! To a traveller, it can feel like you have hit the jackpot… an oasis of calm in a city of craziness – or perhaps a whirlwind of craziness and happiness when seeking thrills and adventure.

As Product Manager for HostelBookers, I am pleased to announce the hostels with the ‘Best Atmosphere’ for 2013 – as  brought to you by HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’. All awards are based primarily on customer reviews. While I have the joy of selecting the winners, it is you – the customer, who has spoken!

Winners from around the world include the following:

Western Europe

alfama

Eastern Europe

atillas

Oceania

dreamtimes

Asia

spicypai-backpackers

North America

nomadas-hostel

South & Central America

wildrover

Africa & the Middle East

waka

Congratulations to all properties and their owners and staff – and happy travelling to the reader!

For a full list of HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’ 2013 winners – view here

http://www.hostelbookers.com/2013-top-accommodation/

Most European destinations mentioned are cheaply reached by budget airlines

I prefer to use Ryanair or Easyjet

25 Cool Hostel chains worth staying in

…… in no particular order

1. Generator – founded in London, soon to open its tenth EU hostel – a juggernaut! Check them out

2. St.Christopher’s – teamed up with the ‘Beds & Bars’ group, funky, chilled, food and drink, good EU locations

3. Oasis – Lisbon, Malaga, Seville, Granada…. all very cool

4. Base – Australian & Kiwi hospitality at its best

5. Sant Jordi – an incredible 6 locations in Barcelona

6. Equity Point – great quality properties in Spain, Portugal, Morocco and USA

7. Flying Pig – Amsterdam, Uptown & Downtown… and by the beach in Noordwijk

8. Home – two central in Valencia, one in Barcelona… chilled

9. Dizzy Daisy – cool, four Polish locations and one Prague

10. Nest – funky Spanish, a favourite for travellers in Granada, Valencia, Barcelona, San Sebastian

11. Hatters – UK: Liverpool, Birmingham & Manchester

12. Smart – UK: multiple, central London locations

13. Journey’s – UK – three London, one Brighton… extending to Asia

14. Bohemian – cool hostels in Prague, well known group – look them up!

15. A&O – founded in 2000, largely German…. expanding through EU – considered the biggest chain

16. Meininger – well known German, plus London, Vienna, Brussels… set for big expansion

17.USA hostels –  California anyone?! Backpacker hostels in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego

18. Wombats – Austrian & German, recent opening in Budapest… next stop, Milan?!

19. PLUS – great hostels, plus camping…. Italy, Czech, German….. Berlin is amazing

20. Baxpax – funky German styling, three Berlin locations

21.Hip Hop Hostels – about a dozen in Paris – a collective

22. Palmers – posh UK, London times two…. and an opening in Zagreb, Croatia

23. Nomads – a brand affiliated with properties all over…. bigger in OZ & NZ… looking for world domination!

24. YHA – a brand affiliated with properties all over… big in UK, Scotland but some key Australia properties are best!

25. HI – a brand affiliated with properties all over… big in USA and Canada

There are so many great hostel chains and independent hostels out there… I have been so lucky to have visited a lot! Are there any not on this list that you think should be included?

Happy travels ))

Most European destinations mentioned are cheaply reached by budget airlines

I prefer to use Ryanair or Easyjet

HostelBooker’s Product Department – spotlight on!

Managing the Product Department at HostelBookers, I have the privilege of working with some great people both within and out of the workplace. I have five years expereince with the company and have seen numerous changes and realignments of strategies. Even my Department (once the contracting department) evolved into the Product Department about one and a half years ago, in order to manage the relationships more efficiently with properties and provide day to day account management.

Working in Product has the team oversee a number of projects and tasks, from gaining great rates and extra availability for customers, handling awards and merchandise for properties, contracting new properties to increase our product offering and attending business trips and conferences to broaden our own product and industry knowledge.

I thought it would be fun to introduce some of the team, what it means to them to work at HostelBookers and what some of their favourite and recomended properties they deal with are. All the team have regional accountability, so let’s start with one of the Team Leaders, Alida Zecca, who looks after the Italian market! Alida has worked in various departments so has a good understanding of how we call all work together well to achieve common goals.

Product Team Leader

HostelBookers Product Team Leader – Alida Zecca

Time at HostelBookers and best memory

“It’s almost 4 years! My best memory has to do with meeting amazing people that I am proud to call my best friends,  Anna R. and Marina! Even though they have left recently, they made my life in London and in HostelBookers much easier…. And of course, they were also part of a nice excuse to fly to Mexico and spend a couple of weeks with”

As Product Specialist, what are the favourite cities in your region… and why?

“Has to be Venice and Florence!

Venice – simply because it’s the most romantic city in the world. The city is a dream land, all the beautiful buildings, the crazy small alleys and the amazing canals. They make sure every step you’ll take…will take your breath away!

Florence – it’s also extremely beautiful and romantic, especially after the sunset! A strength of Florence is also the great food and wine they have there… If you like you steak rare and your wine red, then Florence has no equals in the world!”

Which properties would you personally stay in and would happily  recommend to other travellers?

“Hmmmmm….. I think ‘Ostello Bello’  in Milan – super fun , super quirky, amazing location and Aperitivo!

‘Palazzo Guardi’ in Venice – incredible boutique hotel, amazingly posh and elegant… ideal for a romantic break or just to make you feel a little special.

‘Aramis Guest House’ in Florence – Beautiful and extremely well-kept B&B in the heart of Florence, minutes from everything with all comforts included!

‘Seven Hostel’ in Sorrento – a piece of paradise.”

Senior Product Specialist

HostelBookers Senior Product Specialist – Lilia Taguiam

On of my Seniors and longest-serving members, Lilia Taguim, looks after the largest and most diverse region at HostelBookers – Australasia! Lots of challenges with different time zones and language barriers, however this does not deter the cheeky, angelic warrior tackling a huge amount of work and requests on a daily basis.

Time at HostelBookers and best memory

“I have been with HostelBookers for over 5 years and as I have grown older, I have developed and nurtured good relationships with my team mates so they are my friends. I have also been given the chance to grow within the company and be the best that I can be as a professional.”

As Product Specialist, what are the favourite cities in your region… and why?

“Melbourne, Australia – Huge city with just so much attractions to offer and visit, easy access to everywhere. City and beach… love the trams, food, shopping etc.

Hong Kong – Good for families because of theme parks like Disneyland, Ocean Park…great value shopping, food, Wi-Fi everywhere”

Which properties would you personally stay in and would happily  recommend to other travellers?

“In Hong Kong: Bishop Lei International House – a rooftop pool where guests can unwind and sunbathe, lovely staff.

In Melbourne: Space Hotel – Great location, very clean and well maintained property, big kitchen, lovely rooftop, movie room, good staff. Everything was clean, spotless & perfect

In Sydney: Bounce – Amazing Rooftop! It has a cover that is remote-controlled, so when it rains they can close it so the rooftop furniture doesn’t get wet. They also have big and spacious common areas and a restaurant next door. It’s walking distance to Central Station. Again, great staff, very clean and well maintained.

In Singapore: Bunc Hostel – after all my property visits, I could say this was the best hostel there is in Singapore. It’s located in Little India where you can find the only 24 hours shopping centre “Mustafa”. There is a ladies room, rooftop deck, kitchen…. And if you don’t want to cook, then restaurants in the area offer exotic food such as “cereal prawns, salted egg crabs, Chili Or Black Pepper Crab, BBQ Stingray etc”

Product Specialist

HostelBookers Product Specialist – Khalid Ichaoui

Khalid Ichaoui started off as an apprentice with me at HostelBookers and is one of the success stories of what a lot of hard work, diligence and great work ethic can lead to. Now a fully fledged Product Specialist, the youngest member of the team primarily looks after the very important and growing North American market… and has recently taken on a few extra countries for good measure, including Argentina and Cuba.

Time at HostelBookers and best memory

“Three and a half years, working my way up! My best memory…. Hmm…. does this have to be work related? Right now I’m thinking how I scored a goal at Upton Park – and was the first Moroccan to do so!”

As Product Specialist, what are the favourite cities in your region… and why?

“Los Angeles – best weather in the US with a yearly average of 18°C! The “City of Angels” has so much to offer, from star spotting on Rodeo Drive, the Griffith Observatory… to museum hopping between the Getty and LACMA!”

Which properties would you personally stay in and would happily  recommend to other travellers?

“Well – ‘Chicago Getaway Hostel’ – awesome facilities, very clean, fun staff and great value for money! Our customers think so too, as the hostel was voted our #1 property in North America!

Freehand Miami –  Ever wondered what it’s like to stay at a boutique hostel? The Freehand Miami offers an experience not be missed. You will enjoy a unique design with hand crafted interiors, local food and drinks at the hostel bar (The Broken Shaker), all in a sociable environment with other like-minded travellers. Oh… the hostel is situated between Miami Beach and South Beach!

USA Hostels Hollywood: The USA Hostels Hollywood offers fun, clean, value-driven accommodation for travellers who want the most for their money. The hostel is situated in the centre of Hollywood surrounded by theatres, the world-famous walk of fame and LA’s hottest bars!

USA Hostels San Francisco: Another winner at the HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’ 2013. The hostel won an award for best staff two years in a row! In addition to the fun driven environment, the hostel is an ideal location for exploring San Francisco. You are minutes away from Union Square, Chinatown, Japantown, the historic cable cars and some of San Francisco’s best shopping!”

Overall, we have ten Product Specialists who are happy to give you their tips and recommendations…. just drop me a line and let me know where you are going – and we will be in touch!

Most European destinations mentioned are cheaply reached by budget airlines

I prefer to use Ryanair or Easyjet

Best new Hostels to visit in 2013

Best new Hostels, based on customer reviews and according to HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’ 2013 are:

Western Europe

one80

Eastern Europe

circus

Oceania

14

Asia

Hatang

North America

HI

South & Central America

ukelele

Africa & the Middle East

nari

For a full list of HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’ 2013 winners – view here

http://www.hostelbookers.com/2013-top-accommodation/

Most destinations mentioned are cheaply reached by budget airlines

I prefer to use Ryanair or Easyjet

Big hostel brands set for European expansion in 2013

Hostel chains expanding in 2013: News keeps on breaking of big, well-known, award-winning chains expanding to all parts of the globe.  This is especially true in Europe – where student, family and budget travel for business and independent travellers shows no signs of slowing down.  A demand for trusted and cool budget accommodation is literally hitting new highs!

This is possibly fueled by the global financial crisis that we still find ourselves in…. ironically, somewhat complimenting our budget accommodation industry who are left asking ‘What GFC?!’ People still travel and it seems that what was not an option for some previously, now is… the rise of the hostel, or the concept of what a hostel should be and offer, keeps on adapting in these hard times and is reaping the benefits. People from hotel backgrounds are cashing in on the hostel product, bringing their expertise to the market.

For most the prominent chains, bookings and revenue are strong – making new openings possible. However, the news of the chains or ‘big boys’ coming to town has left a lot of smaller, independent properties quaking while they wait to see just what kind of impact the introduction of extra beds from brand expansions will have on their business. A great example is Barcelona, who this year alone are set to be inundated with a few thousand extra dorm beds.

logos

As Product Manager at HostelBookers, if I look at the three brands that have recently won the ‘Best Chain’ category for our Awards for Excellence, I can see that 2013 is going to be a big year for expansion for them in particular. Recently while in Berlin for ITB, I managed to catch up with some of these brands…. and more.

So – the first three from our recent Awards:

GENERATOR – Berlin & Barcelona.

I went to a cool party they put on the night before ITB started. They billed the party as ‘ for one night only, rising from the foundations’ of the new property about to open in Berlin Mitte… and what a property it is set to be! It’s on the same strip as Meininger and well placed in a backpackers hub of town. However, this is just one city set to benefit from a Generator opening….. Barcelona will have two, a hostel and a hotel (same building, two entrances and receptions)…and other cities with strong, rumored interest include Rome, Milan and Amsterdam… no sign of slowing! Their new logo and re-branding is epic….. forget what you once knew…. Generator has jumped a few levels!

http://generatorhostels.com/en/destinations/barcelona/

http://generatorhostels.com/en/destinations/berlin-mitte/

EQUITY POINT – Prague.

They have secured a prime location and building and renovation work and just about finished, with their newest property set to open just after Easter. A great location, just over Charles Bridge in the Mala Strana district….. an area screaming out for a classy hostel and boost of youth to its historic area under Prague Castle.

http://www.equity-point.com/en/hostels-prague/equity-point-prague/hostels-prague.html

PLUS – tbc…

Currently riding high off the huge success of what is PLUS Berlin, which really upped the ante of their overall product and brand offering two years ago….. the PLUS crew are scouting for new locations and are set to make announcements soon…. speaking to some of the managers, it is clear that they are after steady growth, with the plan to open up a new property every few years… so I guess that time has come! Keep an eye on their website for their latest, exciting news http://www.plushostels.com

Now, other big brands about to expand that you probably know of if you travel / work in the industry:

ST CHRISTOPHER’S – Paris.

A second hostel for them in this beautiful city set to open soon, around the corner from Gare du Nord station….. how central can you get?! The recent opening of their Barcelona property has seen them rise to the top of Barcelona bookings and ratings quickly. They even won ‘Best Newcomer’ for the Barcelona property in HostelBookers Awards for Excellence… as well as ‘Most Popular’ for the Prague Mosaic House – so expectations ride high for what they can achieve in 2013…. expect more openings other than the immediate Paris open this Spring! http://www.st-christophers.co.uk/paris-hostels/gare-du-nord

MEININGER – Brussels & Barcelona.

They won ‘Best Value Hotel’ in HostelBookers recent ‘Awards for Excellence’. Interestingly, there has been a very recent shift in the ownership and management of this company – with Eric Van Dijk (previously overseeing the Generator expansion) being hired as part of the new Meininger line up. Meeting with a rep recently at ITB, I can confirm that there is strong focus on acquiring openings in London (more) and Amsterdam (new). Their Brussels property was the latest to open… an excellent budget choice hotel / hostel for the numerous business travellers the city attracts.

http://www.meininger-hotels.com/en/expansion/

WOMBATS – Milan…. This is most likely set to open early in 2014…. as stated on the bottom of their email signatures. Their newer Budapest property has been a big success…..also picking up an Award for Excellence for Cleanliness. But don’t expect them to stop at Milan in 2013/14 either… great properties, giving travellers exactly what they want! http://www.wombats-hostels.com/about-us/investor-relations/

A&O Hostels – Vienna & Graz. By far the biggest ‘hostel’ chain…. Vienna opens this month and is massive at almost one thousand beds! Just look at their run sheet of locations they are scouting….if you were ever thinking of  getting into the business, now is the best time

http://www.aohostels.com/en/about-aampo/new-openings/

Most destinations mentioned are cheaply reached by budget airlines

I prefer to use Ryanair or Easyjet