Barcelona is booming. Tourism levels are at an all-time high… and everyone wants a piece of the Catalan pie! Unfortunately, it’s only natural with so many properties on offer to tourists that some are going to be ‘illegal’…. Times are tough in Spain – people want to make money… but at what cost? At who’s detriment?
As Product Manager of HostelBookers, I have learned that especially over the past few years there has been an alarming influx of these ‘illegal’ properties trying to infiltrate the market. This may mean that they:
A. operate without a business license altogether OR
B. operate without a valid business license IE – not a true representation of the type of license they should hold, in comparison to what they are
While a lot of these licenses are legible in the various languages they are submitted in, it is also quite common that they are written in a regional language other than a standard Spanish understood by many OTA employees. In Spain, there are seventeen different regions, each region usually with their own laws and language. In Barcelona, Catalan is common for legal documents – very difficult for many Spanish staff to interpret every line as meant. While OTA’s have multiple dedicated departments, they are not dedicated legal specialists who are able to decipher every contract in every region, for every language… the amount of time needed to achieve this is largely unattainable.
So what happens when these ‘illegal’ hostels and properties are operational and ‘stealing’ bookings… what can the legal properties and organisations like ACATUR do? They report them to local authorities, who visit the property to view the license and premise. In turn, they fine them and grant them a period of time to obtain the correct license. The property is not immediately shut down… and therefore will sometimes stay on the books of OTA’s… this happens again the next month… and the next. Another small fine in comparison to what the property earns, with further extensions granted.
Frustration ensues from the ‘legal hostels’ of the lack of action of local authorities to follow through their job professionally. They feel they are not supported. Who can they go to who will listen – who will assist? OTA’s are limited in the actions they can take. It really does greatly start and finish with the local laws and authorities – the people that govern and oversee this part of the industry in Barcelona.
ACATUR have obviously presented their case on T.V (see link to program in Catalan) and at various conferences held by OTA’s. Their concerns are not just for their businesses, but also the customer. Fire & safety issues are raised, especially if there are not adequate escape routes on premise for a business operating on incorrect licenses. This is detrimental to the customers, the holidaymakers who unassumingly and potentially are putting their lives at risk.
Mats Diedrichsen, Director of Ecommerce at HostelBookers, flew to Barcelona recently to discuss the concerns of ACATUR. While sympathetic to their cause and happy to explore what HostelBookers can do to help their situation, he admits that there are limitations… and agrees that the local authorities must do more to lead – not just assist. Asked on his impression of ACATUR, he states ‘ They are a very well organised hostel organisation…by far the best that I am aware of. The PR coverage in local press in Barcelona is very impressive. Other destinations that have similar issues should really take a look and follow their lead.’
Many new properties that have entered the Barcelona market recently are not just legal – but huge. St Christopher’s already opened last year and made a big splash – winning ‘Best Newcomer’ in HostelBookers ‘Awards For Excellence’. In the lead up to Summer 2013, over a thousand new dorm beds are estimated to be on the way. Generator is set to open a hostel and a hotel imminently…. and multiple applications are made from new Barcelona properties weekly to advertise on OTA sites. No wonder why other hostels who have had it so good for so long are sweating. Their businesses are being hit from all angles… and they have little control of this.
Having monitored and being well informed of the illegal property situation, Miguel Moreno, Product Team Leader at HostelBookers states ‘Generator, St. Christopher’s – this is the type of competition that ACATUR and legal hostels and properties don’t mind, as it is fair competition. These are the types of properties that give our industry a good name… they don’t ruin the good reputation of the legal hostels like Urbany, Equity Point and Be Hostels. It is the illegal hostels, the ones that don’t have a proper reception, that do not have to pay for things like licenses, insurance, pay tax for employees…. these are properties that introduce an uneven playing field… they pay nothing, but poach business and earn the money that should be distributed to valid businesses. If they wish to play, they should do so on an equal basis. They need to pay for proper licenses or face being closed down by local authorities’.
Carles Gras – Director of ‘Equity Point’ and President of ACATUR, was kind enough to comment on the situation that ACATUR and Barcelona find itself in today. When asked about their next steps, he states ‘Next steps for ACATUR are to reinforce contacts with local authorities so we are their contact for whatever happens related to the hostel industry. We also participate in the new law for hostels in Catalonia. At the same time, we have started contact with all portals selling hostels beds’.
I ask, ‘Have there been any property closures recently, based on the work you have done?’ Carles replies ‘Yes, there has been one property closure, and a second one is very close according to our information.’
The growing strength behind ACATUR has led to an influx of interest on membership and benefits. Carles clarifies this area with, ‘To be a member of ACATUR you just need to download the form from internet, www.acatur.cat and send it to us with your licences from the local authorities (all of them). Only fully licenced hostels that have passed all controls can be a part of ACATUR. The association has a low cost for members and there is no commercial work to be paid. We do all our work by ourselves using our time without any paid salary from ACATUR’.
So what are the benefits? Carles says, ‘The benefits should be visible the following years if we can regulate the sector. We want the following – that being a part of ACATUR represents for our members a signal of quality in the market’
So – ACATUR have definitely made progress. People are waking up…people are listening and understanding the problems that Barcelona’s legal hostel and hotel industry currently face. OTA’s are making the effort to fly to Barcelona, to explore ways that ACATUR and the industry can be supported. The hostel industry is still far away from being regulated, but at least there is a start – a foundation for others to build off. Like New York’s problems before it, Barcelona will not be the last city to experience illegal operators who destroy the industry’s good name and consumer’s perception. However, new organisations like ACATUR can be formed in other cities… to stand up and make a difference.
“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”
Famous Quote from Edward Everett Hale
…… 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!
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
One80° Hostel have picked up yet another award – this time from Hostelbookers in their recent Awards for Excellence. I met up with some of their managers at ITB today to congratulate them of their win. Stella Lindemann, Guest Relations Manager for the property says of the win, ‘Wow, we did not expect to win anything, being new and not established….but now it feels like we made it! All the work, the blood and sweat, it all makes sense!’
Asked about the brand philosophy of One80°, she continues, ‘We are all a team. We all live and breathe One80°…it is love, positivity, kindness. It is a love for Berlin that comes from the staff, the knowledge….being informative and helpful.’
Walking into One80°, one could easily expect to be in a hotel. High spec finishes, high quality materials, vast communal spaces and am amazing basement nightclub and band room. Part of the Azure hotel group, they are quick to add, ‘we are definetly a hostel! This is part of the philosophy. We are a hostel, but from a hotel background. We bring a different perspective – a high customer focus but easy atmosphere’. Stella should know, her title says it all… Its not something that a typical hostel provides, but something found in four and five star hotels.
Asked about the biggest challenge faced when opening, Stella says, ‘It was to get people to see and recognise something new. For OTA’s to see us as a serious player. That, and the size – over seven hundred beds is big..we were so surprised at how many beds we sold…. A huge amount…even before we had opened. It was a high anxious energy when we opened. The first few days, all of a sudden it was all hands on deck….there was chaos, but in a beautiful way, where everyone worked together and it just became normal…it gelled.’
Already under an investor group of hotels, I ask if the One80° ‘hostel’ concept will be pushed further. I’m happy to know that their investors are already scouting for other locations. Where this will be is anyone’s guess, although Prague and London seem to denote a positive response. Wherever it is, the location must be central to attract a young and funky crowd – something which lent to the success of the current stand alone property in the heart of the city, Alexanderplatz. You know you are in Berlin when the looming view is the iconic TV tower ‘Fernsehturm!’
‘What about the name – there must be something in that?’, I ask. Of course there is a story which encompasses the response already given. Stella states, ‘Yes – One80° was thought of by the investors…. As they worked in hotels and wanted to open a boutique conceptual hostel, it was a one eighty degree turn on what they did, on what they thought a modern hostel should now offer…a hotel approach in a hostel environment…so, the brand is born!’
Brand?! Yes, confirming the brand again is exciting – a brand that is set to grow quickly off the back of the current success of one of the best new hostels opened in recent years. Not just in Europe, but worldwide. A feat that all Berliners should be proud of – party and highly desirable travel capital of Germany.
So what next for the current product? What has been missed that could be introduced? What other strategy is there for 2013? Both girls giggle and talk of how cool it would be to have a rooftop terrace, an infinity pool or rooftop lap pool, but these are most likely ideas for the next hostels. For now, the concept is perfect. The strategy revolves more around pushing the club facilities and promoting bands and dj’s, who they are happy to give a few free nights stay to in exchange for service and talent.
Julia Schroeder, Sales Manager adds, ‘All of us, the owners and investors, are really happy with the awards we receive. To see everything come together, from the design, to the customers, to the atmosphere created in our communal spaces where people are working, socialising, having fun….its amazing! We just didn’t realise the affect it would have.’
Chatting with the girls, I can see the passion and enthusiasm they have for the business. Julia has excellent experience in hospitality management, which she studied and worked in places such as the London Ritz Carlton and the Holiday Inn Berlin, before being snapped up by the Azure group. On the other hand, Stella comes from a teacher background, bringing the nurturing and caring side into the customer relations mix. They are a dynamic duo, riding a high wave of celebrated success.
So, who knows what is next? It seems like anything is possible for the One80° concept. Philosophy and strategy aligned, the Azure group’s next projects sound set to be touched and turned to gold…this could be the new brand to take on the likes of current ‘best chain’ winners Generator, PLUS and Equity Point in future years! Congrats!
For a full list of HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’ 2013 winners – view here