“We are doing the best we can… but it is not the same”: hostel managers share their COVID insights.
GGV interviewed a local Italian hostel in Rome to learn about their challenges during COVID-19. Described as Rome’s “homiest and most chill hostel”, The Beehive was founded in 1999 by Linda and Steve. With a swarm of positive reviews and high ratings, they too struggle to stay afloat.
How has your business adjusted during COVID-19? Have you been impacted heavily?
We have been impacted heavily. Tourism has taken a very hard hit. Our business relies a lot on American, Australian, Asian, and Latin American tourists who are unable to travel to Italy right now. Since we reopened on 3 June, we are nowhere near back to our normal occupancy. All of our guests now are young, European, and booking last minute and booking dorm beds which is our least expensive room type. Our private rooms are all empty despite the very low rates. It's been great to see life and movement again at our hostel, but the low occupancy combined with the low rates (our rates are currently half of what they normally are) isn't going to be enough to get us out of the financial hole we are in. We've had to adjust by not being able to be fully operational. We don't have set reception hours and currently, we're unable to provide breakfast, our family-style dinners, or our cooking classes although we have been considering alternate solutions. We do have safety and hygiene measures in place, but most of the people staying with us don't seem to be particularly concerned about safety.
How has your local community been affected?
Our local community relies heavily on tourism - whether it's the small family-run restaurant or the local coffee bar. Businesses that one wouldn't normally consider as "tourism" or "travel-related" are still being adversely affected by the lack of tourism in the city. We haven't personally been hit with COVID cases nor have those around us, so thankfully from a health perspective, we haven't been affected. From the standpoint of our collective reaction, we have all accepted what we have to do without major complaints or resistance.
What measures have you taken to ensure safety?
Masks are required indoors at all times and in the shared dorm rooms, there are distances between beds of at least 1.5 meters. Common areas are cleaned daily and disinfected twice daily. There is hand sanitizer throughout. We don't clean private rooms daily in order to avoid exposure to guests and also to our cleaners as per new health guidelines. We use special cleaning products that have high alcohol content in order to clean & disinfect thoroughly and all surfaces are wiped down and disinfected in the private rooms between check-outs. We are unable to provide breakfast and our dinners at this time as there are not enough guests and even when there are, we're not entirely sure how we are going to handle it because of space restrictions.
Are you optimistic about the measures and the way your local government has
handled the situation? Why?
Tough question because although I think we did the right thing and support the measures if I'm not entirely optimistic about the future, it's not related to that. I think we can already see that our fast and in-depth response to the crisis brought the curve down as intended and saved our healthcare system and prevented a lot of deaths and hospitalizations. The Italian government is doing the best they can to alleviate financial difficulties but it's not an easy task. I think keeping the situation under control, at this point, requires people to stay the course, and what we're seeing especially now that the weather is warm, and its summer and people want to be on holiday is that people are having a hard time with that. People are getting very relaxed and although that hasn't had a hugely negative effect yet, it has the potential to put us in the same situation we were at before.
What would you want future guests to know about your business moving forward?
I want future guests to know that we're doing the best we can all things considered and to please be patient, compassionate, and understanding if we fall short of what our usual environment is like. I think if someone expects that they can travel around today and have the same hostel experiences as they did pre-COVID, then not only are they living in a fantasy world but perhaps they also aren't sensitive enough to what's going on to do their part in containing the spread. If a hostel provides the same experiences that they did pre-COVID without distancing or safety in mind and without any consideration of the fact that there is still this illness out there that can devastate lives, businesses, and communities, then I would have to question the ethics of that hostel. The social experience is a big part of hostel life and we do want guests to socialize, make friends, and enjoy their time here. It just has to be done differently now and done responsibly which may seem kind of boring to a young traveler but it's important and vital to us to ensure the safety of our staff, our guests, and ourselves.
Alongside the Beehive, many other hostels/hotels, restaurants, and touristic spots are taking the measures necessary to ensure safety for all foreign visitors. Tourists that come to a hotspot country with the intention of living a pre-COVID-19 lifestyle will have to adjust to the many constraints. In the coming future, it is likely that new measures will be taken to accommodate a long-term 1.5-meter society. We are still unsure of what this will look like, but only time will tell.
For more information on The Beehive, visit their website: https://www.the-beehive.com/.
You can also see how GGV addressed the issues faced by hospitality with a group of architecture students: https://www.good-goes-viral.com/rethinking-hospitality/