by Anne Dolan
Co- Founder, Clink Hostels
It's hard to believe that it’s been twenty years since my sister and I went backpacking, post-university. I love travelling. Besides opening our minds and horizons, it combines two of my favourite things - meeting people and seeing new places. Clink Hostels is the company I co-founded with my sister after our travels together, and fuelled by our love of hostelling.
Wherever we were in the world, finding a good hostel was like finding a home on the road. And there are so many great hostels, each with their own particular character. In those days, the set-up was usually pretty basic, but the sense of camaraderie and community at some of the places we stayed in was tangible and addictive. We knew it was the business we wanted to be in, but we wanted to do it better whilst still capturing that sense of warmth and friendship. Clink now has three ‘homes from home’ - two in London and one new and ambitious one in Amsterdam. There are plans afoot to open more Clink locations across Europe over the next few years. The aim for us? To be the affordable places to stay, where amazing city experiences start for our guests, to provide them with the knowledge they need to make the most of each city and, last but not least, to deliver unique surroundings that are friendly, fun, social and creative.
I’d certainly agree with BLLA in saying that there’s a kind of ‘hostel revolution’ going on right now. It’s a really exciting time to be in this industry and I’d venture to say that Clink are riding the zeitgeist with the best of them. Years ago, hostels catered solely to the backpacker market - travellers on the tightest of budgets who were willing to compromise on the comforts associated with hotel accommodation in return for a cheap bed. That’s all changed. Hostels today, certainly in the European market, have come to stand for something more; they’ve opened up to a new kind of traveller who is looking for affordable, well-designed, hip and social accommodation.
The average guest staying at Clink is around 24 years old. Today the traditional backpacker, like yesteryear, still wants to spend their disposable income on experiences in the cities they visit rather than paying for a smart hotel. A budget ‘no-frills’ hotel serves its purpose, but the new ‘boutique’ kind of hostel will win out for the discerning millennial traveller… and GenZ, who are already on their way! With a mixture of private and dormitory options, sharp event programming, and friendly, clued-up staff, the convivial atmosphere facilitates opportunities for authentic connections between both the city and people.
The word ‘poshtel’ often crops up in commentary surrounding this new generation of hostels. And it’s not hard to see why. An astonishing amount of time, effort and money is spent on ensuring that the interiors and furnishings are inviting, extremely comfortable and exciting. Alongside great interiors there are often an array of services you’d expect at top end hotels; bars and nightclubs, comfortable relaxation areas, great places to eat, well-trained, helpful and knowledgeable staff who often have as much local insight as the concierge in five star establishments – but a lot more price savvy!
At Clink we place emphasis on great design and great service – we worked closely with innovative Dutch architects on our recent renovation of the old Royal Dutch Shell Head Offices in Amsterdam. But, first and foremost, we pride ourselves on the friendliness of our teams at every Clink hostel. We aren’t flashy and we don’t really align ourselves with the word ‘poshtel.’ The main focus at our hostels is to make visiting a great city accessible to all. We want our guests to feel completely welcome from the moment that they step through the door, fostering a fantastic social experience and helping them to make the most of their trip.
For that reason, communal areas make up a big proportion of Clink's interiors. They’re designed in a way that’s really geared up for social interaction, with a perfect mixture of cosy corners and livelier areas. Our events teams do an amazing job of lining up in-hostel events most evenings, from cocktail making classes to scrabble nights! The teams are always happy to share their favourite local hotspots with guests. ClinkCREATIVE is our collection of programmes that bring art and music into the hostels. Musicians stay for free in exchange for playing a gig for our guests, artists can use space to paint and exhibit. Our initiative is to engage and connect creatives, travellers and the local community.
We’ve tried to maintain the idea that hostels are, above all else, about interactions; between places and people. We like to think that you can turn up alone or in a group at a Clink hostel and immediately feel part of a community. That’s what my sister and I loved so much about the good places we stayed in when we were backpackers. The standard of hostels has soared – and that’s a great thing – but I’m determined to make sure that Clink remains true to the essence of hostelling; the ‘home from home’ feeling that is at the heart of what we do.