Zostel Co-Founder Has A Message For Travellers

Zostel Co-Founder Has A Message For Travellers

Zostel is the largest and oldest backpacker-approved hostel brand in India and Nepal. Pioneering India's budget-stay, communal living culture, Dharamveer Singh Chouhan tells us about the experiences they aim to create.

Tsunami CostabirUpdated: Monday, June 17, 2024, 07:52 AM IST
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India’s travel trajectory has changed over the years, owing to factors like better connectivity, vloggers exploring offbeat places, online navigation and backpacker-friendly spaces that brands like Zostel create. Through their presence in 85+ locations, they appeal to a cult of people who seek social connection and cultural experiences. Their co-founder, Dharamveer Singh Chouhan, tells us things he has learnt about travellers and the travel experience.

Excerpts from the interview…

What was the vision for Zostel when you founded it?

The vision was simple - to change the way people travel by making safe, budget-friendly and hygienic hostels across the country. We also had a larger vision of bringing people from around the world to India. And for that, every corner needs to be made safe and easy to explore. 

What are the things you look for when curating new properties for Zostel?

We look for either offbeat locations or right in the heart of a city. As for franchisee partners, we look for a zeal to serve the travel community.

Does your brand follow any sustainable tourism practices?

We have built up Zostel with the spirit of community and promoting local entrepreneurship. We boost local architecture in design across our properties and work with Indigenous communities. We also promote entrepreneurship and small business development in remote as well as semi-urban areas.

Our communication across platforms and marketing channels encourages people to be responsible travellers. When it comes to sustainability, we organise cleanliness drives across our properties and train the on-ground staff in waste reduction and management. 

How, from your understanding, have Indian travellers evolved over the years?

Indian consumers are becoming increasingly discerning, and so are their needs and consumption patterns. Today, travellers prefer authentic experiences and adventures. They want to try local dishes, participate in cultural festivals, hear generational stories and connect one-on-one with the hosts and the place they choose to travel to.

Would you say Covid changed the trajectory of the tourism business?

The pandemic significantly impacted the trajectory of the tourism business in India. The tourism industry faced massive financial losses and international tourists plummeted due to travel bans. 

However, the post-pandemic revenge travel brought new trends into the industry. There was a noticeable shift towards domestic tourism, leading to the promotion of rural tourism. States like Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Kerala saw a rise in domestic tourists seeking nature and wellness experiences.

The rise of digital and contactless services like online bookings, virtual tours, and digital health passports became more prevalent. 

The tourism sector has seen a rebound in employment due to revenge travel. Opportunities like luxury travel, personalised experiences and private accommodations have also gained popularity.

What are things Zostel does to ensure a healthy community and social interaction?

We curate on-ground events at every property, such as music gigs and movie and match screenings. We also organise community hikes and games. We have some special common room games like Mafia, which is a favourite. Besides that, our common rooms let people socialise easily, and our community managers, interns and property managers help maintain the Zostel vibe.

How do you envision innovation within Zostels?

In the future, smart technology will be implemented in rooms for personalised experiences. Tech will also help us focus on tailoring experiences for customers. There is a growing demand for local tours, cultural workshops, adventure sports and wellness retreats that we can work on integrating into Zostel packages.

With the proliferation of remote work, we’re looking at designing multifunctional spaces that cater to both socialising and remote work, and developing business models that can quickly adapt to market changes.

What are key things you’ve learnt along your entrepreneurial journey?

Transparency and trust are the core of running a business. We operate in the most transparent way with our stakeholders. Also, community is the key driving factor in a hospitality business. One of the greatest benefits for us has been building the community with an increased focus on customer service. We have seen immense customer loyalty through the years.

Do you have a message for people who wish to travel? 

Two things. One, stay informed on travel advisories and health guidelines for your destination. And two, be a responsible traveller. Respect the environment and local culture, support local businesses and work on minimising your impact by reducing the amount of waste you create. 

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