A talk with - Rafael de Morais - Manager of Sant Jordi Hostel, Lisbon
So the history of the the company actually started in 1999. You know we had like a student apartments for the people that come to Barcelona to study like Erasmus studies or doing their own master from the University. So we prepare like apartments for them at good price, good service; so they are able to use the kitchen and get 24 hour maintenance.
But we realised; the company realised that during summer time the students leave Barcelona. They don't stay and during the summer our apartments were empty. After a couple of years, in 2003, we decided to open a hostel. It was one of the old apartments; the biggest one we improved and made the rooms, and put some bunk beds inside. We renovated the hostel and made some cozy decorations.
It was a success! We started small, no 24 hour receptionist and after two years we opened extra three hostels. All of them are small hostels as well like between 20 to 40 beds and then the company started growing up and growing up. In 2009 we opened another hostel that is Sant Jordi Sagrada familia and then over there we open it as a team hostel. We realized that we needed to make some change, not just make a hostel with a bunk bed, we like to offer more to our guests. So 2009
with skate, we had a team for skate, we have a mini ramp and this hostel's all decorated based on skate. Later on we realized as well, there's more hostels that were not making much money, and they started to have problems because the people; the guests started to ask for more. Like example, in a small hostel you're not able to put a 24-hour reception, it's not worth it and you start to lose your money.
So we decided to close the three hostels that we opened before. The first one, we kept it. until last year, when you decide to close, you know the first one is hard to close, actually two years ago. Then we started opening more hostels like Rock Palace and and Sant Jordi Gracia. And in 2016, we decided to start looking for hostels outside and in 2018 we bought it - Sant Jordi hostels, Lisbon; this hostel.
Right now we have three hostels in Barcelona and one hostel in Lisbon. Alright this building is from... actually it looks very much older than what it actually is i think it's from...
1919. So it was actually one rich family that bought this place and made this place and then they said, that there was one child that was sick and some nuns started to look after this child, but this child later on died. So the family decided to donate or sell it to the convent, serviço de maria was the name. Actually i don't know exactly when they left this place. When we bought this place there wasn't...
like we know there was a convent but they weren't here, we didn't buy directly from them. So when we came in to look at this place, as we have temp hostels, we saw the opportunity to do a lot to this place, for example we have a three huge garden space, such a nice building, beautiful and well decorated. So we saw opportunity and we know, for example, nowadays people are looking not only for a bed. They wanted the facilities, they look for opportunities; what you can do in a hostel, like a five-star hotel. When you are in the five hotels not for the bed, you stay because the facilities that they offer. So our plans over here is to create and innovate a lot of stuff, like doing a swimming pool and doing activities during the day. So over
here we have this opportunity. We think in the future we will be able to do much more than we are doing right now. Actually when you have this type of building, you already are giving the first experience to the client from when they make a reservation.
They are in an authentic portuguese building that has a history behind, that the people are interested in, so they have this first experience. When they arrive, during the check-in, we're very welcoming, smiling and trying to help as much as we can. Showing them what we have.
For example, before COVID we were doing activities inside the hostels, like dinners, like yoga. Also we have our own bar, our own private bar so we start pre-drinks over here and later take people to go on a pub crawl. So making people interactive with another and that is very important when you have hostels. Not meeting only the staff but making them meet other guests because there are some guests that are so shy, so they don't like to... not that they don't
like to talk with another guest, but they are shy enough to try to you know meet, so we say this person is also from your same country or they're going to travel to the same place as you. So you may meet and then you start to to make it. Like one guest meets another one, makes a friend and exchange experience. So that actually is the slogan of the hostel. Our hostel, Sant Jordi is more than a hostel. It's
a life experience. My... I love to travel, always.
I studied tourism, I graduated in tourism. Yeah definitely! I choose to work in a hostel because it's different than when you are in a hotel; they're very serious, very like polite. In a hostel you can be you. You can be like the person that you are, your personality you know, talking friendly and you make one guest your friend. And this, I love it.
Everybody who choose to work in a hostel is because of that. Not taking the job... I mean, take the jobs seriouslly but at the same time have fun, you know.
Sant Jordi I chose when I arrived in Barcelona. I stayed in Sant Jordi in one hostel and i made a friend with one receptionist, and as we got along, my friend, she recommended me to get the free vacancy. since 14 years ago, I'm still working here for Sant Jordi. 207 00:08:05,360 --> 00:08:08,319 I'm happy with it. Since three years I lived inside of one hostel, One of the ones we closed that was a small, the one in Barcelona. I used to live over there and the one that is Sant Jordi Sagrada familia that was a temp. Living inside of the hostel is also, it's great. Honestly, you meet a lot of
people that you are happy with all the time. For me, it's not annoying, I do not feel that when you're working 24x7. But I never had this feeling, i never felt alone, that is the good thing. Maybe when you rent a room, you only know people from, like your flatmates. In a hostel you have a lot of people, you meet a lot of people, you're always having fun. If you want to go out
any day, you always find one person to go out with, so you always have good company, so yeah. Nowadays i'm not living inside of the hostel because one thing is I left the reception. This is one and then I have other responsibilities, so that I can keep staying in the front desk like doing the reception live-in. But when I come to lisbon, I always stay inside of the hostel and see the environments, also our staff; how are they doing. And how the guests are feeling, talking with them. Not even telling them that I'm one of the staff members just to see, because sometimes the people want to say a lot of from the hostels, they want to keep it. Sometimes
they're right, but I prefer when they tell you like in the front, then you have opportunity to change, to give a solution. So it's better than actually writing one review. if they write, it's good as well. We always say, "you can write but you know we're gonna correct it" so we always give an answer. Imagine, sometimes they write in a very simple way and then when you read, you think this is not fair... but because you love this place, you wonder how they don't like it? For example, we offer a lot of activities and they say "I couldn't meet people" but you know, how couldn't you? We offer free pub crawls, we offer dinner, we have one bar. In this place
you know you had opportunity to to meet people, but did you use it? This opportunity to meet one person, to make one friend. So when you know, when you got it and that's you... you can give opportunity to them to meet and then you talk and then you change the mentality of them. [Music] how to do you involve with the local? right. 293 00:11:16,079 --> 00:11:21,519 This year now after COVID started usually we only have our bar for our clients and then we noted, for example, from last year, some guests want to meet local people so that's when we promoted one bar outside that we call Imperial Garden. So that we can meet people from Sant Jordi, you know.
Nowadays like locals people can come and visit us and stay and enjoy our bar at a cheap price, and then meeting another guest. So that way that we can make Sant Jordi involved with the neighborhood. And also many many guests and like many many locals, when they see emblematic building, they enter inside to see how it has changed you know. For example, some of them know this, for example, the reception was the chapel. And they said "wow it's so different right now, I was at the mass, I was sitting here, and had a mass and then right now you made it one reception."
It's like they're impressed as well, like how we did the change and how right now it's the hostel that changed the place for whomever was over here in the past like watching the mass. So it's completely different. Like different type of business, for example, convent and hostel. our staff always is international, usually they're international. We have like um we also have locals, like the manager over here is from here. We're actually
looking for people that like to stay in the city Lisbon. And that they love the city and then they can transmit that to our guests on how beautiful Lisbon is. So for our staff, at the minimal level, they need to speak portuguese. So there is a minimal level
of portuguese. For emergencies, I don't know... sometimes if you need to call an ambulance, you need to speak portuguese or pharmacies if you need to help and if authorities come over here, they have to understand. So basically, we get international staff, they need to speak english, english and portuguese; minimal in portuguese. And if it's a local they must speak english at a high level.
Imagine if your staff is the one that's going to transmit the city. They're going to show you Lisbon, how wonderful it is! So imagine if you're not happy with the city and say "Oh wait! Where is the Rossio?" and they say "oh you have to walk a lot to get there" "don't take the bus, there's a lot of traffic at this time" but when you love it, you never... you don't care about these small thing, so you transmit this "it's like a very short walk, it's nice and you are going to see like portuguese buildings" And this is like how we look and what we look for in staff to work with us. The one that transmits what they feel about the city, because you can say a lot of excellent things about the city, but you can also say a lot of bad things about it too. How all big cities have this thing. but you have to put in a schedule...
You have to decide, so we decide to hire always the person that loves it, why they love it, and here they used to go because it's quite a fun. For example, when you're looking for a local restaurant and you find one and then you show one tourist, and then the tourist started to talk with another one and another one, and this place stopped to become a local restaurant. It starts to be a tourist restaurant and you have to find another one and another one.
So this is the good thing, when you are in a city like this, and your staff show them where are the locals you know, like places with no other tourists. Because we're looking for authenticity and definitely this place was in the past! And then nowadays it's becoming so touristy and "oh no no, don't go there, it's very tourist" and the price starts to go high but for example, with this hostel actually the good thing, we are not very close to... We are very close to the city centre but we are not in the city centre, we're like a 10 minutes walk away. And this neighborhood, it's really good, also about finding local restaurants. It's also very safe, anyway.
If people say that in Lisbon it's cheap to eat and drink, this is the neighborhood! One of the neighborhood. City centres always increase the price. Over here, it's always like for the locals, for the people that work nearby. So that is like a good place to make one hostel as well. Where you stay with the locals. You know, not in a touristy area or a busy, noisy area, like the city centre.
I think, for example, when we decide to come to Lisbon, we knew the competition over here is high. So Lisbon won a hostel award; like awards every year, and in the past from hostels here. In Barcelona we won as well, and we decided to come over here. We know that over here there is very high competition, but we are not afraid of it. If we want to do our best, we don't need to be afraid of our competition, we just need to do our best and actually the competition helps you because it improves you and make you better, you know. Improving you to think of new ideas and what the new people are doing.
What they're improving new in the hostels, what they're improving inside, which type of activities... So we know in the past like 20 years, the evolution of a youth hostel was like unbelievable! It started with like a lot of beds in one room to putting less beds that gives you more quality, more space lockers, high technology. I remember you going to a place and being charged for lockerss and internet, nowadays it's impossible you know, you have to improve better for your clients. So when you have competition; when you have for example, one friend who like to open a hostel, many guests actually like to open their own hostel because they like to meet people. "I'm gonna open one in my city" and starting small and then it's getting bigger and improved. So yes, we are not afraid of competition. Actually we like
to help many other owners of hostels in Lisbon. They come here to see us. We go to visit them, like they own hostels as well, to see what they're doing and try to help each other. So I'm in one group right now because of the COVID, and here everybody helps each other. I mean what
they are doing, for example, how we make the beds, why we're gonna leave the the blanket and the pillow, should we use masks all the time, or the clients, because it disturbs them like when you are in the public zone, so imagine you tell them all the time Put on the mask! Put on the mask! Put on the mask! but sometimes they're just like crossing very quickly you know, and then you start to disturb, you change the experience for them. So you have to think of that. There is a lot to do and then when you started to talk with each other, you start to be like I'll be more permissive; like to give more permission to this, not too much on that and you see that everybody's working together and making better hostels. There are many hostels, you can specify if you make your own hostel, you can specify the type of clients that you want. For example, I've been in one hostel in Budapest, the first phrase that they put on their website is "If you are looking for a peaceful place, this is not for you." "If you're thinking that you're going to have sweet dreams over here, this place is not for you." It's going to
be noisy, it could be noisy, people coming in drunk and drinking; it is a party hostel! So what do you expect? Sleeping? Oh, you expect when you are in a party hostel to be awake. Definitely when you go to these type of places, you expect to get an experience, you know. For example, if you choose a quiet place you know You don't want people to make noise.
Like it's a different type of hostel. Like, i don't know, the decorations, what they write to describe the hostel. In Sant Jordi and all of our hostels, we try to do both, for example, people who look for party, we do party but we do it outside of the hostel. So the people can come over here and have like a quiet night's sleep as well.
nd then you look after that, after 11 o'clock we start to tell people that if you want to make noise, you go to the bar. Because in Barcelona you go to the kitchen, the common area. And if you're looking for or if you want to sleep, please go in the room, stay over there since it's more quiet. Don't talk aloud. Sometimes people are in the corridor on their mobile phones talking and then in the rooms it could be very noisy as well. So like please don't talk over here.
Look after people. This is good of Sant Jordi, I think we have these two things and in this hostel specifically. Once we have like you said, we have a huge garden and if you want to have peace and be zen, quiet by your own, we have one place with only grass where you can sit, relaxing, doing your own meditation. But if you want to party, music and so on, go to our bar. You have both sides and definitely, if you want a party, you're more than welcome, we have people to go out. If you want
to sleep, you're more than welcome you're gonna have a nice dream in a holy place. You know... all right, well Sant Jordi usually, what we want to do is transmit our experience for the people. Nowadays, what we do a lot is use digital marketing, making videos on how fun the people are in that moment with us.
the point of view of us, we think it's very important, to put really nice photos online. Like showing the truth. You cannot put... also like beautiful photo, and not showing when they come and everything is dirty but look after that as well, because nowadays everything is online. now mostly with people there are a few walk-ins, a few backpackers that actually come in like from hostel to hostel and ask do you have available beds? or do you have a free bed? Nowadays everybody books online, so your market is online. You have to transmit them in the same way.
So like showing people how much fun they have, how's the experience and how happy they are in our hostels. Showing videos that make you. For example, when you were watching our videos, our publicity, you feel like, "I want to be there, I want to enjoy this place, I want you to be this person that is smiling right now, who having fun right now." So it's actually the first thing that any city also uses, like showing the monuments and putting smiling people on the front, like showing how happy they are with this place, how they are like and their faces (expressions). It's very important and then they transmit through the people that they can come and they're going to have the same feeling or even better! They're going to enjoy. So this is actually our point of view, it's what we like to transmit, like people that are really having a good time with us.
And definitely when people have a good time, they're gonna leave some comments, they're gonna leave some reviews. Like on the OTAs, like Hostelworld booking.com, or Trip advisor or google. the only only thing, like this is statistics, it's kind of fun actually, and a little unfair because when the people have a really good time it's more difficult that they write an excellent reviews for you and when the people have a really bad time, they're like "I'll make sure that this place was the worst." why do they not make sure through the old ones that this place is the best one? It's like... please people take your time, if you have a really good time, you don't know how important it's to leave one review; one excellent review showing the people your experience in the same way like when you have a really bad one and then you take your time, you complain, you write to everywhere and you make a phone call! So we are happy also to get excellent reviews.
People really taking time and we have some, but it's like everybody says, when one person like the place they only tell it to one person. When the people hate the pace they tell it to ten. It's the complete opposite way! But it's good, for example it's important like actually when you say the truth you know but pay like the same attention, when you tell them when you are angry and when you are happy. So that everybody can enjoy this experience and you're going to make more reviews and interactions and sharing your happiness. That's what we love, sometimes for example, when we make one guest our friend, We say, "yeah please write one review and then they say 741 00:27:26,480 --> 00:27:29,760 oh yeah we will, we will! and sometimes it takes longer than we expect because we are happy to read the review as well. We're happy to know how happy the person got inside our place.
so definitely, it's one of the most fun party when you are at the front desk, when you are working and reading the experience. We love it actually when one guest, for example, pick your name, you know and they know your name and write "oh this receptionist made a difference. Everybody loves it! For example, when you get your name on the review and it's there, like Norbi made it, he is one of our staff, like "this receptionist made a difference during my my stay like showing me around happly and calling, this is one of the things we do a lot in our hostel is trying to personalise for our clients. You are here you
have a name, we're gonna call you by your name. Not like "hey you" or "hello" We are trying to always make sure to call you by your name because you are in our hostel, you are one client, you are like one person, not like plus one. You are your name. We call you by your name. Of course, sometimes it's difficult, I'm not saying that's it's easy when the house is bigger, when you have like 160 beds. But each person you can get it right.
Definitely if the guest gives you the opportunity, we are going to call you by your name like everybody else. Nowadays when you have low occupancy, we call everybody by their name. I put in a lot of passion, passion like when you are or when you know that you are doing good things for the other ones. Even to show you, for example, simple things or even to help you buy a ticket for flights. So you always
are helping someone to show you the best place and the best spots in the city. So yes, actually I put a lot of passion in this and many of our staff as well. Showing them the best things what they think. It's not like what the the guides show or like in the book they read.
Nowadays it doesn't exists, it's digital, everybody looks online. So what we do is more like personalise our service and make it definitely more passionate for the clients. we have to keep in mind that we have to try our best, we have to improve a lot. With the COVID we learn a lot and we're going to learn even more. It's very recently known, and there is a lot of doubts about it. Many people are afraid to travel but we can see nowadays that each day it's getting more and more and more people.
The only thing, we have to trust in our dreams. If you had one dream to open one hostel, don't break up, you know. Keep it, definitely in the future this it will only be like a bad time and definitely you're going to collect much more in the future. When you open one hostel nowadays, right now, it's a bad times because what we hostels do is socialise with other ones and people say you have to keep at home, you stay home and not socialise with another one because you have a risk to meet another person.
So this is going the opposite way of the hostel. So for example, easily if you can say we have a big dormitories that we have to cut in a half. So a 10 bed dorm, we have to make it a five bed dorm. It's very difficult times but we have to trust in our dreams and definitely soon we're going to get out of it all right.