Tell us a bit about your role and how it supports the business?
My role involves overseeing the long term strategy and financial health of the business, from the service we offer to guests, the maintenance and upgrades of our buildings, how we market and sell our beds, and of course the most fun part of my job, organising interesting and fun events for guests and staff!
What has been your career highlight to date?
Our business is 50 years old in 2024, so it was a real honour to take over a business with such a rich history, and hundreds of Astor children that were born to parents that met at a stay with Astor! We were the first private hostel group in London and over the last 48 years have gone through many changes. I took over in 2012, when the hostels had suffered a little from a lack of strong management. My career highlight was turning this situation around and winning the Hostelworld Best Small Group worldwide and Lifetime Achievement award in 2015.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s very easy to get bogged down in the detail without seeing the bigger picture, both in the moment but also over the longer term. Take a step back, be patient and work hard and the rest will follow.
If you were not working in this sector what other industry would you have pursued a career in?
My passion prior to joining the hostel industry, was working in the Restaurant and Bar industry and had I not joined Astor Hostels I would have pursued a career in F&B.
What are the emerging trends within your sector and have these changed since Covid-19?
Changing consumer expectations. The time of hostels just offering a clean place to sleep has gone with guests expecting a stronger level of service and facilities than before. The distribution landscape has also changed hugely, with new OTA’s entering the market such as Airbnb, and traditional search businesses like Google trying to join in with new hotel booking products. The next few years will I’m sure see further disruption to this model.
What is coming up for your company in the next 12/18 months?
We have spent the last 10 years upgrading our offering but the job is not yet done, and now that the worst of Covid has passed, we will continue to invest large resources in rebuilding our properties. We are also looking at new opportunities to expand the group.
As an association what one thing do you think we have done that has made a real difference to our members during the crisis?
Providing very useful and timely information, and expert advice during the most difficult months of 2020 through online seminars.
Covid-19 has had a huge impact on our industry, what is the one thing that you have learnt personally or professionally during this time?
Take nothing for granted, and always build some resilience into your business. We were lucky in that we went into the crisis with little debt, so we were able to borrow significant sums of money to support our business, without putting ourselves at risk of default. Also, it was crucial to adapt and to do it very quickly, being a small business we were able to take decisions very quickly, such as switching our short term model of dormitories to a long term let of private rooms, and this really helped us ride out the worst months at the end of 2020 and throughout 2021.
What are your crystal ball forecasts for the period ahead and how quickly do you think your business can recover from the pandemic?
We are recovering well this Summer as demand is very robust, with both occupancy and ADR looking strong. However, we have large debts both with the banks and our landlords, so it will be some years before we have returned to our pre-covid state. Forecasts for the next 18 months are very strong demand as consumers try to recover the joy of travel that they lost over the last two years.
How do you think Covid-19 will change our industry (if at all)?
The Biggest challenge will be managing supply-side problems, and rising input costs due to extremely high inflation. None of us born after the 1970’s have any idea how to manage a business in an inflationary environment with an incredibly tight labour market, and I believe the challenge will be to remain flexible as demand changes month to month, and year on year. There are big opportunities for businesses that are ready to absorb demand when it is high.
Find out more about BETA member Astor Hostels here
Published 01 September 2022