Sustainability First Steps for Hostels

Sustainability for Hostels: Balancing People, Planet, and Profit

As the global community becomes increasingly aware of the pressing need for sustainable practices, tourism businesses are embracing sustainability strategies.

Beginning your sustainability journey as a hostel involves assessing your current practices, setting goals, and implementing initiatives to improve your environmental, social, and economic impact. Using the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) criteria as pillars for your roadmap provides a comprehensive framework for action. Here’s how you can start:

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People: Prioritizing Guest Experience and Community Engagement

“Worldwide, the tourism sector employs about 7.2% of the global workforce. With both direct and indirect jobs, about 1 out of 10 jobs worldwide are linked to tourism” (ILO, 2019)

Start by engaging your stakeholders. Involve your staff, guests, and local community in the sustainability journey and prioritise their wellbeing; their input and support are essential for success. Use investing in staff with training and workshops as a way to upskill and retain them, as well as keeping them in a productive and happy environment. This also will reflect on your guest experiences with better service and a buzzing and welcoming atmosphere. 

Engaging with local communities is also essential for a healthy and sustainable business, whether through local employment and volunteering or partnerships with businesses, NGOs, or organisations. For guests, meeting and interacting with local communities in a respectful and authentic way can provide an enriching experience of local culture.

Conduct a Sustainability Assessment

Evaluate your hostel’s current practices and identify areas for improvement. Consider using tools such as sustainability audits or assessments based on the GSTC criteria to guide your evaluation.

Set Sustainability Goals

Based on your assessment, establish clear and measurable sustainability goals aligned with the GSTC criteria. These goals should address environmental, social, and economic aspects of sustainability.

Commit to Continuous Improvement

Sustainability is an ongoing process. Commit to continually improving your hostel’s sustainability performance by setting regular reviews and updates to your goals and initiatives. Benchmark your performance to ensure you can monitor your improvement. Regularly monitor and measure your hostel’s sustainability performance against your goals. Use key performance indicators (KPIs) aligned with the GSTC criteria to track progress and identify areas for improvement.

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Safe and Healthy Environments

Guest safety and health are paramount. Hostels implement measures for fire safety, hygiene, and provide health and wellness services. Sustainable hostels are committed to maintaining a clean and safe environment for all guests.

Community Engagement

Hostels can actively engage with the local community by supporting local businesses, sourcing products locally, and contributing to community development. This creates a sense of belonging for guests and locals alike.

Promote Social Responsibility

Foster a culture of social responsibility within your hostel by:

    • Ensuring fair labor practices and providing a safe and healthy work environment for your staff.
    • Supporting local communities through partnerships, sourcing locally, and engaging in community development initiatives.
    • Promoting inclusivity and diversity among staff and guests.
    • Ensure their facilities are accessible, promote cultural diversity, and respect different lifestyles and backgrounds.

Enhance Guest Experiences

Provide guests with opportunities to engage in sustainable practices and experiences, such as:

    • Offering educational programs or eco-tours that promote environmental awareness and conservation.
    • Encouraging responsible tourism behavior through information and signage in your hostel.
    • Creating opportunities for guests to participate in sustainability initiatives, such as beach clean-ups or tree planting.
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Planet: Reducing Environmental Impact

“By 2030, CO2 emissions from tourism are forecast to increase by 25% above the 2016 levels.”

Energy Efficiency & Waste Reduction

Hostels should monitor energy use, efficiency and sources. They should also encourage guests to be mindful of energy use. They should work to minimize waste by promoting reusing, recycling, composting, and reducing single-use plastics. It is also a great place to try upcycling and repurposing with decor and clothes swaps. Focus on reducing your environmental impact by implementing initiatives such as:

    • Energy efficiency measures (e.g., LED lighting, energy-efficient appliances).
    • Look at renewable energy sources
    • Waste reduction and recycling programs.
    • Sustainable procurement practices (e.g., purchasing locally sourced and eco-friendly products).

Water Conservation

Water-efficient fixtures, rainwater harvesting systems, and guest education on water conservation are all part of the sustainability efforts. This reduces the hostel’s water footprint. Water conservation practices (e.g., low-flow fixtures, rainwater harvesting) can also be introduced. 

“Tourism and hospitality are responsible for about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions (Sustainable Travel International, 2024)”

Sustainable Building Design

Taking into consideration the surroundings and environment, this is an opportunity to look into eco-friendly building materials and design, such as natural ventilation. There are many ways that building design can reduce the environmental impact.

Nature Conservation

Hostels in natural settings should take steps to protect local ecosystems, engage in conservation efforts, and educate guests about the importance of nature preservation. 

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Profit: Achieving Financial Sustainability

“53% of Hostelworld customers consider sustainability an important criterion when selecting accommodation.”

Cost Efficiency

Efficient and sustainable operations can streamline hostel management, reducing operational costs and increasing profitability. For example, carefully managed energy and water use, renewable energy, and energy-efficient practices lead to lower utility costs. 

“Gen Z (72%) and boomer (68%) consumers globally were very or extremely concerned about the environment in 2023”

Eco-Tourism Demand

With the growing interest in eco-tourism, hostels that emphasize sustainability can attract a broader and more conscious clientele.

Marketing Advantage

Communicate your hostel’s sustainability efforts and achievements to your staff, guests, and the wider community. Transparency and communication build trust and inspire others to join the sustainability journey. Sustainability initiatives can serve as a unique selling point. By highlighting these efforts in marketing and on their websites, hostels can attract guests who value sustainability. 

Seek Certification or Recognition

Consider pursuing certification or recognition from reputable sustainability programs, such as those endorsed by the GSTC. Certification can validate your efforts and provide credibility to your sustainability initiatives.

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By following this roadmap aligned with the GSTC criteria, your hostel can embark on a meaningful sustainability journey that contributes to positive environmental, social, and economic impacts while enhancing guest experiences and securing long-term success. Sustainabile businesses not only reduce environmental impact but also enrich the guest experience and promote a future-proof financial strategy.  By embracing these principles, hostels can contribute to a more sustainable and responsible tourism industry while enjoying the benefits of a more sustainable business. 

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