Hostels are definitely the way forward for budget travellers
Budget hotels gain increasing popularity among tourists
By Natalia Krupko
It’s not enough to simply promote our national sights if we wish to see large numbers of tourists come to Belarus. Rather, accommodation needs to be affordable. Accordingly, budget priced hostels are opening, offering rooms for two or for larger groups, at a cost of around $20 per night.
Indeed, how many can afford a ‘four-star’ hotel just to look at Mir Castle or the National Library? Will all the fans at the World Championship-2014 find an affordable bed for the night? It’s unlikely that every second fan is a Rockefeller.
The first hostel opened in Minsk in 2011 and there are now eight in the capital, with one more found in Vitebsk. Of course, more are needed, as the Director of the Tourism Department of the Belarusian Sports and Tourism Ministry, Vadim Karmazin, emphasises. He tells us, “Belarus needs two and three-star hotels and hostels, otherwise individual tourism won’t develop — only package holidays. Hostels are still a novelty to us so, like all things new, it takes time for them to find their way.”
The Director of the first Belarusian Postoyalets Economy Hotel, Dmitry Narkevich, decided long ago to open a second but has spent a long time trying to find a suitable location. Naturally, hostels need to meet many of the same requirements as a hotel.
In fact, those opening hostels believe that particular legislation is needed to govern their work, encouraging investment. Businesses need only modest amounts to start up but it takes time to see a profit. Mr. Narkevich explains, “It took us about $50,000 to open our hostel from scratch. With an ‘accompanying wind’ and careful marketing, it takes about two seasons to become cost-effective. The main expenses are site rent and large utility bills.”
Belarusian hostels have been busy, despite their new status, filling up with guests when holidays, large festivals or major concerts arrive in the capital. However, they need to keep good occupancy rates the rest of time and Belarus is yet to see its tourist industry really take off. Of course, they will always attract a certain number purely on price, charging from Br87,000 per night in an eight-bed-room, up to Br500,000 for a luxury double. In comparison, the minimum price at a more upmarket hotel in the capital is Br600,000.
Co-operation with travel agencies brings in guests, including those travelling in large groups of foreigners for various events in the capital. To encourage business, it’s important to have a prime location, convenient for the centre, and to offer online booking: vital for international guests. Our Belarusian hostels already offer these aspects and are being well promoted on the Internet. Each room includes free Wi-Fi Internet access, tea and coffee, and pancakes for breakfast.
Of course, eight hostels won’t be sufficient for the numbers expected for the World Ice Hockey Championship, hosted by Minsk in 2014. “We aren’t relying on that niche,” stresses Lyubov Soika, the Head of the Organisation and Development of the Hotel Industry at the Minsk City Executive Committee’s Department for Communal and Hotel Services to Population. She continues, “20,000 beds are reserved for participants and fans: at 43 hotels (in the capital, as well as Minsk and in the Logoisk Districts), as well as in 12 university dormitories and the Student Village Complex. Existing hotels are being reconstructed and ten new Minsk hotels are being built, with another eleven at Silichi Ski Centre, Staiki Sports Complex and the Raubichi Republican Centre of Olympic Preparation for Winter Sports. By the end of year, all will be ready. The President Hotel and Garni Hotel (3 star) are already open. One of the most hotly anticipated launches is that of the second building of the Victoria Hotel, located next to the headquarters of the National Olympic Committee.”
Two three-star hotels, as well as three ‘one star’ hotels are opening, with an average cost of $50 per night. Naturally, hostels with a price tag of $15 upwards won’t be without guests during the championship and, perhaps, by 2014, more such budget accommodation will have opened.