Editor's Note: This post has been updated from experience over the last few years, and some new sites have been set as the "Great websites", but it's now only 4 websites!
First impressions are really important, and your hostel’s website is the first thing travelers see. There are other factors that also help influence travelers's decision when choosing a hostel (like bed price and guest reviews), but your website is one of the first things they see, so make sure you blow it out of the park!
In my opinion, there are 3 basic requirements that every hostel's website needs to fulfill:
- Relevant Content
Don't make me think
Seriously. When in doubt, choose the simpler route. The more things you put on your website, the harder it will be for someone new to find the information they need. Make sure that the most important things travelers need when visiting your website (seeing 1. pictures of the property / rooms, 2. rates, and 3. booking options / payment methods) are taken care of and are very very obvious to get to. And make sure that the most important action (generally "Book Now") is easily findable within a split second!
Over the last few years, we've all witnessed the growing importance of mobile devices in travelers’ lives. More and more people are travelling with their tablets and smartphones, and searching for hostels while on the go - in the train with wifi, or at the bus station, etc. So, it’s essential that you make sure your website is designed accordingly (supports tablets and mobile phones!). In order to do this, ask your web developer (or designer) to make sure your website is responsive. Basically, this means that your website automatically adapts to the screen size.
For those interested in more reading on usability, I highly(!) recommend reading "Don't make me think" by Steve Krug.
People tend to make this too complex! Don't drown the traveler in information. Be concise. Many times (in the case of hospitality), photos sell much better than words do. So, show your hostel and your rooms, show the location of your hostel on an interactive map, along with your area's relevant landmarks or attractions. Give them a quick idea of price range, or point them to your website's booking engine for checking out rates. It's this simple stuff that really matters.
A little bit of creativity and fun is important too, both in content and design. Remember we are talking about hostels, where the majority of guests are young people, and laid back. Try to bring the same energy that you've already used to build your physical hostel into the online world.
Some cool hostel websites
And finally: we went ahead and chose a handful of hostel websites that we thought did a really good job with the above points mentioned. So, without further adieu:
- Kex Hostel in Iceland: http://www.kexhostel.is/ Very unique design, and very obvious what my first move is: book a bed.
- Casa Biota in Portugal: http://www.casabiota.com/ Simple navigation, with very few options and beautiful design. Very easy to find what I need as a prospective booker!
- The Bivvi in United States: http://www.thebivvi.com/ Beautiful website with beautiful scenery and great pictures. Very clear next step like the last two websites: book a bed.
- Art Hole Hostel in Czech Republic: https://www.artholehostel.com/ Although this one isn't mobile friendly, it does have a very unique and cool design, and does a fantastic job of pushing prospective bookers to the most important action: booking a bed.