Sanlitun Huatong International Youth Hostel
by Joseph Nicolai
- Mar 5, 2015
On a beautiful Beijing blue-skied Tuesday morning we checked in to one of the biggest hostels in the area - the Sanlitun Huatong International Youth Hostel. Located just steps away from the heart of Beijing’s nightlife – with Sanlitun Village & the Workers Stadium well within walking distance - this beautifully decorated hostel is tucked away on a little (relatively) side street away from the main street’s hustle and bustle.
Turning from the major street we walk under an archway leading to the hostel.
We continue heading down the alley.
Walking further down the alley we see a blue sign in the distance telling us to turn left.
We turned left and headed under the underpass.
We continue following the blue signage – blue signs can never be wrong right?
With the blue signs fading in to the distance of our memories we know we must be close.
After the underpass we first spot this little green sign and then we know we have arrived:
Sanlitun Youth Hostel - we are here!
The outdoor seating must get busy during the summer months.
Cool decorations abound.
They sure did not skimp out on the New Year’s decorations.
Once we nestle in to the hostel’s general eating area, next to the foosball table and Chinese kitschy decorations, we had a chance to chat with the general manager Dora (王菲).
Where are you from originally & what made you come to Beijing?
I am originally from Xi’an
, located in China’s northwest Shaanxi Province
. I was very interested in Beijing historical areas, like the great wall and the Forbidden City. For a very long time I was always fascinated by how the emperor must have lived and in Beijing you can really get a sense of this history around you.
How long have you been working in hostels in Beijing?
I have been working in hostels in Beijing for about three years now, time flies!
A view of foosball/table football.
What do you like the most, and dislike the most, about Beijing?
What I like most? I definitely like the culture here. Here you can feel that culture being very near daily life. You can imagine what life used to be in China while being in Beijing.
What do I dislike the most? At times it can get too crowded, especially when you have to take the subway to get to work. The central metro lines, like Line 1 or Line 2, at the high-peak hours when people are going to work and getting off work… there is no way to breathe… you can’t run away. Going eating and shopping can also be a bit hectic when it’s busy.
Would you please let us know how you promote the business?
We have various strategies but in general we hope that when we provide excellent hostel experience that our business spreads from word of mouth and through positive feedback left online.
The professional grade table was just itching to be played.
What are your roles as manager?
I focus on managing the bar & the accommodations. But basically everything you can see around you I look after at some point. At the end of the day it all falls under my responsibility as a manager.
They had everything from teas to traditional and funky cocktails – it was still in the early morning so I went for a “meishi kafei” (Americano).
Do you have any suggestions for anyone looking in to opening up their own hostel?
He or she will have to manage all aspects of the business. There are always new challenges and new opportunities. If anything happens you should solve it so don’t expect issues to solve themselves. If there is something wrong you have to address it. At the end of the day, you have to be the responsible one for your own success.
How do your customers generally book with you? What is the percentage of walk-ins, phone bookings and through third party OTA?
Most of our customer’s book online, most often through our page on hostelworld.com. We also have a lot of walk-ins - especially during weekends. In fact, about 20-25% of our business consists of walk-ins. That said, most of our clients book with us through various online travel agents. Our company website is not that important when it comes to promoting the business, most of our bookings come through hostelworld.com rather than directly.
The place is well decorated and has a nice atmosphere.
What’re the proportions of your foreign and local guests?
Foreign guests on average make up 80% of the total guests. Most of the foreigners speak English. For someone like me who is used to speaking English and is accustomed to this work it is ok. But sometimes for some of the new staff they experience some issues, especially when their command of English is still developing. When there is a miscommunication in process we just get someone with more experience to take the lead.
The lunar New Year decorations were bright and bountiful.
What do you do when the guest speaks no English or Chinese?
Most of the time if they don’t speak any English they will at least understand some very basic and simple English words. Yes. No. Kind of like that. When tourists come and don’t speak English it’s generally not that much of a problem at the end of the day. We act things out and write and do our best to communicate. You have to be creative. We build on that and try our best to make sure we understand each other. They will totally understand in the end. I guess miming is part of the hostel business.
Tell us a little about your hostel and what makes it unique in Beijing?
Our hostel is the biggest hostel in Beijing and we are confident we provide the best when it comes to service. This attention to service is embodied in the way in which we get new staff. We look for a lot of things, not just what they say but also how they say it. We look for people who can engage with their surroundings and solve issues creatively – and maybe even a little miming experience never hurts.
Later I found they also offered Shi Sha.
Are there are any interesting hostel stories that you would be willing to share with us? I am sure our readers would love to know a story or two…
Well I can give you a small story. Once upon a time a guest came and asked me for the Wi-Fi password. The Wi-Fi password at the time was ilovebeijing. So when he asked me I simply answered: “I love Beijing” and thought nothing else of it. It’s only when he responded with “I love Beijing too but I am asking about the Wi-Fi password” that I stopped what I was doing. In the end we both had a good laugh.
Two goats bring luck to the cake and beer display
What is the most difficult part of running a hostel?
The most difficult time is during the low season. During the low season we have everything ready and geared up to go but we don't know what to do when we don’t have many customers. In general, we use this time - during the winter period - to think about how to promote the facilities and how to solve some issues. Our most effective way of learning what we are doing right and wrong is by checking reviews previous guests have left online. After looking at this feedback we try to reinforce what guests liked about their stay and address any issues that may have arisen.
There have been a number of official reports citing the decline of the number of international tourists visiting Beijing and China in general, has this affected your business?
Yeah, the decline of international tourists has definitely had an effect on our business. There has been a dramatic drop in people. On the plus side, tourists can benefit from the lower prices we offer.
The hostel also offers a bunch of tours
Except accommodation and meal, what services do you provide to the customers, such as tour guide, train ticket booking?
We offer all of these services here. In essence, we can be a one-stop shop for all your travel needs in the area. With regards to meals, we try to offer a bit of everything to satisfy a wide range of guests. I think we have a nice balance of Western food and Chinese food. We offer standards like pizza and hamburgers as well as some local Chinese food
, like jiaozi (dumplings) & noodles. Of course, we also have computers on hand for those who need to look something up.
Computers and nice pictures surround the area.
What are your hostels future plans in the year of the yang?
We have several sister hostels in Beijing. We want to expand and make more sister hostels. We have some ideas in the pipeline.
Would you provide some discount to our readers?
Yeah sure! If your readers would like a 15% discount call us in advance
. Be sure to mention that you are a reader of Panda Guides and you heard about us there.
As a closing question, what would be your recommendations for first time travelers to Beijing?
What we do normally when we receive new guess is we have a brief talk with them on how to be safe during their stay in Beijing, and then we provide some advice with regards to itineraries depending on what they want to see. As far as specific recommendations go? Be safe, have fun and stop by our hostel!