Sam Dalley: The UK’s Largest Hostel Network, Linking Over 360 Hostels Around the UK Online and in Print

July 31, 2022

IHUK, is the UK’s largest hostel network, linking over 360 hostels around the UK online and in print. Our aim is to make hostelling easier for both our clients and their guests.

We provide a hassle free experience for guests by collating hostels onto one platform and commission free direct bookings for our clients.

We celebrate our 30th anniversary this year, not quite as long as the YHA’s 90 years, but still worth celebrating I think.

Over the years we have worked tirelessly to produced an easy system to both find and book affordable active outdoor holidays, while remaining personal and ethical to the many small business we represent. This is in comparison to many larger booking platforms.

Tell us about yourself?

Since I was a teenager, I have loved hostelling myself and found my first Youth Hostel at the age of 16, and this love has stayed with me my entire life.

Hostelling provides people with independence, communal and communication skills and also fuels the joy for life and adventure.

I took my hobby and turned it into a job which would help others also. By collating hostels and advertising them, it makes it easier for people like me who enjoy hostelling and provides hostels with much needed publicity.

If you could go back in time a year or two, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

This would most likely be during the Pandemic in 2020 and I would tell myself and my team to ‘never give up’ and ‘be brave’. It may sound cheesy and cliché but COVID19 struck people very hard.

Especially the hostelling services which were uprooted overnight. Most lost money, clientele and even their passions, as hostelling is a way of life for some. Not to mention IHUK themselves who wrote of many debts to enable clients to struggle on.

During COVID, IHUK paired up with four other hostelling networks around the UK and secured much needed attention and financial support to the hostelling cause and through ‘Hostelling Together, were even able to gain governmental recognition.

Thus, I would tell the me from two years ago that “you’re doing well, keep going and you will see the fruits of your labour eventually.”

What problem does your business solve?

Our business provides a cost effective alternative to larger booking platforms. Specifically targeting hostels, bunkhouses, camping barns & outdoor education centres, we offer commission free services and are ranked 3rd for Travel Booking companies by Ethical Consumer.

Additionally we offer support and a community for our network of hostel owners/managers.

What is the inspiration behind your business?

My own love for hostelling paired with the need for a network such as our own fuelled my passion to start Independent Hostels. Also, the search for adventurous outdoor holidays was a deal-sealer. Hotels and self catering cottages can be so impersonal and isolating.

So a way to advertise the hidden gems of our own country was the cherry on top. Through the Independent Hostels network people, young and old alike, are able to find adventures and affordable flexible accommodation within a car journey or even a bike ride!

Hostels offer both independence and community. Hostel goers often journey from place to place, at times alone, making friends on the way. This form of relaxation and entertainment provides, simple satisfaction, companionship and, of course, exercise in the great outdoors!

What is your magic sauce?

At our company, we believe being human is what sets us apart from others.

We provide a friendly service which remains gentle and assuring to people, as we see our business colleagues and clients as very much our friends and not just names on a business card.

We value human relationships and interactions and we believe our moral ethos is the reason we are where we are today.

Our small office of no more than 5 people, is close knitted and strives to deliver top-notch quality to our customers. Therefore, our magic sauce is no secret but is the very essence of what is missing from big co-operations; a heart.

What is the plan for the next 5 years? What do you want to achieve?

We are developing a booking engine which will make taking online bookings easier for our less technical clients. 40% of our clientele still do not have any online booking and some of the ones that do have systems which guests find hard to use.

So, in the next five years, we intend to ensure all 360 hostels and bunkhouses in our network display availability online. We will do this by providing a free service, support them as they use it and make sure it is tailored to our niche, making it fast and simple to use.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?

Like many businesses, we found COVID-19 to be one of the hardest situations we have ever been through. Not only was it devastating for hostels around the UK, but also for our business which suffered due to debt write-offs, travel and social distancing restrictions.

We did not let this, however, bring us down, as we turned this into an opportunity. As previously mentioned, we started to work with other hostelling organisations and raised awareness at governmental level of the hostelling niche.

This collaboration even secured extra financial support from the Scottish Government. Therefore, despite that time being very challenging, we emerged stronger.

We, as a company, are small and self-sufficient and found this to be one of the leading factors which helped us overcome the trying times. Our small team, can-do attitude, hard work and friendliness proved to be our most powerful weapon and saved us.

How do people get involved/buy into your vision?

Hostels all over the UK just seem to come to us. They are drawn to the quality of our website and guidebook, our ethos and friendliness.

Our communication. efficiency and listening skills prove vital in creating a circle of people who trust, get bookings from and enjoy the sense of belonging to our network.

Understanding the vision of our clients themselves is also important, as our aims must match. Anyone wanting to run a hostel, or visit hostels will find us with a simple Google search. Our welcoming and friendly aura, value for money and efficiency keeps them coming back.

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