Krakow’s own Flamingo Hostel recently won the “Best Hostel of 2007” award at Hostelworld.com’s 6th Annual Awards ceremony. I was privileged to be invited to enjoy their homemade cake and talk with the hostel’s owner, Mr. Pawel Wawro.
The Krakow Post: So, you recently received an award for your hostel operation?
Pawel Wawro: Yes, and we are very happy about it, because it’s a very prestigious award. We were singled out from a list of 15,000 hostels. The award is given by a web service which collects all the reservations from the guests, and it’s the biggest service in the world right now. So it’s a fairly prestigious award. For example, last year a hostel in Berlin won and was immediately contacted by the Mayor of the City, so it’s recognized as a big promotion for the city and the region. So, in our case, this award is not only for the hostel but also for the city. In my opinion, it is a very big promotion for the city of Krakow.
Q: Has anyone contacted you from the City yet?
A: No, not yet, but we have done a bunch of interviews for papers and when we got off the plane, we were greeted by a television crew. So we have been very busy, but no one has contacted us from the city.
Q: What was the ceremony like?
A: The ceremony itself is called the Hoscars. The entire atmosphere is very similar to the Oscars with over 300 hostel owners in the audience. This year, there was no statuette, which saddened us. The pressure builds up and no one knows for sure who will win until the very end. It would be churlish to expect any more from such an event.
Q: Why do you think your hostel is so different? Could you reveal some of your trade secrets?
A: The single most important thing is our location. We are on Szewska Street, which is one of the most well trodden in Krakow.
Also, one of the categories listed is security. We have full monitoring and a security agency and everyone has to buzz before coming in. Our guests feel safe.
The third factor, which is also very important, is the atmosphere. Often we have guests sitting here in the common area who know nothing about the city and many times they leave here with new friends, which is important because we try to promote tourism and try to encourage small groups or individuals who really come here to see the city and the area, from both the cultural and sightseeing perspective. We try to recommend the festivals and what is going on in this city. Cleanliness is another factor. The majority of our visitors are Americans and Australians, mostly backpackers, and its important to them of course that we pay attention to that as well. I think we are one of the few hostels that have a staff that cleans every day to ensure cleanliness.
Q: What about marketing?
A: The best marketing we can get is advertising from our guests. They travel all over the place and meet people in Barcelona or Rome or wherever and when they meet someone who is on their way here, they recommend us. It’s done by word of mouth. This is the best marketing method and actually gives us our best guests.
Q: Are you from Krakow?
A: Yes, I love this city. My soul is here and maybe because I love it, I try to promote it. A month or two away is just fine but then all you want to do is walk around the Main Square.
Q: Are you thinking of opening another Flamingo and creating a chain?
A: Maybe in the future. It’s hard to say. With hostels it’s like this : we won an award and everything is great but the competition is really fierce. When we opened, there were 20 ? 30 hostels and now there is over a 100 that we know of. Just like with pubs, you’re walking around and all of a sudden you see a hostel. Sometimes I think that’s a magic word that gives people an idea for a business. But, they often lower the standards and price and almost give hostels a bad name. In reality, the standards are very variable. Even as far as location is concerned, for someone that hasn’t been here before, they have no idea where the busiest part of the city is. Sometimes we have people that have been in Krakow for a few days and then they walk in off the street and switch to our hostel. Now there’s no problem with space but in season there is.
Q: The second ranked hostel is Mama’s, also in Krakow, is it not?
A: Some hostels have won in a few categories but no one had been placed first in Poland before. We really weren’t expecting this and the hands and feet of these tourists voted, and not some outside agency. It’s the tourists who have been here. After their return they get an email, inviting them to rate us. Even when someone says that we could do something better, we value those comments and try to make improvements. Sometimes there are even suggestions regarding minor details, like something missing from the kitchen, and we go out and replace it.
Q: Did you qualify in tourism?
A: No, but I do have a pilot’s license and like to travel. Every one of us used to travel and likes to travel and maybe that’s where the idea came from. And we realized that we could use something like this in Krakow, so why not?
Q: Why is the hostel called “Flamingo”?
A: First of all, we are animal lovers. We sponsor the flamingos in Krakow’s zoo. But the name itself came from the time one of our colleagues was staying in Vegas in the States and he liked it so much that it stuck. So, it’s derived from those travels.