I have met Robert on the beginning of 2017 during the Hostelworld Conference in Dublin. He is the owner of Auberge NOLA Hostel in New Orleans and an extremely interesting person! Just check out by yourself his story in this short interview 🙂
What means a ‘hostel’ for you?
A hostel for me is the atmosphere. When I travel and stay in other hostels, which I do as often as I can, at check-in I always ask what activities the hostel has planned for that day or evening. I am disappointed when places don’t have anything social planned for their guests. Yes, it is true that some travellers just view hostels as affordable accommodation, but to me, it has to have an atmosphere. I am blessed and no longer have to stay in hostels financially, but I choose to keep going back because of the atmosphere that you cannot get in any other type of accommodation.
How it all started? What is your story behind the ‘Auberge NOLA’?
Auberge NOLA emerged from a period when I had to make a transition in my life. I had been living in an incredible location in Montana for 13 years. Cooke City, though a small town with a population of 75 people, served as the Northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park one of the most reknown and scenic spots in North America if not the planet. Life there shaped me and helped develop me in many ways into what I am now. That being said I felt the need to make a change. My time there, for the moment at least, was over and I had to move on towards a new chapter.
The obvious and easiest choice was to move back ‘home’ to New Orleans, Louisiana. I supposed we can all go anywhere and do anything as you surely show us Ewa 😉 but I chose a home, where I had family and friends whom I hadn’t spent time with in over a decade.
Next, I had to make a decision whether I wanted to work a 9-5 for someone else or go into business for myself which I had been doing for the past 13 years. The choice was easy and the Auberge NOLA was born.
What motivated you to go into the hostel industry?
As I said before I was working for myself during my time in Montana. This story really begins as a child. My mother who was a public school teacher in a small town in Louisiana had summers off. Every summer we would travel for a month or more. She took me all over North America on fantastic road trips and even to Europe twice.
When I was only 19 and had just been out of high school for one year she decided to retire, sell everything, and buy a small motel in the little town in Montana I talked about before. She had been traveling here more and more frequently due to the reintroduction of wolves back into Yellowstone National Park. She was one of the original ‘wolf watchers’ during a time when there would literally be 2 of us standing on a frozen, wind-swept, valley floor in the middle of January. Now there are days when there are thousands of people hoping to catch a glimpse of the Yellowstone Wolves.
Imagine a single mother with a stable job and income deciding to sell everything she owned and quit her job in order to take an enormous risk and purchase a business she knew nothing about prior to this.
I moved with her and spent the next 13 years learning this business with her, then running it for her. After a decade she sold it. I stayed on for another 2+ years running the business for the new owners.
This foundation of knowing the industry, a decade in hospitality, and having such a great example shown to me, that you can do anything you want to if you take the leap, was enough to convince me that I could venture off on my own in this industry. A hostel was simply the direction I wanted to go.
What is the most important thing about your hostel?
Again, the atmosphere! I am easily distracted by all the things which I perceive as wrong with or needing improvement at my hostel. I am constantly wanting to improve. I have had to recognize the need to step back and see it as my guests do. They don’t see the negative things I see. The main theme of their reviews and comments to us which repeats over and over is their appreciation for the atmosphere we provide here at Auberge NOLA. They are so thankful for the events we put on and the opportunity to meet the other guests, in many cases making friendships that last much longer than their stay with us here in New Orleans.
How do you make sure that your guests have the best experience possible?
The short version is ensuring we stick to making sure that the key factors of our success are consistent and up to the standards we want. Our nightly social events of course, cleanliness, the information we provide each guest upon check-in, etc. While a hostel is a very relaxed atmosphere for the guests there are strict systems in place behind the scenes that make the difference between a great hostel and a mediocre one.
What do you do at work that you enjoy so much you actually lose track of time?
That would have to be spending time with the guests. This part of work, while not actually labour intensive, may be the most important part. Chatting with your guests and getting to know them. Making sure that people from all over the world can instantly feel at home and at ease. Talking with them about their travels, learning from them, and making suggestions for their travels in New Orleans and elsewhere. I have made friends for life during my time operating this business.
How do you motivate your team?
We are constantly in communication with our team and also have weekly team meetings. I find myself giving the same ‘speeches’ over and over, trying to impart on them how amazing I feel knowing that we have made someone’s experience in New Orleans a favourite of their entire trip. I want them to feel proud that they, as fellow travelers, can help another traveler and have such an impact on them giving them great memories literally for life.
Do you have any favourite hostel story to share?
It wouldn’t be just one particular story. To me, it goes back to the pride I mentioned above. I am constantly amazed at how almost daily guests will stop me and tell me how much they loved their experience here and how Auberge NOLA was one of the best hostel experiences they have ever had. It really never gets old and always makes me smile.
What was the most important lesson/ experience you have learned while working in hostels?
The main thing that I would suggest to any potential or current hostel owner is not to get stuck in your ways to much. I am always open to learning and evolving our systems and methods. In the end, the guests’ experience is the most important thing and if I need to change something we are doing by adding amenities, modifying our work methods, etc I am willing to do that. Stay open-minded and listen to the market and your guests.
If you plan to visit New Orleans, make sure to stay in Auberge NOLA and don’t miss the chance to get to know Robert! Book direct to get the best discounts!
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