Social Enterprise Hostels in Barcelona and Gothenburg

“Tell you what, I’ll pay the higher rate for the room, because if you charge the wrong rate you’ll get in trouble.”

“Don’t worry,” waved the staff member att the concierge, pay the cheaper rate instead.

“But you might get in trouble…” the guest bargained.

“No, no, it’ll be fine”

“Really… I don’t want to get you in trouble, man.”

“No, it’ll be okay, you clearly got the cheaper rate deal, its our system thats wrong.”

I’m not going to fight a cheaper room rate,” laughed the guest, “but say on the form that I am willing to top up the difference if required.”

I was an inadvertent eavesdropper on the conversation because they were in front of me in the queue to check out. But the mutual respect and human decency is something very admirable – esecially in the hyper connected world that thrives on drama and a transactional approach to relationships which seems to make us bad customers.

You don’t see that decency often enough these days, no fuss, drama-free. Perhaps its because the place is a hostel and the price isn’t too expensive, but the decency of people in being good customers and host is refreshing.

I was checking out of a hostel located a distance from the Tibidabo Mountain and a way of the city in Barcelona. This hostel was not just a space for backpackers it was also a social enterprise.

Social enterprises are business that at their core do good and make money. Rather than forming a part of their social corporate reponsibility, which also means that social giving is not the ultimate mission of the company, a social enterprise has its social responsibilty written at the heart of its whole business model. It may be rehabilitating people with criminal pasts, saving the environment, or improving the lives of the local community by providing jobs, the common identifier of all these businesses is that the a stakeholder in the success of the model are people who tend to lose out and be forgotten in society.

These are not charities since they do not operate on donations, but are full-fledged business that have a bottom line to consider. You could, I reckon, see it as a way to balance social justice with capitalist realities.

Hostels can also be social enterprises such as these two examples in Barcelona and Gothenburg. Now, I’m not going to moralise and act as if I chose these places because I wanted to be a good human being. It seems disrespectful to give a place props just because it is a social enterprise – I prefer to see them as businesses that happen to be social enterprises. It seems much better to choose these places because they are good businesses, which suggests they have a sustainable business model and can do good for long. I chose the hostels because the hostel bunk rates were among the cheapest, had good reviews, and they served breakfast as part of the room rate (which goes a long way in keeping costs down when travelling around western Europe). The fact that they were social enterprises were incidental that I found out only after the bookings.

This is not a rare occurrence, in practically none of the reviews I read was there a mention of how these were social enterprises. Most of the reviews were simply about how these hostels were good for a stay. If that is not a mark of a sustainable business model, I don’t know what is.

Here’s a short introduction to these hostel/hotels ideas that have shown they can certainly work. Do you find something similar in your home country?

The first is Le Mat B&B in Gothenburg. The Le Mat brand is part of a larger franchise originating in Italy, this brand in the hospitality business works on “create[ing] an environment where people who have experienced difficulties finding a job can find a meaningful workplace.

Rather than run a hotel purely on a hierarchy of organisation, the brand strives to create an environment that is professional, democratic and empowering and encourages guests and staff to respect each other.

It operates as social tourism, where the tourist who arrives leaves the city slightly better off then when they left, because their money goes to helping the locals improve their lives. The franchise has experts that they send with manuals and a roadmap to help their franchisees thrive based on their past successes with the Italian model. From what I can find Le Mat currently exists in Sweden and Italy, it might probably start to sprout elsewhere in Europe too, let’s hope it does.

While Le Mat is a franchise, InOut Barcelona is the complete opposite, being a local brand with (it doesn’t seem at least) no plans to expand. InOut hostel is made up of a complex of buildings with the Serra de Collserola mountain range.

The hostel employs people with physical and mental disabilities and encourages its guests to interact with their staff to help them integrate with society and learn social skills.

Now these are just examples, there are many such amazing social enterprises being done all round the world such as the Foxes Hotel in the UK.

Making money and doing good are not oppositional, but can go hand in hand, these examples are living proof.

ON THE MAP (Le Mat B&B, Gothenburg, Sweden)

ON THE MAP (InOut Hostel, Barcelona, Spain)


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