Home away from home: India’s first hostel chain swings by homestays

Started by a bunch of millennials in 2013, Zostel is  “Asia’s largest chain of backpackers’ hostels with 32 hostels in India and Nepal”. Diversifying its revenue models, Zostel has announced the launch of their new sub-brand ZostelX– aimed to bring handpicked offbeat alternate accommodations under one umbrella for the evolving travellers in India.

Zostel’s CEO Akhil Malik said it has been in the business of providing quirky, secure, hygienic & affordable backpacker hostels to young travellers at new destinations for over five years and is known for its high-rated, popular hostels among the millennial backpackers. The company, also touted as India’s first chain of backpacker hostels, primarily works on a franchise model and runs 32 hostels across India and Nepal.

Spreading its wings

The fast-growing, Indian brand– OYO recently launched its Townhouse model, another addition to its offerings. And Zostel with this new wing will offer “more immersive and authentic travel experiences” by offering local homes, farm stays, chalets and other such alternative accommodations options. Thus adding another stream to its existing chain of hostels around the country.

ZostelX is aimed at extending the company’s tried and tested Zostel-local entrepreneur collaboration model for backpacker hostels into the alternative accommodation space. Through ZostelX, the company plans to handpick and brand alternate accommodation properties in lesser known locations.

Zostel will also be responsible for training and hand-holding the local micro-entrepreneurs while helping them reach out to modern, responsible travellers. This is an extension of Zostel’s hospitality offering to the young, adventurous travellers looking for a secluded yet immersive getaway with their families or friends away from the mainstream tourism hotspots.

To begin with, the company is foraying into the alternative accommodation segment with four beautifully located, offbeat homes in the valleys of Himachal Pradesh at Laida, Dabbi/Kothgarh, Cheog and Rumsu and bookings open today, just in time for the holiday season.

According to Zostel, the idea of ZostelX emerged from the constant demand from travellers who wish to travel beyond the run-of-the-mill destinations and the willingness of local communities to host them albeit in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. With Zostel Hostels and ZostelX, the brand will be able to cater to a wider audience including backpackers, families, groups and more.

“A comfortable stay at a beautiful location away from crowds”

Commenting on the launch, Malik said: “We wanted to build a new range of offering to attract the audience who are not into backpacking. A hostel setup works very well for a typical 18-30 year old solo traveller or even for smaller groups of friends. However, being a youth hostel, we had to leave out families and bigger groups to maintain that youthful vibe at our hostels.

Through ZostelX, we will be able to cater to a wider group of travellers, that are seeking thrill or solitude away from the popular destinations. Simply put, ZostelX guarantees a comfortable stay at a beautiful location away from crowds, clubbed with authentic experiences organised by the local, rural communities topped by the quality promise of brand Zostel.”

He further adds, “This is going to be a pilot project at the moment. We are targeting a whole new category of responsible travellers that includes families as well. The locations have been carefully chosen by the team in a manner that they are secluded yet accessible. Further, the properties have been handpicked and local owners trained in hospitality to facilitate superlative experience for the guests.”

Before launching ZostelX, the company recruited a local team from these valleys in Himachal Pradesh to do the ground research to understand the pain points and apprehensions of the villagers, of women and of every stakeholder involved. The homestays hence selected have good infrastructure, fantastic natural views and active, friendly hosts.

“All our properties have local ownership”

In Akhil’s words, “At Zostel, we have always believed in responsible tourism – all our properties have local ownership and local employees and we promote Green Travel. Leaving these places off the tourism map and making them suffer financially just because we, the travellers, can’t be responsible is injustice to these people. In fact, this is one of the major reasons behind the fact that almost 10% of the 15,000 odd villages in Uttarakhand are now ‘ghost’ villages – a lost paradise, something that could have been amazing, had we been able to introduce responsible tourism there in time.”

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