Info Hostels photo 2570 © Cat Norman Tahirović


The Doctor's House

Sarajevo, Bosna i Hercegovina

INFOHOSTELS.COM HOSTEL OWNER QUESTIONNAIRE:

Hostel Name: The Doctor's House
City: Sarajevo
Country: Bosna i Hercegovina
Your Name: Cat Norman Tahirovic, owner

A Brief Description of your hostel:

At The Doctor's House, we believe in hospitality as a helping profession. Through all the services we offer, we connect you directly to local Bosnian artists, craft-makers, farmers, and businessmen so that your visit to Bosnia i Herzegovina leaves a positive impact on local lives and local economy. With key partnerships and conscientious business, we promote sustainable tourism in a city that is fast rebuilding its reputation as a little piece of paradise. You can count on a comfortable bed, a clean house, a great view, and smiling staff ready to answer your questions. We welcome you to join us in a cozy hostel near Sarajevo's center where it will be no surprise to find friends fast become family.

Questions:

1. When did you open your first hostel? How many beds you started with? Was it easy at the beginning? Or it got easier once everything is set already?

I opened The Doctor's House in February 2013. We had, and still have, just 24 beds. Setting up the hostel physically was pure joy thought paperwork process was tiresome. As with any new business there are a lot of papers to sort out and being a foriegner opening a business in Bosnia added a whole other set of hoops to jump through.


2. What exactly inspired you to open a hostel ?

I'm not sure if I can say my first inspiration would have been the small guest house that my mother ran when I was a teen or my first solo backpacking trip in China when I was 19 when I stayed in hostels for the first time. I can say though, that I had the idea on my mind since a young age! I didn't open my own place without experience though. I was fortunate to work with the Bohemian Hostels in Prague and St Christopher's hostels in Europe for a few years before I ever tried my own thing.


3. What it feels like to manage a hostel?

Managing a hostel for me is a lot of fun. Since we're a small place it means I also double as receptionist, cleaner, and events manager so I get lots of opportunities to interact with our guests and our small staff is truly a team of friends. I also get to play 'MacGyver' on a regular basis - every day is different and no one can guess what will break next!


4. How many hostels were in your city when you opened yours?

Sarajevo has about 30 hostels and guest houses that provide similar services. Of those, 11 are legally registered and provide fair competition. All are of a similar size so in the peak of the high season, there are more than enough tourist to fill everyone's beds.


5. Is your hostel a part of a chain or private?

Private. She's all mine.


6. Have you stayed in a hostel before opening yours?

Of course! I'm surprised to find many hostel owners have not though. That would be like opening a burger joint when you don't eat meat! Thanks to those great experiences of staying in other hostels, I had a lot of ideas about how to perfect our dorms - specifically putting plugs, lamps, and curtains on each bed.


7. Are you still satisfied with your decision to open a hostel or you are having some doubts whether it was the right choice?

I'm 100% sure this is the industry for me. I love it more all the time. With new people and new challenges all the time, I've not had a chance to get bored either!


8. What's the average type of customers you have in the hostel today?

Our customer base in the Balkans is slightly older than what I had found in Europe. Our average guest's age is closer to 28. Most of our customers come from native English speaking countries (USA, UK, Australia) but we also get a lot of Europeans, Asians, and South Americans.


9. Has your hostel also private rooms or it's just dorms?

We have 2 private rooms and 3 dorm rooms.



10. Does your hostel offer any extra activities ? What makes your hostel outstanding or better compare to others?

As our business grows, we are adding more services and extra activities all the time. We currently offer tours, transfers, and event nights or family meals on 2-3 nights a week.

Those things do help set us apart, but the primary reason we shine is that we accept and treat our guests as friends as soon as they come in the house.



11. If you would have unlimited amount of money, where would you invest it in, to make growing your current one?

This is a question I'm facing now actually. We don't have an unlimited amount of money yet, but we are doing well enough to consider our plans for expansion. Our current hostel cannot be expanded due to building regulations so we've got to decide if we want to change to a bigger better location or just start several small hostels either in the region or in the city. Have to admit though, the Bosnian mentality of calling 'enough, enough' when it's time is starting to grow on me. Perhaps this will be it!



12. How do you see your hostel's future and future of the hostels in general ?

Hostels have been around for a while and I see no signs that the industry will shut down. Hostels are a great choice for travelers who want to meet people and save money. Hostels will notice effects from the trends affecting almost all industries -people want the businesses they frequent to be less corporate and more locally authentic.



13. How the hostels have changed in the past years ?

That question is pretty city specific. In big European capitals, hostels have either become bigger and more corporate with more focus on the extra activities like pub crawls and tours or they've gone to an opposite extreme of claiming the 'boutique' hostel name and staying small and cozy but with slightly higher or even hostel-like prices. In our city, hostels are becoming more like hostels, with an increased focus on guest interaction and less impersonal guest houses where you get a key and that's it.



14. How does the hostel influence the local area ?

Having a positive influence on our local area is one of our biggest aspirations as a hostel here. We do our best to direct our guests to spend their money with local businesses and individuals. We even do so ourselves, buying all of our cleaning materials, sheets, and even furniture from Bosnian producers. We want to see Bosnia maintain it's authenticity and beauty as it continues the process of rebuilding post-war.



15. What's your advice to the future hostels?

I'd recommend these three tips to anyone who hopes to open a hostel:

1. Direct management involvement with your customer base is key. Hostel guests are seeking authentic and small business. You'll find the greatest reviews and return when you take time to personally interact with your guests.

2. Love where you are and what you do. Again, authenticity is key.

3. Go on and make your dorm beds right from the beginning. There are some places to skimp and save money and wait for future improvements as the money rolls in, but the beds aren't one of them. If the budget is tight, I'd recommend starting with a smaller number of quality beds than a big number of cheap beds that you plan to upgrade later.

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