Harrison was commissioned by YHA to explore current perception of the brand and environment and help the iconic institution retool for a new generation of guests.
“The hospitality industry has to leverage how the community is changing. People are travelling because they want to see and experience the community they are visiting.”
— YHA guest, London.
The hostels and the brand were seen as being physically and emotionally remote by an emerging younger generations of travellers. These travellers were keen to socialise, often wanted to visit cities as well as countryside, and the YHA was not on their radar. Our role was to identify ways to engage this audience, and test these findings in a number of city and country locations in the UK.
Our Brand Vision
Whilst we identified the need to speak with one voice to create the consistency that the brand had lost, we recognised that this should not be at the expense of giving opportunities for localised tone and the hostels' unique personalities to shine through. The success of the project relied upon building community. By creating a sense of belonging in both the team and the guests, YHA would be first in mind, wherever travellers had planned their next break – urban or rural. Through our identity development roll-out we defined the need to integrate local artists' work creating bold, colourful graphic murals that had local relevance whilst retaining a nationwide overall look and feel. This created a strong sense of a revitalised, forward-looking brand personality. This coupled with an overhaul of all touchpoints' look and feel, from menus to merchandising, brought clarity and relevance to a younger audience.
Reinventing the Space
Our research showed that guests would spend a minimal amount of time at the hostel because of its utilitarian nature. We set out to find ways to improve the atmosphere and build the YHA community ethos – this also enabled guests to feel like part of the neighbourhood they were staying in. Our focus was on the two main hubs of activity – the reception (the YHA welcome) and the room (the heart of the stay).
The 'welcome' required creating a real sense of a meeting point. Guests are encouraged to share experiences and recommendations. Our open, multi-use reception areas incorporate a cool 'coffee shop' atmosphere with community boards and pegboard installations for users to share their best experiences in the neighbourhood. We considered the floor plan and customer journey and introduced a bespoke bar with communal seating to encourage socialising. Other physical interventions included proposals for fun and playful ways to create vibrant, animated shopfronts, and engagement through integration of informative local knowledge displays and book sharing schemes. We also leveraged the perception of the YHA being rooted in nature by bringing a sense of the great outdoors into the city surroundings in more urban locations.
To create a warmer more welcoming 'heart' to the room experience we defined an improved layout with more home comforts:- timber floors, WiFi, personal storage, and improved access to a sinks and mirrors, and bringing the outdoors in by reflecting nature in art on wall spaces. Our strategic planning incorporated quirky privacy solutions in multi-guest rooms, to help overcome some of the barriers, for some, to dormitory-style accommodation.
The Future – Looking for Potential
We also identified areas for future revenue growth, including incorporation of meeting/co-working spaces and flexible e-gaming areas, greater use of the outdoors with more external terrace space featuring opportunities for social play.