Character is how you treat those who can do nothing for you. – Author Unknown
After returning from the Malaysia to the two-week hiatus shutdown of the hostel for renovations, the owner, Nethan who grew up in the States but carries dual citizenship as a Thai and has lived in Bangkok for two-years, approached me and offered me the hostel management job. Since the previous manager and other volunteer had left at the time the hostel closed. After negotiating the responsibilities and the work schedule, which included being paid $400 a month and working four days a week while Nethan would be covering the other three days it sounded simple enough and a great deal right? Well, this simple situation became a form of being highly overworked and colors of dishonesty and real part of laziness by the owner, became quickly evident. It’s sad because when I first arrived at the hostel it was wonderful, but after a short period of time I came to realize that was due in part to the other volunteer, and even more so from the previous manager that did an excellent job overseeing things. Over many discussions and early-on friendly conversations, Nethan constantly asked me what he could be doing to improve the hostel since he knew that I had a lot of experience working in various ones. I told him that as all backpackers we have all stayed at both good and bad hostels, and we seek great atmospheres more than anything. Yes, there can be essential amenities such as Wi-Fi, but it’s more about the environment of the place. It hit me later, especially after traveling with him for a bit or better yet having a constant shadow, the he admitted that he is not a backpacker, which was evident when he constantly chose more expensive places to eat and opted to take flights over local buses, which as a backpacker and budget traveler this is only an option when the local forms of transportation are more expensive or the same cost as a flight. Unsure of the entire story, but I did learn that he has another business partner that I believe convinced him to open the hostel together and did a great job setting it up for the relative success they’ve had so far, along with being fortunate enough to have Shane as his manager for months.
Well going back to my advice that I gave him about the simple hostel formula, first of all, Nethan was more concerned with the aesthetics of the place like odd memorabilia such as an old 1950s phone and small nick-knacks that your grandmother would be hoarding away in her house full of cats than focusing on the functional issues like the leaking roof in the two upstairs bedrooms, one of which was the higher priced four-bed dormitory for 350 THB ($11.25) as well as my private room, which is reserved for the manager. Either way, both of these rooms incurred several inches of water whenever the torrential rains began, which happens often in Bangkok, especially this time of year. When this first occurred I immediately called him to notify him of this situation. His attitude and response, as with every other topic of importance was the same, a quick verbal promise to get this issue resolved as quickly as possible, but typically nothing was ever done. I could tell it was beginning to go down hill when even the guests would complain about these issues, and once they learned that they had just reopened from a series of renovations they asked, then why do the doors to the dorms still constantly stick where you had to practically shoulder check them to open them, which is turn woke up the other guests sleeping? Continuing from the list of minor guest complaints, when I mentioned that while they advertised free coffee and tea all day, most days we were without both. Again when I told him that people ask me every morning about this, and Nethan s response was, “well I’m not a coffee drinker so I don’t always check that we have it and it’s not a big deal.” What? This response was shocking at it had an air of arrogance as if he didn’t care because it was not something he cared for. I told him that I’ve reminded you of this almost daily and as an owner of a business, especially one that relies on guest relations and advertises particular amenities that it doesn’t matter that you don’t feel it’s a priority or a big deal, but I told him to either purchase coffee and tea or stop advertising that we have it. This was of course shrugged off and ignored, both as a topic of conversation and my presence for just bringing it up with him that day. Mature, for something that should be an open line of communication between the owner and your so-called manager that is trying to operate your business for you while my hands are tied.
My last several straws with this place was the fact that on the days when Nethan worked and I had the day off, the work that he required from his staff, which sadly at the time was just me, he never did himself. This is a 14-bed hostel and the workload is quite simple; taking out the trash, emptying the recycles, making sure there is soap and toilet paper in the bathrooms, and most importantly changing the beds at the posted time of check out, which is 12pm. One night on a day that Nethan was scheduled to work and later left at 10pm, I was upstairs trying to catch up on sleep, which was a constant struggle, and another guest knocked on my door notifying me that there was a girl sitting in the lobby he had let in and told me that she was wondering if there was a room available. Attempting to wake myself up, as I walked down the stairs because I’ve been there myself and know what it’s like to be greeted unfriendly, because as with most social contact our first impression of people are made within that first 15-seconds interaction, especially with when contemplating if you are going to spend money at this business establishment. Well after checking her in, and while doing so I noticed that every one of our online booking systems (i.e. HostelWorld, Hostelbookers, Agoda, AirBnB, etc) were completely wrong and were in jeopardy of being overbooked, which for a business such as a hostel or hotel is the worst when you arrive with a reservation in hand only to be told there is actual no bed for you, especially late at night. Thankfully this was not the case and so I took the girl upstairs to an open bed in our 4-bed dorm just after 12:30am, which was only being occupied by two other guests, both of which were asleep in the bottom bunks. To my shock and horror, Nethan had not changed either of the top bunks and so to my frustration I found myself attempting to make her bed over another person that was sleeping, that of course woke both her and the other guy in the opposite bunk up. On top of this frustrating situation, I had a check-in in less than 5-hours after going back downstairs and spending an hour adjusting our system because each time Nethan added a booking to the Google Drive spreadsheet, 8 out of 10 times the information was not entered correctly, or it was completely wrong.
Realizing I could not longer deal with incompetence, this was my final straw since I had confronted him now for probably the fifth or sixth time or more about his lack of attention to detail and failing to do the job duties that he requires of me when it is his days to work. The slight hint of anxiety but more frustration each time I worked the day after Nethan had, on average I spent two-hours going through all of his errors and trying to get the hostel bookings, finances, and guest issues caught back up to speed.
Through the time I spent at Siam Journey Guesthouse I learned from early on that, Nethan used his hostel primarily as a source of meeting people, because sad to say, he is the most socially awkward person I have ever met. And when I was out with guests showing them around the city or even just going for lunch they were always the first to bring this up. It was like living a perpetual dream, because guests would always begin the same way, “ok so how well do you know Nethan because he is a, um, nice guy, BUT what’s the deal man he is so strange, makes such inappropriate and weird comments, and seems as though he forces himself in to conversations when there is an obvious flow to the conversation?” I just smiled and tried not to interject too much, but just mentioned that we all know those people that find it difficult in social situations.
Since Nethan has reiterated that he is not a backpacker, I wasn’t very fond while being out with guests for lunch in the middle of the day–typically my only free time, and they would tell me that after asking Nethan about how to get around the city or the country and his response was often, oh just take a taxi because it takes this long to get there, which again as backpackers when we listen to advice from people we think we can trust, especially those that have lived as a local in a particular area for two years, we are trusting that their information will be accurate. Well the complaints I always got were as soon as people returned from different temples, floating markets, day trips, border runs, etc etc, that every bit of his information was wrong and especially when they were told that no local buses went to these areas but to take a taxi and when they arrived and spoke with other backpackers, as we all do, they realized for an extra 30-minute ride on a local bus they could have saved 4-times or more the rate they paid because of bad advice. This was a constant complaint that again I brought up with the owner, but Nethan failed to do anything to adjust his ways because he always felt it was still the best way to get to these places.