By Kathy Eaton
For the Hollywood Star News
“At Travelers’ House, they take care of the little details, like a plug outlet on the wall next to the top bunk to recharge my cell phone,” said Simon Phillimore, a guest visiting from Bournemouth, England.
After earning a degree in international politics last July, the 22-year-old Brit worked briefly at a cafe in his hometown before embarking on a six-week journey that began in Australia and New Zealand. From there he planned a three-week tour of the United States west coast, starting in San Francisco, then Portland and ending up in Seattle. Phillimore booked his reservation for Travelers’ House on-line, along with approximately 65 percent of their guests, according to Travelers’ House owner Grant Williams.
“We’re consistently rated the number one hostel in the Portland area,” said Williams who opened Travelers’ House in July 2014. His business partner at the time was Ethan Knight, former executive director of Carpe Diem Education, who purchased the 1910 Foursquare at 710 N. Alberta St. When Knight bought the house next door, 650 N. Alberta St., Williams proposed rezoning both properties as part of the 2035 Comprehensive Plan revision. The Humboldt Neighborhood Association, local businesses and neighbors support Williams’ request to rezone the properties commercial. Williams plans to renovate the house next door, dedicating two bedrooms downstairs as guest rentals. He envisions using the main and upper floors for long-term community.
Unique business model
Williams uses a leadership model for his business that appeals to millennials. Along with the staff, comprised of two managers, and one employee who works in exchange for lodging, Williams lives on the second floor of the five-bedroom house. Like the typical guest who stays at Travelers’ House, Williams is young and well-traveled. “Our guests are culturally diverse; the most common demographic is age 18-35.”
Williams met both managers Mac Woods and Tate Beers while teaching and traveling with Carpe Diem. Rather than a hierarchically based business model, he empowers his managers to participate in decision-making. “Everyone feels supported and the staff has learned to navigate ambiguity very well,” said Williams.
“The model is based on keeping open lines of communication,” said Mac Woods, one of the house managers. Consensus-based decisions can take more time, but Woods is confident knowing that his views and input are always considered. He’s worked at Travelers’ House for a total of 10 months, and while he’s been a guest at many hostels, he’s learned the skills to be a host from Williams.
The staff divvies up chores during their six-hour daily shift from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. In addition to front-desk duty, they also change beds, launder sheets and towels and clean the hostel. Woods has mastered the art of folding and stacking clean sheets. In addition to making beds and scrubbing toilets, Beers’ specialty is dusting.
Kara Lester, an exchange worker, has been at Travelers’ House since December 2015. Beginning in May, she’ll overlap with her successor, to help guide the new worker. In addition to cleaning duties, the exchange workers are mentored in guest relations by Williams and the staff managers.
Guests are a priority
Both managers said their priority is to serve guests. Whether it’s keeping Travelers’ House clean and livable, it’s equally important to guide their guests to experience Portland in fun ways. Travelers’ House offers guests bike rentals to get around town and according to Williams, 80 percent of their guests use public transportation. While some activities are planned for guests, others happen spontaneously, like pie-baking in the commercial-grade kitchen or enjoying game night.
Beers moved from Seattle to Portland 14 months ago to work at Travelers’ House. “The organization is amazing and somehow it works,” she said. “You give so much to it, but get a lot out of it, too.”
Beers, who’s traveled to Central America, India, Italy, Figi, New Zealand and Australia, feels connected to Travelers’ House guests. One of her favorite activities is leading guests on a walking brewery tour where local breweries provide behind-the-scenes tours and tastings at Hopworks BikeBar, 3947 N. Williams Avenue, Ecliptic Brewing, 825 N. Cook St., and StormBreaker Brewing, 832 N. Beech St.
Details about house guidelines, cost, and availability are posted to their website, travelershouse.org or call (503) 954-2304 daily between the hours of 8 a.m. and 2 p.m.