Written Interviews

Interview with Steven Vaile of

Today I present another written interview with Steven Vaile of withPhnomPenh which is one of the most popular Cambodia Hostels around.

Check out the interview:

1. What got you interested in starting a hostel business? Share your story.

I was not initially interested in starting a hostel business, I had already had a successful online media agency in Dubai, I only planned to stay in Cambodia for two days, but I had so much fun it ended up being a ten day stop over. Over the ten days I got to see exactly how poor Cambodia was as a country and how desperate people needed all of the things I had always had without even thinking about them, clean water, food, employment, education – all of the things that I had just been given.

I wanted to do something but the only thing I was good at was marketing online for hotels, this is what my agency did and business, so I thought about starting a hostel or hotel that had a social impact on community it worked in. So I decided to start a socially responsible hostel where we could employ people in a sustainable way and give them access to free education, healthcare and good rates of pay to support their families. I walked past an old news paper building that was closing down and got chatting to the owner of the property on a morning walk in Phnom Penh, by lunch time I had withdrawn my last $25,000 out of the bank and put it down as a deposit and I was in the hostel business. Luckily I managed to find two awesome business partners Alex and Tom that could manage the operations and finances whilst I focused on filling the hostel online. The rest is history, today we have three hostels, we employ 150 plus people on great pay rates with full benefits and we are the largest hostel group in Cambodia.

2. What are some marketing strategies you use online to drive traffic and bring in visitors for your hostel? What’s working for you?

The biggest thing that worked for us was honesty, we explained the ethos of the hostel and what we were setting out to achive and people really bought into it and supported us. In terms of online we use a distribution and channel management system supplied by my media agency that automatically manages all of the inventory and room allocations.

In terms of traffic we tend to do a lot of community reach out, we ask people to write about us in their blog and in social media posts, we also do a lot of writing and placement of articles on private blog networks for search engine optimisation.

Social media is another big element of our business, each hostel has an incredibly active Facebook page with updates every day or so, where we share not just the news about our hostel but also cool posts our customers would like.

For paid advertising we use Google Adwords display and PPC targeted to Thailand, Laos & Vietnam as this is normally be where the backpackers are that are about to visit Cambodia, we also implement our own landing pages for conversion and placements on other high traffic sites. We also take out featured advertising on different online travel agents.

Of course the biggest thing that works for us now is not online at all, although our website is hugely popular and filled with hundreds of pages of content, the biggest drawer for new customers at The Mad Monkey is customer world of mouth referrals.

3. What are some of the most exciting features of your hostel for visitors? What makes your establishment unique?

Our hostel is a socially responsible hostel, which means we spend a lot of money on staff wages, staff food, staff healthcare, staff outings, staff benefits – in fact our staff are very well looked after and don’t often leave. They are the biggest sales point of our hostel – sure we have a ton of facilities as well, but it is the happy staff that are always smiling and joking with customers that are our biggest selling point and USP.

4. What gave you the idea to use the name “Mad Monkey”?

When I told everyone I had spent my last $25,000 investing in a hostel they said I was crazy, a Cambodian friend of mine told me I was one f**ing Mad Monkey – I liked it and we used it.

5. What are your future plans for 2014 and beyond?

Growth, we are expanding the business, now we are in three places, Kampot, Siem Reap and Phnom Penh and we are also expanding our tour options. We need to keep growing to be fully effective as a business, and we need to expand our social mandate to do more. This year we started a clean water well project that has already funded the building of Rural wells in Cambodia, we also fund poor kids education directly with no admin costs, this is very positive and expanding this element of the business is most important to us as it is why we decided to be “Mad Monkeys” in the first place.