How goSTOPS is bringing the Hostel culture to India!

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In conversation with Pankaj Parwanda, the Co-founder of goSTOPS

goSTOPS is enabling the youth of the country to stay in hostels across multiple cities at affordable rates.

Q1. How did goSTOPS come into existence?

Up until a euro trip in 2012, Pallavi hadn’t experienced the world of backpacker hostels. Thanks to the trip, she got to know what backpacker hostels are really like.

It wasn’t long after the trip that Pallavi realized there was a clear need for pocket-friendly social accommodation catering to the aspirations of the massive youth population in India. A fun and reliable accommodation brand that empowers the youth to spontaneously travel to countless destinations across the country either solo or with friends.

After dabbling with the idea for months straight, goSTOPS Varanasi was born in March 2014. Pallavi had been working on the idea of goSTOPS since 2012, I joined her a few months later. Since the launch of our first hostel in Varanasi, we took baby steps to understand and study the market and positioning for the first few years. But from then to now we have grown today to almost 2500 beds in 32 locations.

Q2. What is goSTOPS trying to achieve?

Our vision for goSTOPS is simple – be the brand that many generations of young Indians will start traveling with.

Today, goSTOPS is operating in some of the major tourist spots in the country. We have hosted more than 400,000 travellers over the years and this number is only going to grow! 

We are unique in our target segment, focusing on Gen-Z audiences who actively seek out new experiences, are free-spirited, and yet discerning at the same time. These travelers are between 18 to 30 years old, and comprise a cross-section of solo travellers, group travellers, backpackers, digital nomads, and individuals seeking interesting stay or ‘workation’ options.

We are a full-stack operator, that leases and transforms budget hotels and operates them as backpacker hostels. The community and design-led hotel transformation enables us to harness the efficiencies of the shared economy and make high-quality, youth-focused stays accessible within a Gen-Z friendly budget of INR 500/- per night. The accommodations cater to the minimalistic tastes of the current generation and are practical yet comfortable and inspiring. Our aim is to focus on catering to the youth and to create an accommodation brand they can call their own.

Q3. What were some of the challenges faced?

Our challenges have been phase wise. We were a bootstrapped company and hence we operated at low costs. Our aim was to achieve business and market validation and receive a positive feedback from our guests. For an entrepreneur, NO is never the solution. We kept hustling and tried multiple alterations till we finally succeeded. We are now spread across 32 cities and are growing exponentially. Very soon, we would be having 3000+ beds all across the country.

Q4. How did the pandemic affect your business?

One of the worst hit sector during the pandemic is the travel and tourism sector, the sector that we operate in. And frankly when the first wave hit us and the whole country went on a lockdown we were worried. But the pandemic also gave us the time to analyze the model. We are a full stack operator that manages long-tail hotels (these are smaller hotels with 10-50 rooms). Because so many of the operators of these hotels were going through a rough phase and these hotels were about to shut down, we decided to start leasing these hotels and went on an expansion plan. This served two purpose, we could increase our inventory and acquire these hotels at a decent rental. The hotel owners who partnered us became a part of the brand and also ensured livelihood for their employees.

In May 2021 and November 2021, we had our Pre Series A and a bridge round of funding wherein our investors had invested $2 mn. Price of real estate was low and we used this period to grow. We believed that the youth would help us to meet recovery. Our supply went up by 3x and demand/revenue growth jumped to 5x. It has been an amazing experience.

Q5. What is so unique about goSTOPS?

We introduced goSTOPS in India to empower the youth of the nation, who love to explore various destinations and socialize with fellow travellers by offering them budget friendly, comfortable and hygienic hostels at the most sought-after locations. This was something that as a traveller I wanted and thought was missing in the Indian travel space.

In terms of operations, we are a full stack operator, that is we manage the properties ourselves. Unlike the other operators in the hostel space who operate under the franchise model, our module enables us to seamlessly provide a standardized level of service across all of our properties in various locations. What sets us apart is that in spite of standardization in terms of service, and also interiors, each of our hostels also have their own unique identity. Some of our hostels are modern state of the art, but we also have heritage properties. While we have Geodesic Domes in Dehradun, you can enjoy living in a mud hut in our Kasar Devi property.

Q6. What is the one thing that interests you the most?

I absolutely love cooking and trying out new recipes for family and friends.

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