Source: eKapija | Wednesday, 05.03.2014.| 17:07
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(NOMINATIONA FOR 2014 AUREA AWARD): Eco hostel in Uzice

(Photo: Facebook)

Two young men from Uzice, Marko Ristovski and Milan Bogojevic, opened the first ever eco hostel in Serbia in their hometown in September 2013. The underlying idea of Republik Eco Hostel is inspired by the Republic of Uzice, so the aim is that this hostel becomes energy independent in the future.

The eco hostel in Uzice exists as an idea since 2012, while the first steps towards its implementation were taken last year: Marko and Milan rented a house of about 200 square meters, made a business plan, and prepared reconstruction and regeneration designs for an environmentally smart hostel. They presented all this at various competitions to secure the funding, and their project was declared the best among 109 projects competing for funds at the National Forum for Green Ideas organized by the Trag Foundation, the Rockfeller Foundation and Erste Bank, which won them USD 8,000. Then they got another EUR 1,200 at a competition to encourage self-employment that was organized by Grupa 484 and the USAID. They also received a grant of RSD 160,000 from the National Employment Agency and took out several bank loans to start the business.

All furniture and interior in this hostel are completely made from the materials that were deemed unusable, while 2 solar panels on the roof of the hostel serve to heat water in the bathroom which is the largest consumer of electrical energy in the hostel. This accommodation facility is also equipped with water saving and energy-saving lighting systems. Thanks to its environment-friendly operations, Republik Eco Hostel has a minimum impact on the environment, thus setting an example for both its guests and local population.

Although it is situated at the intersection of roads to Bosnia and Mokra Gora and has a large number of tourist attractions in its surroundings, Uzice had not had an adequate accommodation facility for tourists before this hostel was opened. The opening of the first hostel in the region has laid the basis for the improvement of tourist potential in this part of Serbia.

The hostel with a capacity of 25 beds has had guests from over 20 different countries, 400 visits and 700 overnight stays since it was opened four months ago. At this moment, the most popular destination in Europe for backpackers is the Balkans, and this hostel also attracts a growing number of guests for being environment-friendly.

INNOVATION

Republik Eco Hostel in Uzice is defined by global booking systems as a green hostel, the one of the kind in Serbia. The concept of eco hostel, whose environment-friendly operations attract an increasing attention of guests, is also a rare concept globally. Besides, it is the only hostel in that part of Serbia.

Prior to the opening of Republik Eco Hostel, Uzice had not had an adequate accommodation facility for backpackers and students. There is only one hotel in Uzice, built in 1972, but it is only partially in use. Thanks to this hostel, a large number of tourists in transit now decide to spend a night in this city and most of them even prolong their stay in Uzice.

The primary idea behind Republik Eco Hostel follows the theme of the Republic of Uzice with the aim of making this hostel energy independent as the Republic of Uzice was an independent and free territory in occupied Europe in 1941.

All furniture and interior in this hostel are completely made from the materials that were deemed unusable by all but the creative team of Republik Eco Hostel that found a use for them. Beds, tables, benches, sofas and similar pieces of furniture are made of Euro-pallets that were supposed to be used as heating fuel. Wardrobes, bedside tables, chairs and decorative elements that once belonged to the Army of Yugoslavia should have been melted and burnt, but they got their use value back through skilled repairs. Bed linens and other textile elements are made of top-quality cotton and the bathroom of natural materials collected in the local area.

This hostel currently uses energy from roof-mounted solar panels to heat water in a 300l water heater. With the aim of saving water, the bathroom is equipped with sensor sink faucets and shower heads. Electricity savings are achieved with the use of energy-saving lighting system.

In this environmentally responsible facility, a big attention is paid to the primary selection of waste that is disposed of at the Duboko landfill and later recycled and offered for sale. The hostel staff advises guests to use green means of transportation: bicycles, walking, local buses and trains, so the emission of CO2 could be the lowest possible. Signs on hostel walls warn guests that they should save energy and point to some interesting facts regarding human impact on the environment.

Republic Eco Hostel is still at the beginning of its journey to full energy independence. The plan is to install LED lighting system that will be powered by solar energy obtained from roof-mounted solar panels, energy-saving shower faucets and shower time limiters. With the purchase of necessary equipment, the hostel can start filtering waste water and returning it to the system as technical water.

SOCIAL UTILITY

The first hostel in this part of Serbia will significantly improve the tourist offer in the Uzice area. Thanks to its environment-friendly operations, Republik Eco Hostel has a minimum impact on the environment and, thus, sets an example for both its guests and local population.

Uzice is situated at the intersection of roads to Bosnia and Mokra Gora and has a large number of tourist attractions in its surroundings. Guests find Mount Zlatibor, Sirogojno, Kadinjaca and the National Museum in Uzice particularly interesting. Besides, the city on the Djetina River also had the first hydroelectric power station in Europe and the second in the world.

After the opening of this hostel, a large number of tourists in transit decide to spend a night in this city and most of them even decide to prolong their stay in Uzice.

Shared bathrooms and multiple-bed rooms are the only things that make hostels different from hotels.

A special attention at Republic Eco Hostel is paid to shared premises, where guests become closer through interpersonal communication. This business concept has also proved to be very efficient in regard to the satisfaction of guests who here feel at home, make new friends and even resume their journey with other hostel guests. On the other hand, the hostel host is able to freely communicate with guests, sense their needs, advise or help them plan the rest of their journey. Among other things, the hostel staff organizes walks around the city and transport to the most significant tourist sights for guests and finds them a guide when needed. Thanks to the hostel's business policy to provide its guests with a tourist guide, they receive professional guidance that makes a strong impression on them, which they later share with their acquaintances and other tourists, thus increasing the attractivity of this hostel.

The hostel staff also points guests to local manufacturers of souvenirs, organic food and other products, which is also an opportunity for the development of other tourist services in this area. Republik Eco Hostel closely cooperates with the Tourism Organization of Uzice as well.

Republik Eco Hostel has a signed agreement on business and technical cooperation with the Technical Business School of Higher Education in Uzice, which makes it possible for students from the Department of Tourism to do an internship at the hostel. These students spend 15 working days getting familiar with the way in which this hostel operates, how it is advertised, its marketing management and ways of working with tourist agencies and tour operators. Work at this hostel is an excellent chance for students to perfect foreign languages while hanging out with guests and doing day-to-day activities. A program has been launched to attract volonteers from all over the world to come to work at this hostel and, thus, use their experience to enhance the quality of its service and promote it in the countries they come from.

FINANCIAL POTENTIAL

Republik Eco Hostel in Uzice is the only hostel in that part of Serbia. There is but one hotel in Uzice which is very old and, therefore, only partially used. According to the data from 2012, this city records 22,000 overnight stays annually. Besides, the Balkans is currently the most popular destination in Europe for backpackers.

Owing to its environment-friendly operations, Republik Eco Hostel is defined by global booking systems as a green hostel, the one of the kind in Serbia at the moment, which has significantly increased the number of guests attracted by the ecology theme, and this trend shall continue with appropriate marketing moves that hostel owners plan to make.

Republik Eco Hostel has 5 rooms: one double, one triple, two quadruple rooms and one with 12 beds in it.

During four months of operations, the hostel has had guests from over 20 different countries (New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Mexico, Japan) and recorded 400 visits and 700 overnight stays. Considering that these results were achieved in the first four months following its opening, we can say that this hostel has a great potential in this business. An overnight stay at the hostel costs between 1,000 and 1,500 dinars per person.

In January 2014, foreigners accounted for 50 percent of guests, which is why the hostel is focused on attracting tourists from abroad. It can be found on 7 booking sites, all social media networks and tourist web portals. In addition, the owners of Uzice-based hostel have launched an initiative for networking hostels in smaller towns across Serbia, and they also consider connecting with hostels in the region.

A total of EUR 24,000 is invested in the hostel, and the plan is to boost its capacity by another 5 beds. Thanks to environmental savings, fixed expenses in January 2014 were cut by RSD 40,000 from September 2013, while further investments are expected to significantly reduce overall expenditures of the hostel which will, thus, achieve its ultimate goal – to become energy independent.

OTHER INTERESTING INFORMATION ABOUT THE PROJECT

The hostel as a business idea is backed by the National Employment Agency, Grupa 484 and the USAID, Trag Foundation, Rockfeller Foundation, and Erste Bank. Republik Eco Hostel won the first prize among 109 projects at the National Forum for Green Ideas.

- 100 Euro-pallets were used to make 25 beds, 3 kitchen tables, benches and sofas for the living room.

- 10 different sizes of pallets were used to make tables, bedside tables and sofas for the balcony and the living room.

- Over 30 different craftsmen, volonteers and helpers were working on the renovation and equipping of the hostel.

- 300 euros were spent on screws for the hostel furniture

- 30 liters of eco paint were used to coat the hostel furniture.

- All surfaces of the hostel furniture were sanded by hand before being lacquered.

- Absolutely all elements within the hostel had been rejected as unusable, but they got their second chance at the hostel.

- The underlying idea of the hostel is inspired by the Republic of Uzice, the first liberated territory in occupied Europe in the World War II.

- The first guests who entered this hostel were a married couple from Frankfurt, who planned to spend on night in Uzice and then resume their journey to Montenegro. But, instead of checking out in the morning, they decided to prolong their stay and spend their entire vacation of 19 days at this hostel. The hostel staff maintains contact with them, and they have announced they will be staying in Uzice this year again.

If the eco hostel in Uzice is your favorite for the Investment of the Year Award, you can vote for this nomination at the official website of the Aurea Award.

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