Liad Monchase spent the last six years constantly moving and traveling. His job as a freelancer in a European company allowed him to visit and live in several countries -- such as Peru, Mexico, USA, India, Nepal, Greece, and Spain -- where he stayed for long periods, ranging from three months to three years. During a short visit to his hometown in Odem, a small village in Golan Heights Israel, he was greeted with a business opportunity that might make him stay home for good.
"A big building located in a perfect location was looking for new owners. I have always dreamt of opening a hostel and this seems like the best opportunity to transform that dream to reality," said Liad, who immediately sought the help of a childhood friend, Yaron Shelef, an ex-nomad who now works as a tourist guide.
Liad said that Yaron is a walking encyclopedia of the Golan Heights region, making him the perfect partner for the business. Yaron, also a traveler, was proud of his accomplishments: "I have climbed the snowy mountains of Nepal, sailed on the great Amazon, and watched herds of elephants and prides of Lions in Africa. Now I'm about to become a budding hostel co-owner," he beamed.
Liad and Yaron gathered up their life savings to purchase the building. The prime location made their bank accounts hurt a little. Now strapped for cash, they knew they had to find other means to transform it into a cozy home for tourists. Liad had already given up his freelancing job to focus full-time on the hostel, while Yaron still continues to work as a tour guide but he was putting less time into it.
"Although I believe that both Yaron and I are built for construction, plumbing, interior designing, and even cooking, we couldn't handle them all by ourselves. I started posting on different volunteering websites like Help Exchange and Help and Stay. Volunteering is something that many people around the world look for because it allows them to travel extensively for a smaller cost and stay longer at places they like," he said.
They got numerous responses in over a few weeks. During construction the volunteers helped with everything – mixing cement, laying bricks, cutting wood, painting walls, etc. They also gave bright ideas for interior design. The volunteers came from Mexico, USA, Canada, Russia, Italy, and Brazil among others, and the cultural diversity helped with making the look and feel of the hostel more international. Everyone was putting in their personal touch.
Things were going smoothly but Liad felt like something was missing. "We were able to get together with volunteers from far countries but we can't seek the help of our neighbors in the Middle East. Our brothers and sisters from these countries are barred from visiting Israel and so the hostel felt incomplete without this Middle Eastern touch."
The Missing Middle Eastern Touch
With the construction almost finished, Liad and Yaron looked for something different but homey for the logo of their hostel, aptly called "Golan Heights Hostel". They had a website, a Facebook fan page, and a blank wall by the entrance all waiting to be labeled. They sat down with local designers but the lack of imagination coupled with the exorbitant fees forced them to look elsewhere -- until they found out about Freelancer.com.
"We heard about Freelancer.com from another hostel owner in Israel. We immediately launched a logo contest. All we had to do was describe the hostel, give details about the surroundings, and texts we would like to include. Nothing was a must; we gave the designers freedom," said Liad.
Two days later, they received over 20 entries and by the time the contest ended, they had 40 logos that were mostly great. It was almost impossible to pick just one. After chatting with the designers, they trimmed the entries down to just one – a colorful logo that depicted the rusted remnant of a car sitting in front of the hostel. The volunteers decided to paint and decorate it instead of discarding it. "It was fitting and unique. When people see the logo, they would immediately know it's us."
When they paid the Freelancer, Kimuchan, they were surprised to see that he was from Bahrain. "He was the Middle Eastern touch we were looking for! Freelancer.com bridged us to someone that was completely out of our reach. We're very honored to have our logo designed by someone from there," said Liad.
No Longer Nomads
Golan Heights, a rocky plateau composed of archaeological parks, natural springs, forest reserves, wineries, and popular tourist attractions like the Nimrod Fortress, will be hopefully Liad and Yaron's permanent home. They opened the hostel last December after about a year of planning and building. Their hostel is the first one to be built in that part of Odem and tourists were already inquiring to book long before it was completed.
Apart from the great location, what sets Golan Heights Hostel apart is the owners' traveling experience. "We know what tourists need. We want to make a comfortable home for all our guests. We have shared areas where people can bond and make new friends, private corners, homey rooms, a vibrant living room, and a kitchen that can host about 30 guests.
As budget travelers, Liad and Yaron also knew the importance of living costs. Their rates range from 20 euros for a dorm bed up to 75 euros for the hostel suite. They serve free breakfast and insider information from their very own tourist guide, Yaron. The cost of nearby places varied around 100 to 300 euros a night.
The low rates come with a price, however, as the owners currently can't afford hiring additional staff other than their volunteers. "At the moment, the hostel can pay its own bills. As for manpower, Yaron and I, along with our volunteers, take shifts running the hostel. It's quite easy and fun – mostly check-ins and outs, cleaning, making the beds, keeping the kitchen ready, and creating a great vibe. We're very lucky to have our volunteers! To honor them, we made a wall-of-fame in our website, http://www.thegolanheightshostel.com/."
Eventually, they would like to hire a manager who can develop and promote the hostel. A tour desk and a small grocery store are also in the works. Liad and Yaron are 100 percent committed to growing the hostel in order to serve more people on a tight budget. "We feel great doing what we love while making a living. At the same time, we are able to support the local community."