A&O Hostels is employing social distancing concierges to give insider tips on where travellers can see the sights – while avoiding the crowds. Olivia Palamountain reports

A&O Hostels has turned the dreary concept of social distancing into something of an adventure thanks to its new “social distancing specialists” concierge service.

This insider intel comes courtesy of the A&O Hostels’ front-of-house teams, who are clued up on secluded spots, secret cycling routes and under-the-radar points of interest.

“We wanted to launch an initiative that would enhance the guest experience and empower our staff members by inviting them to share invaluable insights from each city that travellers would not have access to if they were staying at another property,” says a group spokesperson.A&O Hostels“Understandably, the concept of exploring a city may seem overwhelming following recent months so we have appointed specialists to reassure guests that they can travel safely by exploring off-the-beaten track experiences in each city to avoid the crowds.”A&O HostelsEurope’s largest privately-owned hostel brand, A&O is a popular choice for budget-conscious city travellers, with properties in Berlin, Dortmund, Dresden, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Graz, Hamburg, Cologne, Leipzig, Nuremberg, Prague, Vienna, Aachen, Weimar, Amsterdam, Salzburg, Stuttgart and Munich.A&O HostelsThe group offers a combination of hotel and hostel under one roof – think a large variety of room options to suit different needs, from families and groups, to business travellers and backpackers. (Rates start from €12 per person per night, without breakfast.)

All properties offer 24-hour service, free wifi, guest kitchens and laundry rooms and are all centrally located (most within a five minute walk of a train station).A&O HostelsJacqueline Rieger of A&O Hostels in Cologne shared some of the tips that social distancing specialists might share with travellers in The Telegraph.

“We are located in the ‘party’ section of Cologne, so [there are more crowds], but staff tell guests where they can go to avoid them,” she says. “Our guests vary in age range, so needs differ.

For example, if an older couple wants to see live music, we might say there’s this jazz club instead of advising them to go to a techno gig. But of course if they want to go see some techno, that option is open.”

At the moment, Rieger advises the city’s Gloria theatre for concerts, because seating capacity has been reduced by more than a third, with a maximum of 250 guests, and the air in the air conditioning system is replaced approximately every ten minutes.

In terms of must-see historical monuments, she recommends visiting Cologne Cathedral between Monday to Thursday before 11.30am.

But with measures changing constantly, how do specialists stay on top of which attractions are crowded and not, at which time?

“We’ve a large team of about 40 people, the majority of whom are students so they have a little more time to suss out new places. If they see something we think we should add to our list of spots without the crowds, they will make a note.

“We meet once a month, and talk about what’s new. We also feed back what guests said about what was good, what was not so good,” she says.A&O HostelsAnother perk of staying with A&O is its new cancellation policy for existing and future group bookings.

Until December 31, 2021, all existing and future group bookings can cancel their accommodation reservations without incurring any cancellation fees until 6pm on the day of arrival. Pre-payments are no longer required and the new policy is available for both travel agents and direct customer bookings.

For those still travelling, A&O is only filling rooms with guests in the same booking or if on separate bookings, allowing a maximum of four people per room (50 per cent reduced capacity) as part of a wider social distancing initiative across all its hostels.

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