'Dad, let's build a hostel!'

Monday 25th May, 2015


After becoming jobless overnight Claudio Terreni and his father saw a business opportunity in Italy's substantial tourist industry.

Have you ever lost your job on the same day as your father, in a country where one in three young people are unemployed? Claudio Terreni has.

“At some point I realised I would simply have to invent a job for myself,” says Villa Giulia’s CEO Terreni about his job hunting experience.

Father and son pulled together sources and skills, renovating an old Vatican-owned building in Pisa to turn it into a youth hostel for the summer season. Sustainable, smart and modern, the small hotel opened in 2013. For the rest of the year, it functions as student accommodation.

Claudio Terreni, owner of Villa Giulia

It was in December 2012 when Terreni originally lost his job at the Hotel Le Torri, the same company as his father Ottavio. Located on the coast of Pisa, this picturesque holiday facility was sponsored by the national union of blind and visually impaired people. However, sponsorship didn’t spare it from the disastrous consequences of the European recession and, like many other businesses, the Hotel Le Torri folded with little notice.

Where many other young men may have turned to drug dealing, Terreni had it all figured out already. Less than four months into unemployed life, he was signing a rental contract that committed him to Villa Giulia for 18 years, embarking on a loan of over €130,000 (£94,000).

Terreni’s idea for the Villa Giulia came from his previous work in the hospitality industry. Ottavio had been a high-profile hotel manager and their main goal was to recreate their own profession for themselves. After all, if nobody will hire you then why not hire yourself?

The concept behind Villa Giulia was grounded by Terreni’s business strategy: “During the winter, tourism in Pisa is scarce. Most hotels close at least for the season. But after the summer, student accommodation secures the rooms, which leaves me a lot of time for myself.”

Now with 24/7 hospitality, 365 days a year, Villa Giulia provides an affordable, quality service around the clock, and has nailed some local records too.

If nobody will hire you, then why not hire yourself?

“As of today, we offer the cheapest price for a double room in the entire Pisa market,” says Terreni.

A sound online presence has been crucial for the Villa’s success with good pictures, catchy descriptions, and fast booking software.

Fortunately Terreni had a whole team of friends willing to help him: Saiara Pedrazzi produced the hostel’s charming photo shoot, web designer Federico Falaschi built the website, while former girlfriend Carolina Pitanti wrote the descriptions and translated the international contracts. His mother was also on hand to do the laundry everyday at their private apartment for the hostel’s supply of clean sheets. Purchasing industrial machines was still not feasible.

But the initial problems went far beyond the laundry: “When we were starting off, I was really swamped with problems,” he says.

A room at Villa Giulia

One problem was the faulty booking software: “Very often the hostel would be fully booked, but the software would overbook no less than two beds a night.” Often Terreni was left having to stuff his little Punto with tourists and drive them right in the arms of competitors all around town.

“A fully booked night invoices 600 euros. Each overbooking costs 50 euros. Sometimes I would spend up to 500 euros in overbooking compensations. It was tremendously frustrating,” he says.

One day, a couple of lost tourists showed up at the wrong hostel, waving Villa Giulia Hostel Pisa’s booking reference. In one glance, the competitor realised who had been taking its clients away with lower prices, and decided to take them to court for stealing a part of their name: Hostel Pisa. Unsurprisingly, four hostels in Pisa have “Hostel Pisa” as part of their names, so Villa Giulia pleaded not guilty and won the case.

I am a shit manager, but I have entrepreneurial skills

Much has changed since those days. His mother is now spared from doing the laundry as Villa Giulia bought its own industrial equipment in 2014. New booking software was also acquired in 2014 and cleaning ladies were hired in collaboration with a local social cooperative earlier this year. Villa Giulia’s social commitment is also devoted to the integration program of a disabled boy from the local community.

“Villa Giulia is like an oasis of peace, where students can live in harmony,” says engineering student and tenant Samuele Tarantino, 25.

Students are happy to live at Villa Giulia, despite having to leave over the summer, due its affordability. Its location is also very convenient.

“Living in Villa Giulia was one of the greatest times of my life! I got to meet so many nice, interesting people from different countries, it’s such a great place!” says Alexandra Malterre, 24, a chemistry exchange student from Paris.

The inviting interiors of the hostel

So what is the secret of this 25-year-old successful entrepreneur who studies mechanical engineering and even finds the time to tour with his indie band?

“My father and I complement each other,” Terreni explains. “He was never an entrepreneur, but he is a great manager. I am a shit manager, but I have entrepreneurial skills. Our collaboration was probably our strongest point!”

Terreni describes the fact that for many young people their professional future will not match the expectations they grew up with as a cruel but necessary realisation for the young and unemployed. Ultimately young workers in Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal cannot live off the notions of professional life absorbed from their parents.

“Now when I watch the news and I hear the word unemployment I know what it truly means. When you’re unemployed nothing else really matters, even studying for university becomes a luxury.”