Google tools ensure that this hostel along the Way of Saint James is highlighted on all pilgrims’ maps
O Cebreiro is one of the key points along the Way of Saint James. Located in the province of Lugo at 1300 metres above sea level, this town of Celtic origin has an undeniable tourist attraction due to its characteristic round thatch-roofed homes (pallozas) and the Church of Santa María La Real, considered the oldest completely-conserved monument along Saint James’ Way. They say that the legend of the Holy Grail arose here and that it was one of the illustrious townspeople, Mr Elías Valiña Sampedro, along with a group of volunteers, who marked the route from France to Compostela with the famed yellow arrows.
For many long centuries, millions of pilgrims doing the French part of the Way passed through this village. However, it only had one hostel and a small lodge that lacked the capacity to house all visitors. That is why in 1993 – coinciding with a Jacobean year – Antón, Diego’s father, decided to open the Hostal Mesón Antón. With the help of two friends, he started to renovate the old palloza he inherited from his father, which had been the family home, and the adjoining stables to convert them into a hostel that is a well-known landmark along the Way today.
Seven years ago, Antón retired and passed the business onto his son. Diego knew that it would be a huge challenge, since this job is based on living for and serving others. However, not only did he excel and overcome the challenge, but also found a way to combine it with one of his great hobbies, sport, creating routes and activities in the surrounding region for his guests. ‘The best thing about being here is that you can sit at a single table with people from around the planet and that is super enriching and gratifying for me. My presence here today is for these people. They have made me grow as a person.’
The motivation to grow and excel each and every day made Diego focus his efforts on improving the accommodation. To this end, he created two complementary services to improve the experience of the pilgrims who stay. When he was only 23 years old, he started a bicycle hire business, realising that many people were exhausted after the tough climb up to O Cebreiro and descending on a bike was a great rest and treat for them. Moreover, he got his taxi license so he could handle his guests’ requests for transfers. And this year he has added a new service for bicycle repairs.
In 2018 Diego set out to look for options on the internet to publicise his three businesses and discovered the free Google business tools. He decided to implement them because they offered him the option of providing content for his website – which was obsolete at that time – and was totally free of charge. The creation of a Google Business profile has represented a before and an after for his three businesses. ‘Now I receive many more interactions than before, specially phone calls. I think it is an extremely interesting tool because, on top of it being free, it gives you the option of creating a website with no need to have programming knowledge or outside help.’ Thanks to this tool, Diego has also managed to have much closer and personalised relations with his customers, something that has created greater trust in his businesses, and added professionalism. ‘Now customers come knowing what they will find and are aware of all the activities that we offer.’
For Diego, the pandemic arrived at the very worst time. ‘COVID-19 has crushed us because we had decided to make a significant investment to reform the hostel at the beginning of 2020 and the pandemic started right when the works were completed.’ But this young man from Lugo took advantage of the months of shutdown to spend more time on the Google business profiles of his three businesses. ‘I posted photos of the three activities every day and was totally surprised that some images ended up having between 80,000 and 90,000 views. I also received a lot of calls and searches on Google Maps.’
Diego had no training in digital marketing, but says that he would love to take one of the many courses on Google Digital Workshop this winter. And to boost his businesses even further, he plans to create campaigns on Google Ads.
To Diego, the Way of Saint James is everything to him. ‘It is a journey that helps you to cope with other difficulties. The Way doesn’t end in Santiago. Santiago is where your path begins.’