Nearly three weeks ago, Hostelling International USA announced plans to convert a well-located bed and breakfast in Houston into a hostel. We have identified a handsome building that will reflect well on the city, and serve as a beacon for travelers worldwide who want to experience Texas affordably.
For some in the community, the announcement seemed a time for congratulations. For others, it was a time for wonderment.
Local media used a bit of word play in conveying the news: “A Hostel Atmosphere is coming to Montrose”. “Hostel Takeover: Lovett Inn B&B To Be Sold, Turned Over to Youngsters”. And compounding the apparent irony: the proposed hostel once served as residence for a past Houston mayor.
Of course, substituting “hostel” instead of “hostile” (definition: belligerent, as in a “hostile takeover”) makes for a humorous pun …so long as everyone understands it is creative expression, not negative commentary.
And there’s the rub. Hostels are hardly an American tradition. They first originated decades ago in Europe for school aged travelers, who now are much more inclined to travel extensively between semesters, if not for an entire year. Fewer young people here have had the opportunity of a hostel stay.
So it is not surprising when there is some confusion. Mistakenly, social service shelters for runaways or the homeless may firstly come to mind. They deliver important services, but of course it is not what we do. The HI-USA mission is educational travel.
That’s one reason why we are quick to share information about those whom we serve:
— About 55% of all guests are international travelers, from more than 80 countries.
— About 20% are part of a group program (church, scout, etc.)
–Among individuals, 30% are students and 55% are employed (mostly with college degrees), and about half are travelling for longer than four weeks.
This interesting, well-educated audience, who are staying in our hostels by choice, is drawn by the camaraderie and the affordability of the hostel stay. They also appreciate HI-USA’s quality standards.
And if the topic turns to buildings, we have inspiring examples of historic preservation in other cities, like our hostel in Sacramento, an 1885 Victorian mansion, or in New York City, designed by Richard Morris Hunt, architect of the base of the Statue of Liberty.
While some of our buildings may be dazzling, our organization is best measured by those who use them. In Houston, those familiar with our hostels rallied to newspaper blogs to correct others’ misimpressions, answering references to youth shelters and hostile youth, with stories of travel and cultural exchange. Their postings provide smart, articulate, engaged commentary. (Read the Houston Post blog, and consider leaving your own posting!)
It’s really no surprise, then. It’s the hostel users themselves who are our best profile.