Illegal hostels and hotels in New York City are continuing to be closed down as part of a new law that took effect on May 1st. In all, the closures may remove up to 3,000 beds from the local market.
It’s a bewildering situation for HI-USA, as our nation’s largest hostel network and an advocate for youth travel. HI-USA’s commitment to safe and healthy accommodations is borne out by our HI-New York hostel, which is fully compliant and remains open. The closure of illegal hostels is fully justified, yet one feels compassion for the youth travelers who flood New York City during the summer months and depend on hostels for affordable lodging.
It’s also a distressing paradox, since appreciation of the educational and economic value of youth travel is otherwise soaring. With its experiential benefits long recognized, youth travel as an economic force is underscored by data from the World Youth and Student Travel Confederation and the World Tourism Organization: youth tourism accounts for about 20% of all international arrivals, or about $136 billion of worldwide tourism receipts. Youth travel matters, and hostels enable it.
And there lies the answer.
Our nation’s largest city has an opportunity to answer a pressing local need while at the same time setting an example for the rest of the country: define “hostel” in its laws and regulations. It might seem straightforward, but few other American cities currently define “hostel” either. And ambiguity can create unintended hurdles to developing hostels.
In New York City, clarifying what a hostel building must contain to be acceptable – such as health, fire and safety requirements – will generate wider interest in developing “legal” hostels by the real estate community. And those new hostels will mean more beds, which will be a good thing for the travelers we serve.
In the bigger picture, it all points to a deeper need: a national youth travel policy. Youth travel is an opportunity for educational and economic growth worthy of national attention and dialogue. Now is the time to recognize its importance to our country, our economy and our world.
Working together, our nation’s largest city and our nation’s largest hostel network have an unprecedented opportunity to productively address an important local concern and, at the same time, to set the stage for a national youth travel policy dialogue. Success will be important to young people everywhere.