A LETTER TO THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Dear WSJ Editors:
Many thanks for Craig Karmin’s engaging article in your May 27th edition on “ high end hostels ” and the expanding US hostel market. It is a big change that deep-pocket investors are eyeing entry into the US hostel marketplace. Yet the news may be even bigger than the article is able to capture.
In fact, the world’s largest network of hostels – Hostelling International — has been operating in the US for 80 years. And, the world’s #2-rated and #3 rated Extra Large Hostels (over 250 beds), including hostels in Europe and beyond, are right here in the United States, HI Boston and HI Chicago. The independent rankings are published annually from global guest feedback received by Hostelworld, the world’s largest, hostel-focused reservation service.
As the CEO of Hostelling International USA (HI USA), the nation’s leading hostel network with more than 50 in our collection, I’d like to share some additional context to the US hostel scene. By our count, there are about 360 “hostels” currently in the United States. With the exception of HI USA, the hostels are mainly operated by independent business people whose affinity for travel has traditionally exceeded their access to private capital. While that’s limited their expansion capacity, many are well-appreciated by travelers who stay there.
While HI USA may be the largest, we are admittedly different. We are not about generating a return for investors; we are a nonprofit organization that is firstly about bringing different cultures together under one roof to promote tolerance and understanding. We invest in education and engagement programs and staff to deliver our mission. In that respect, we understand the temptation to put us in the pages of the Chronicle for Higher Education, rather than The Wall Street Journal.
Yet we are hardly in the “modest Mom and Pop” category:
- HI USA hostels are world class. Based on hostel ratings by hundreds of thousands Hostelworld users, HI USA is #3 large hostel network worldwide. And that includes both for-profit and nonprofit hostels, over 20,000 of them worldwide.
- HI USA hostels are popular. We hosted over 1.1 million overnights from guests representing more than 100 countries last year, in our hostels large and small across the US.
- HI USA hostels are affordable. By making travel accessible to more travelers, we bring together a diverse group of people whose experiences help create a more tolerant world.
- HI USA hostels are important. Our hostel stays encourage dialogue and open mindedness. That’s why we are affiliated with the United Nations, and why independent academic research confirmed our hostels “promote equality” and “facilitate cross-cultural understanding.”
What’s our secret? Our amazing staff and volunteers, our incredible hostel locations, and our deep commitment to travel as more than simply tourism.
And here’s perhaps the most surprising news of all: we are genuinely excited about welcoming new hostel entrants to the United States. While their motivations are different, they will widen awareness of hostels and youth travel among Americans, just like your article did. And we believe that growing awareness will be a good thing for everyone!
Russ Hedge, CEO, HI USA