As part of the International Youth Hostel Federation, HI-USA has a distinctly international context for its work. The two organizations naturally share a common mission of promoting intercultural understanding. And HI-USA is connected through IYHF to more than 70 other national associations worldwide.
The connectivity shows in various ways, such as a common reservations system, common quality standards and common branding concepts. It also surfaces at international meetings, through the agendas set and dialogue that follows.
In late September I attended the 2011 meeting of national CEOs in Lisbon, Portugal. Nearly all CEOs participated. Sponsored by IYHF, the CEO meeting focused on finding better ways to reach those we serve, through more sophisticated use of social media, more interactive web sites, and more robust reservation channels. Like the United Nations, IYHF counts on country contributions for funding and those conversations with national associations can be similarly contentious. But not so much this time. There seems a wide acceptance of the need for a well-performing international office in a globalizing marketplace.
Several weeks later in mid-October I was part of a five person HI-USA delegation that met in Ottawa with our counterparts in the Canadian and German hostelling associations. Among the three, HI-Germany (called “DJH”) is far the largest (with more than 10 million overnights annually, compared to about one million overnights for HI-USA and 700,000 for HI-Canada).
The diversity of the worldwide hostelling movement was evident in Lisbon, and illustrated best at the trilateral meeting. DJH has less than one-tenth of its total overnights coming from individual travelers; overwhelmingly it is a national association focused on groups. By comparison, HI-Canada and HI-USA are driven mostly by individual (not group) traveler demand. An irreconcilable difference of perspectives? Hardly. We focused on further developing common programs (such as IOU Respect) and piloting new approaches to better reaching those we serve (such as sharing email addresses of visitors from our countries who stay in our respective hostels while travelling abroad). Mission trumps differences.
At both meetings, I shared some ideas on building a worldwide hostelling movement. My premise is that with changes in technology, demographics and organization, we have the opportunity – with a relatively small change in what we do – to create a significantly more profound impact on civil society, one worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize. If you would like to learn more, here’s my presentation.
Worldwide hostelling remains robust today, despite a weak economy. In part, it’s an idea well-suited for the times. But even more so, it is supported by a global network of dedicated staff and volunteers who are committed to its success.