It’s Thanksgiving morning and I am sitting with a cup of coffee and yesterday’s Wall Street Journal to read about a new entry into the youth travel market: billionaire Ronald Burkle. His private equity firm is planning to invest major dollars into a large-city youth hostel chain for college aged audiences. This is big news for hostelling.
Their plan is to renovate as many as 10 low-cost hotels in major US cities into “premium youth hostels”. Miami Beach is first on their list, with New York, San Francisco, Washington and Los Angeles also mentioned. Amenities are to include bars, restaurants, swimming pools and stylized lobbies, with an overnight rate sized accordingly.
My applause for Mr. Burkle’s plans may seem surprising to some, when HI-USA already operates its own style of hostels in four of the five cities (not Miami Beach). But to others, it will make perfect sense.
Just look at what happened earlier this year with illegal hostels operating in New York City. The media was filled with articles about some hostels being closed down due to code violations — the sort of nightmare that causes misperceptions about hostels more generally. While our HI-New York hostel was totally unaffected, it was not a good moment for hostelling.
The answer is more quality hostels.
That’s why hostel quality is such a focus here at HI-USA. A turning point was five years ago, when HI-USA rewrote its already-high standards based on guest feedback and our nonprofit mission. We are now one of the five top-rated HI networks in the world, and a resource for local governments seeking to encourage quality hostel development. And beyond the hostel stay, we deliver education and community programming that promotes intercultural exchange.
Mr. Burkle’s business model will be understandably different from HI-USA’s nonprofit aims. But the youth travel market is a large one, and there is plenty of room for those who want to elevate it.
And that’s the larger point: we need to encourage youth travel. It can be a life-changing experience for 20-somethings. Hostels enable it, and enhance it. But to take the plunge, more people – both young people and their parents — need to know about it.
Welcome, Mr. Burkle. And greetings, WSJ readers.