This Is a Hostel? Not your average hostel – our comments on a New York Times Article

We loved this article in the travel section of the New York Times. We felt it really hit the nail on the head with what we understand from our customers, all of whom say they would rather pay a few pounds more to experience something funky, different and unique.

When reading about the creators of a Mexican hostel Downtown Beds we couldn’t help but draw comparisons…

“The space had the bones for a youthful project,” said Carlos Couturier, managing partner at Grupo Habita.

This is exactly how I felt when I saw Plas Curig for the first time. It was oozing character behind its constitutional façade and screaming out to me to be loved and restored to its former glory as a beautiful grand Victorian house. All who surrounded me were wary of what a huge project it would be, the YHA décor had been so ingrained into the buildings bones since it opened as a hostel in 1945 it seemed like it wouldn’t let go of its shabby attire without a fight. I see now why it took a naïve 24 year old to see its potential. Now I’ve had the trials of doing it up I would definitely be more careful next time! Or would I….

“People don’t come to Downtown Beds because it’s cheap; we have had guests pay with Amex black cards,” said Mr. Couturier, “They come because it’s fun and different.”

‘Clearly, Downtown Beds is not your traditional hostel, nor could its guests be defined as typical backpackers. It is one of the latest examples of a global, industrywide trend focused on accommodating design-conscious 20- and 30-somethings who are seeking out the scene (via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) for reasons beyond saving a buck.

I was so pleased to read what kind of customers Downtown Beds attract as we get the same type.  It seems a new wave of ‘person’ is setting a trend of staying somewhere because it’s unique. Perhaps this is the beginning of the end for your once sought after Holiday Inn, people loved that they knew what they were getting but now it seems the traveler is wanting a surprise, an experience, something to talk about, something to discover.

“We’re seeing more and more travelers who can afford to stay at hotels, yet choose to stay at hostels for the social experience,” said Aaron Chaffee, director of hostels at Hostelling International USA, who noted that many modern hostels are offering the same amenities as hotels: private rooms, concierge service, Wi-Fi, restaurants and bars. And, of course, stylish interiors.

This is exactly what I wanted to do. I had the vision to create Plas Curig aged just 24, after staying in some of the world’s most inspiring hostels, first in Borneo and then in Malaysia, the USA and Europe. I wanted to try and bring some of the colour and luxury that I experienced overseas back to the UK; incorporating all the comforts of a modern hotel and the atmosphere of good foreign hostels, finished off with my love of interior design, without people having to pay a fortune to stay. I believe wholeheartedly that you should not have to pay through the roof for something clean, comfortable and with tons of character – affordable luxury is something I hoped to create for everyone. I made the decision to keep bunk beds and no en-suites so to keep it a hostel in essence. I also decided to create large communal areas to hang out in including a large self-catering kitchen so people can cook together. I can’t believe these small things are what define a hostel, what make it what it is: “a social experience”. Surely these are good things, yet hostels have a bad name. This is something I wanted to change. Maybe one day the hostel will flip the hotel and become a more desirable option. One can only hope.

According to the article: ‘ the trend has its roots in Asia, known for its capsule hotels, and Europe, largely considered the vanguard of hosteling.’

This is where I’ve seen the most beautiful hostels. My first was Singghasana Lodge in Kuching. It had the essence of Borneo in its décor, something I’ve tried with my hostel (but with Snowdonia obviously). It had the travelers’ feel you get all over the world in great hostels and it just made one feel so at home when so far away. My second and third were in Kuala Lumpur, hostel Number Eight being my favourite. I could not believe I had a twin room with a funky shower room just down the corridor and beautiful décor throughout for half the price of a hotel. I couldn’t fathom what the difference was except you pay double in a hotel to have your shower attached to your room! Who cares if you walk down the corridor to go to the loo in your dressing gown or even your underwear – that’s what’s so great about hostels: they are liberating. Even the most prudish of hostellers in our place find their ‘inner nudist’ in our corridors!!

Europe’s hostels were something a bit different, the concept was the same but the décor went from fun and funky to elegant and boutique hotel like, I saw this when I stayed at a beautiful hostel in Prague called Miss Sophie’s. Its interesting to see in this article that this is something almost planned in Europe:

The German Youth Hostel Association has tapped the Laboratory for Visionary Architecture, also known as LAVA, an eco-conscious local firm, to transform the circa-1930 Berchtesgaden Youth Hostel. “We were commissioned to rethink what a hostel could be in the age of boutique hotels,” said the LAVA director Tobias Wallisser.

According to the article “Investors are starting to realize that there is money to be made in this business,” According to the latest international hosteling survey — which the confederation produces in collaboration with Hostelling International,, and others — the industry is now valued at $34 billion, with the global economic downturn acting as a boon. That said, the profitability of hostels has gone largely unnoticed — until now. “There’s been an influx of high-profile brands in the market,” said Mr. Chapman, “with hostels that are challenging two- and three-star hotels. The difference between these two options is basically the letter ‘s.’ It stands for ‘social.’ ”

I can relate to this and it is something that I managed to convince my investor about – with money being so tight for most people, how can we loose with a hostel. It’s a win win situation, its going to be a great place to stay no matter what the economic climate is, nobody will be ‘giving anything up’ or ‘sacrificing’ to stay with us as what we provide is all you need and will ever need with the extra benefit of the word ‘social’.

‘For many travelers, though, a hostel is just a cheap place to crash;’ ‘the word tends to connote an environment akin to its pronunciation’ ‘there is something to be said for the romance of roughing it — the journey, not the lodging being the point.’“a hostel is only well designed if it supports what it was designed to do: provide a social space for travelers to meet up, go out and explore the location and then return to reflect on the experiences of the day.”

This is what the crux of a hostel is and for us its what all ‘hostel virgins’ say they love most about our hostel. Farryn Weiner in her quote sums up a hostel perfectly and she is defiantly the type of customer we, and I presume all other ‘concept’, ‘new age’ ‘whatever you like to call it’ hostels are looking for.

 Farryn Weiner, a 27-year-old New Yorker, is one such traveller… Recently, Ms. Weiner booked a bed in one of Freehand’s “quad” rooms. “It was like a mix of a hostel and a boutique hotel,” she said. “Everyone was sharing tips on where they were going and what they were doing; I walked away with all sorts of connections. For me, at this moment in my life, that’s worth more than a five-star spa.”

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