But that’s a hostel for another era. These days, hostels are more like boutique hotels at a bargain price.
The upscale hostel trend was born in Europe. To attract younger travelers, hoteliers started outfitting hostels with bars, coffee counters, game rooms and full-service restaurants.
This type of accommodation has become so common that it has earned a name: poshtel, short for posh hostel.
The idea has made its way across the Atlantic, with the introduction of such brands as Freehand and Generator. Rates for shared rooms can be as low as $25 a night. Many offer private room alternatives as well as free Wi-Fi, breakfast and activities to promote interaction among guests. Some even have swimming pools.
“Over the last 20 years, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the variety of the look and feel of hostels,” says Netanya Trimboli, director of communications and public relations for Hostelling International USA, a non-profit, member organization. “With just the sheer number of hostels in Europe, there has been a natural creation of various niche products. Just as the hotel market saw the introduction of life-style boutique hotels 25 or so years ago, we’re now seeing the same in the hostel sector.”
Trimboli says there are more than 360 hostels in the USA. According to the global organization Hostelling International there are more than 4,000 hostels worldwide.
The demographics of a poshtel vary, but for the most part they attract Millennials, those in their 20s and early 30s who are highly coveted by the hotel industry because of their increasing purchasing power and desire to travel.
“We find Millennials are especially drawn to our emphasis on social interaction among people of diverse backgrounds to serve our purpose to create a more tolerant world,” Trimboli says.
The popularity of hostels is growing, says Jeremy Crider, manager of public relations for North America for Trivago, a travel booking website.
In London, hostels accounted for about 3% of all accommodation searches for summer 2016, based on data collected from January to June for travel between June 1 and Aug. 31. Last year at the same time, 2% of searches for London travel involved hostels, Crider says.
“As more and more travelers seek out a local, authentic experience, we can expect to see interest continue, as poshtels and smaller, independent hotels often allow visitors more of an opportunity to immerse themselves in the city,” he says.
Here’s a look at a few poshtels that are upping their game in the USA and abroad:
This non-profit organization has 54 hostels in the USA, in cities such as New York, Boston and San Francisco. Trimboli says many have added amenities such as free breakfast, Wi-Fi and regularly scheduled tours and activities to help them compete with other poshtels. The Boston and San Francisco properties offer each guest a “bed oasis” featuring a private charging station, lamp and shelf. At HI Boston and HI Richmond, guests can charge devices in the protection of a private locker next to the bed. HI Boston has a washer and dryer that will text guests when done. Beds at HI NYC have privacy curtains. HI San Diego plays host to a quarterly art show. And HI San Francisco Downtown has a movie room.
Dorm beds range from $20 to $49 a night.
The company bills its properties as a “hotel and hostel,” with shared and private rooms available. The Freehand Miami offers a complimentary breakfast that includesCuban pastries and locally roasted Panther Coffee. It also has a pool and an award-winning cocktail bar called Broken Shaker.
The Freehand Chicago is housed in a classic 1970 building in the River North neighborhood. An event coordinator plans outings and activities for guests. The company teamed with design firm Roman and Williams to give the property an upscale yet comfortable look.
Rates for shared rooms start at about $40 a night.
“People are looking for good value and the shared alternative is a way for people to travel and spend money on food and experiences rather than spend much of their budget on accommodations,” says Andrew Zobler, founder and CEO of the Sydell Group, which developed the Freehand. “People are staying in school longer. They’re staying single longer. And so they’re looking to travel but not to spend a lot of money.”
Zobler, who is also behind the ritzy NoMad hotel in New York City, says he wanted to provide that affordable alternative without compromising style or comfort.
“Some people have this idea that hostels can be more like army barracks and cot-like,” he says. “All of our beds are solid and made from Amish craftsmen. We’re trying to bring that NoMad spirit to the Freehand.”
The Bivvy, Breckenridge, Colo.
This ski hostel has an outdoor hot tub overlooking the Ten Mile Mountain Range. A hot breakfast is included. All rooms, including shared ones, have private bathrooms. Wi-Fi is free. Draft beers and wine are served each night. Guests pay as little as $29 a night depending on the season.
Hotel manager Balazs Jarai says skiing can be an expensive hobby and the Bivvy gives travelers, especially younger ones, the opportunity to indulge in it.
“There really wasn’t an affordable way to do it,” he says. “You were looking at peak season, a $200 hotel room. Or you’d have to get up at 5 a.m. for one day of skiing. We’re basically aiming to offer a little bit more and still have the hostel atmosphere,”
While most guests tend to be 18 to 35 years old, the hostel attracts older people too, he says.
“It’s a really nice scene,” he says. “You’ll have a couple of in their 60s talking to an 18-year-old backpacker from Australia and getting along quite well.”
Space Hotel, Melbourne
Poshtels are now popular all over the world. This budget hotel offers shared and private rooms. The rooms have a modern design and feature iPod-docking stations, high quality mattresses and flat screen TVs.
There are 44 dorm-style rooms that can sleep up to eight people at a price of $37 a head. Female-only rooms are available. There are 63 private rooms with shared facilities for $89, and rooms with private bathrooms start at $115.
Wi-Fi is free. Guests can play games and lounge around various public areas. There’s also a fitness center, reading lounge and a movie screening room. The Space Deck is a rooftop retreat with a jacuzzi, sun lounges and impressive views of the city.
“A poshtel is like a social hotel experience,” says Yossi Gallor, chief operations officer. “Guests get all of the comforts of staying in a hotel along with the advantages of the social atmosphere associated with hostels.”
The Blue Moon Bar offers cocktails and craft beer. For those who don’t want to eat out, a full-equipped kitchen is available with individual lockers for food storage.
This global hostel chain is quickly expanding, with a Miami property scheduled to open next year. So far, there are 10 properties. In addition to the Miami hostel, properties are scheduled to open in Rome and Stockholm next month.
The recently opened Generator Amsterdam offers amenities such as a restaurant and two bars. Whimsical murals are painted throughout the property. Private rooms are spacious, with some offering views of a park across the street. Shared rooms have private bathrooms. Each bunk has outlets for charging mobile devices.
Starting nightly rates for shared rooms are about $17, for private rooms about $73 and for luxury suites about $113.
Guests can drink local artisan coffee. They can also borrow bikes.
Built in a former university that housed science labs, the designers kept many of the features including an auditorium used for lectures. That is now the site of one of the bars.
“This is not what you think about when you think of a hostel,” says Fredrik Korallus, Chief Executive Officer of Generator Hostels, during a tour of the property.
Korallus says poshtels are increasingly competing with lifestyle and boutique hotels, such as the trendy Ace and Hoxton.
“For the traveler who can’t afford the Hoxton or the Ace, we offer, from a social perspective, a similar experience, and from the design perspective, a similar experience,” he says.
The food and beverage experience has also become increasingly important at upscale hostesls. The hotel offers a menu with locally sourced ingredients and craft beers. Employees also organize events and curate the music guests hear in public spaces.
“For the first time in my career, I’m not selling sleep. I’m not selling beds,” he says. “I’m selling experiences. The bed and the sleep become secondary.”
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