Hostels can be sexy too


Great design and programming aren't limited to the luxury 5-star 5-diamond gems found around the world, or the boutique hotels in city centers. Just because hostels are affordable doesn't mean they can't be cool. And these hostels prove it. 

I’ve been a fan of hotels my entire life. Then I backpacked when I was 18 and was introduced to the hostel world — one many Americans, and possibly many of you, don’t get to see. Unfortunately, the idea of a gap year is a foreign concept in the U.S., and most novice travelers feel more comfortable saving money to splurge on a short trip with friends, staying at hotels and drinking summer cocktails under the Caribbean sun. Hostels, on the other hand, might evoke stereotypical images of cheap travelers, money belts, shady characters, dirty sheets, dirtier bathrooms and unsafe surroundings.
At 18 I could have opted for quaint guesthouses for a marginal premium, but being around like-minded individuals was intriguing. "Like-minded" — a phrase most hotel brands include in their pitch, and one hostels don't. Instead, hostels create a space that organically attracts travelers from different countries, sporting unique accents and sharing different stories. You’ll find solo travelers, small groups, couples, extroverts, introverts, students, young professionals and even lovely older travelers looking to experience the world a second time around (their stories are often the best). The like-mindedness here comes from a shared interest in exploration, curiosity, intrigue and adventure.
What you won’t find at hostels are travelers who’d prefer the solace of a traditional hotel. Hostels are energizing and creative. They’re “activated” — another word you’re hearing more and more these days. Their employees can put themselves in the customer’s shoes, because they’ve been there. While I rarely stay in hostels anymore, I try to inject a little bit of hostel energy and programming into each boutique hotel or private members’ club project we work on.
When I attended the NYU Conference, I asked panelists on the session about the evolving economy segment what they thought about hostels, and their responses were mixed. Some simply didn’t think hostels could work in the U.S., assuming the economy segment would fill the niche. Others said it was a market to keep an eye on, and I agree wholeheartedly. Our industry is about heads in beds, and at hostels, the metric is RevPAB, not RevPAR. One of our recent clients, Generator Hostels, is performing extremely well on its home turf in Europe. The brand has nine design-led hostels in eight amazing cities focused on lifestyle and culture with rates as low as €9 (almost US$10) per bed and options for private rooms. Generator’s creative direction is led by Design Agency, the designers of Soho House Toronto, and spaces look more akin to an Ace Hotel or Soho House than what you think a hostel looks like. Now Generator is coming stateside and will fill a ginormous hole in the market for affordable, safe, fun and funky accommodation in cities where people don’t sleep much anyhow.
Others playing in the same space include Freehand, a brand created by our clients, Sydell Group (the group behind NoMad New York) and designed by award-winning firm Roman and Williams. Freehand properties in Miami and Chicago feature a mix of private and shared rooms, a restaurant and a speakeasy concept from Miami called Broken Shaker. I recently stayed (in a private room) at the Miami property, and it met my expectations — well-traveled individuals looking for a fun time in a sterile-free environment sharing public spaces with local hipsters bellying up to the bar and downing classic cocktails.

So what are some reasons hostels are worth keeping an eye on?

  • Hostels fill a niche in the market for lovers of adventure and those who work hard so they can travel harder. These are individuals who save money on accommodation so they can spend it on flights, food and experiences. They probably travel more frequently and farther away from home, and while they may spend less per day, they’re spending more days per trip or more trips per year exploring the world than the rest of us.
  • They make markets affordable. Even New York City is looking to allow hostels back in the market so travel to the city is less prohibitive for budget-conscious individuals. Brands like Generator and Freehand are proving this segment is no longer about cheap designs and poor travelers. Their design-led properties are attracting savvy individuals, creatives and socialistas. They might be aspirational Ace Hotel guests, They might even be Ace Hotel guests who’d rather save a few hundred bucks a night.
  • Done well, there are probably opportunities for hostels to capture demand from the select-service market represented at the conference.
  • Travelers are spending less and less time in their guestrooms. (Does anyone have stats on this?)
  • Even hostels offer free Wi-Fi.
  • If you know how well select-service does financially, imagine how well hostels do.

While you don’t have to love them, you should certainly understand and appreciate hostels.

What are your thoughts?"

Craft House Founder and Director, Yvette Jong, contributes to, posting content on inspiration and travel from around the world. Follow her dispatch on where inspiration is destination!

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