A hostel used to be a lodging establishment full of large rooms set up for multiple occupancy (dormitories). The old days of university hostels, nurses hostels, homeless hostels and even hostels for freshly released prisoners have left a lingering stigma attached to the word.
Who decided to set up youth hostels and call them exactly that? In 1912 in Altena, Germany, Richard Schirrmann created the first permanent youth hostel. It was inside Altena Castle, which had been recently reconstructed. This first hostel was an exponent of the ideology of the German Youth Movement to let poor, young city people get a breath of fresh air in the countryside. The youths were supposed to manage the hostel by doing the chores involved for the day-to-day operation of the establishment.
Although somewhat more relaxed nowadays, these "old-style" hostels still exist and belong to Hostelling International, a non-profit organisation composed of more than 90 national associations representing over 4,000 hostels in 80 countries. Rules like curfews, cleaning your own room and "lock-outs" (enforced times that you must be out of the building "exercising and seeing the sights") are still fairly common.
In the 60’s and 70's, young and not-so-young travellers were returning home after their big trip. They realised there was a much better way to do things.
Largely beginning in Australia and New Zealand, independently-run hostels started popping up all over the place. The owners took into account the things that they didn't like about their own hostelling experience, and they set about making changes for the better. Relaxed rules, 24-hour receptions, no chores and a choice of room types became commonplace, as well as adding bars (licensed or otherwise!) and cafes.
Most of these places were not run by professionals. This left a lot to be desired in the cleanliness and service stakes. It was common to use the catch phrase "Run by travellers for travellers", and it showed. The term "Backpackers Hostel" was the preferred name to signify that it was not a part of HI, that anyone was welcome, not just youths and that it was fun.
There are two big differences between a hostel and a cheap hotel, though – price and attitude. Hostels are much cheaper and will remain that way to attract their established budget traveller market. There is also an aura of fun and friendliness, as well as a genuine desire for staff and guests to meet new people from all over the world. All hostels encourage guests to interact in common areas, share travel stories, give advice and most importantly, have fun – even the new, large, professionally run hostels.
Take the Euro Hostel in Glasgow, Scotland, for example. It has over 360 beds in all-ensuite rooms, a WiFi enabled modern bar, two big screen television lounges, two games areas, a huge dining room, a commercial quality guest kitchen and internet facilities, as well as televisions in all 70 of its twin and double rooms.
It has rooms of all sizes including dormitories and family rooms as well as disabled rooms. As with the new breed of professional hostels, there's no need to share a room if you don't want to, but the option is there. There is no hotel stuffiness and the staff is actually encouraged to socialise with the guests. This is the attitude difference that is so noticeable in all hostels.
Hostelling is the fastest growing sector of the worldwide accommodation industry with modern hostels being run by true professionals as well as large companies. Traditional hotel users are jumping ship in their droves and experiencing the new style of accommodation that modern hostels are offering.
Hotel companies are realising this and following suit. For example, Accor Hotels, the global hotel company with brands such as Mercure, Novotel and Sofitel among many others, have dived in headlong with their involvement in the Base Backpackers brand and are already well established in New Zealand and Australia. They are acquiring properties at a rapid rate and are rumoured to be entering the Asian market shortly. With a company the size of Accor getting into this market, you can bet that other major hotel chains are about to follow.
So next time you're online booking your holiday accommodation, don't just limit yourself to the traditional hotel web sites. Try doing a search for hostels in your chosen destination like BootsnAll and take the plunge. Not only will you save a bundle, you'll have a lot more fun too. Let's face it, isn't that what holidays are all about?