The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Insight - BY ELAINE GLUSAC


Check­ing into the Abra­ham Hos­tel Tel Aviv in spring 2017 at the end of a fam­ily trip to Is­rael, Amy Fried­man’s two teenage daugh­ters took a look at the bare-bones room that slept four for about $130 and won­dered if the trip was end­ing on a thud rather than a bang.

“It took about four hours to fall in love,” said Fried­man, a tele­vi­sion ex­ec­u­tive who lives in Mont­clair, New Jersey. Look­ing around the com­mu­nal spa­ces, the girls found an art ex­hi­bi­tion on the roof, swings in the liv­ing room, Ping-Pong and “a lot of young trav­el­ers so they could project what it might be like to travel when they’re older. We wanted to help the girls to pic­ture travel they will be able to af­ford.”

Sparsely fur­nished, com­mu­nally fo­cused and very af­ford­able, hos­tels – which tra­di­tion­ally offer shared bath­rooms and dorm­like sleep­ing quar­ters that might house dozens of strangers – have usu­ally been as­so­ci­ated with stu­dent travel. But hos­tels have evolved to ap­peal to cou­ples and es­pe­cially fam­i­lies by pro­vid­ing pri­vate rooms, of­ten with sev­eral beds and pri­vate bath­rooms.

In the United States, a num­ber of new-wave hos­tels with fam­ily rooms and ho­tel ameni­ties, such as those run by the Lon­don-based group Gen­er­a­tor, have re­cently opened. Hy­brid ho­tels such as the Free­hand brand in Chicago, Los An­ge­les, Mi­ami and New York have adopted the model to offer rooms that sleep up to six peo­ple trav­el­ing to­gether.

In 2020, the Ber­lin­based hy­brid Meininger Ho­tel plans to open its first U.S. out­post in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., with 616 beds in 154 rooms.

“Tra­di­tional ho­tels have not done a good job cater­ing to fam­i­lies in the big cities,” said Rainer Jenss, the pres­i­dent of the Fam­ily Travel As­so­ci­a­tion. “The big­gest ad­van­tage of hos­tels is ac­cess to lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, both in terms of lo­ca­tion – they are usu­ally cen­trally lo­cated, near pub­lic trans­porta­tion – and built-in concierge ex­per­tise in the area. And it’s a great way to get ideas from other trav­el­ers.”

Ac­cord­ing to Hostelling In­ter­na­tional USA, a non­profit that runs 50 hos­tels, hos­tels got their start in Ger­many in 1909. Alarmed by the im­pact of the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion on stu­dents’ health, an ele­men­tary school­teacher named Richard Shirrmann or­ga­nized week­end field trips to the coun­try with overnights in lo­cal school build­ings.

Per­ma­nent hos­tels grew to more than 2,000 na­tion­ally by 1932 and the first youth hos­tel in the United States opened in North­field, Massachuse­tts, in 1934.


Most fam­ily traf­fic is driven by sav­ing money and a de­sire to stay to­gether. Ac­cord­ing to the travel data firm STR, the av­er­age daily rate for a ho­tel room in the United States in 2018 was about $130, mean­ing a fam­ily of four, if re­quired to take two rooms, might end up pay­ing $260 or more a night.

“Book­ing two rooms for two par­ents and two kids breaks up the fam­ily travel pur­pose of be­ing to­gether,” said San­ti­ago Leon, the gen­eral man­ager of the 89-room Robey ho­tel in Chicago.

When it opened in 2016, 20 of those rooms had more than two beds and sold as dorms, but within the year were con­verted to pri­vate rooms based largely on de­mand by fam­i­lies. Known as An­nex Lofts, the rooms sleep up to five and start at $160.

Home shares like Airbnb sim­i­larly sat­isfy the need for to­geth­er­ness, but many may lack the so­cial in­ter­ac­tion that is at the heart of stay­ing in a hos­tel.

“What makes a hos­tel a hos­tel is the fo­cus of bring­ing peo­ple to­gether in a shared ex­pe­ri­ence,” said Ne­tanya Trim­boli, the spokes­woman for HI USA, which has fam­ily rooms from $77 a night on Cape Cod and $106 in Mon­tara, Cal­i­for­nia, on the grounds of a 19th­cen­tury light­house 25 miles north of San Fran­cisco.

On a prac­ti­cal level, most hos­tels have shared kitchens with cook­ing fa­cil­i­ties, which can save more money and serve picky eaters.


Many hos­tels build com­mu­nity through free events. The HI Hous­ton, for ex­am­ple, has weekly mu­seum tours and na­cho nights.

“Hos­tels tend to have ac­cess to dis­counts and of­fers to things hap­pen­ing in cities,” Jenss said. “Hostelling would be very at­trac­tive to a fam­ily in­ter­ested in im­mers­ing in lo­cal cul­tures.”

Gen­er­a­tor, which has 13 lo­ca­tions in Europe, says be­tween 15% and 18% of its busi­ness an­nu­ally is fam­ily traf­fic and has shifted its room in­ven­tory to en­cour­age fam­ily trav­el­ers with more four-tosix-bed rooms. Opened in Oc­to­ber 2018, Gen­er­a­tor Mi­ami of­fers 300 beds in 105 rooms a block from the ocean, with rates from $23 for a bunk in a shared room and $104 for a fourbed room. Ameni­ties in­clude a restau­rant, beach chairs and tow­els, a swim­ming pool and rental bikes.

“From age 10 or 11, we have dif­fer­ent com­mu­nal ar­eas,” said Alas­tair Thomann, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Gen­er­a­tor, high­light­ing a new part­ner­ship with EA Sports to bring sports video con­soles. “That’s why I think hos­tels are so pop­u­lar, be­cause they are so­cial spa­ces.”


The growth of pri­vate rooms with pri­vate baths has, for the most part, solved the pri­vacy is­sue at hos­tels, but of­ten only if a fam­ily buys out an en­tire multi-bunk room. My fam­ily of three took a gam­ble on a room with four beds at Mil­ford Sound Lodge in Fiord­land Na­tional Park in New Zealand two years ago, sav­ing more than $200, and wound up with a room­mate, al­beit one we never met, who showed up af­ter we were asleep and, un­for­tu­nately, set his alarm for hours be­fore we wanted to rise.

Multi-bed rooms at hy­brid ho­tels like the Free­hand New York, with hang­ing bas­kets of ap­ples and graph­ics painted on the walls, feel more like ho­tels, even with bunk beds. But for ba­sic hos­tels, par­ents may need to pre­pare chil­dren.

“You need to frame it, to help kids un­der­stand the why be­hind the choice,” Fried­man said, adding that the bar­gain hos­tel she stayed at in Tel Aviv was an op­por­tu­nity to demon­strate travel bud­get­ing to her chil­dren, us­ing the sav­ings as a ra­tio­nale for a more ex­pen­sive restau­rant or a sec­ond soda.

Gen­er­a­tor Mi­ami via NYT

A num­ber of new-wave hos­tels with fam­ily rooms and ho­tel ameni­ties have re­cently opened. This Gen­er­a­tor Mi­ami fa­cil­ity has a pool at the ho­tel, which of­fers rates from $23 for a bunk in a shared room to $104 for a four-bed room.

Adrian Gaut via NYT

This room with four bunks is part of the Free­hand New York hy­brid ho­tel. Multibed rooms at hy­brids, with hang­ing bas­kets of ap­ples and graph­ics painted on the walls, feel more like ho­tels.

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