INTERVIEWER: The Youth Hostel Association started in the
1930s and since then the organisation has continued to
provide low-cost accommodation for millions of people
travelling around. I asked Colin Browne, a representative of the YHA for an update on the hostel situation ...
(change of acoustic)
Colin, first of all, is it true that the hostels aren't as good as
they used to be?
COLIN: Well, if you're asking me about quality, I'd say - and
most would agree with me - that the opposite is the case.
The original hostels were pretty tough places to stay in ...
no hot water ... hard floors and beds.
INTERVIEWER: (Mmmmm laughs) But people argue that hostel
travellers don't want fluffy carpets and matching curtains
and that this goes against the original aims of the
COLIN: Well, all I can say is that these criticisms have no basis
in fact.We know what we're doing ... we do market
research, we talk to a random selection of people who
regularly stay in hostels ... and the results show that that
we're getting it right.
INTERVIEWER: But if you look back to the 30s and 40s ... when
the organisation started, the general philosophy was very
different, wasn't it?
COLIN: I think the important thing to remember is that we
aren't in the 1940s any more.Teenagers don't travel around
on their own as much as they did then because parents no
longer consider it safe. Our hostels are still full but things
have changed ... visitors now are often young families with
children, couples on restricted budgets ... people who care
about the environment and are pretty ?green' ...
INTERVIEWER: How has this affected hostel rules and
COLIN: Well, we have to market the YHA to be competitive in
the 21st century. Rules have become more flexible to
accommodate the different types of hostel and their
visitors. Sometimes there is no rule about what time you
have to be back at night, for example, but not in all hostels,
and we still have large open-plan dormitories which not
everyone wants ...
INTERVIEWER: So you?ve switched really from just offering
basic, self-service style accommodation to being more of a
service organisation ? like a hotel?
COLIN: Yes, and it's a reflection of what people want.You
should see my postbag! For every member who writes to
say, ?It's not like it used to be', we get a pile of letters saying
?This is great!' If we'd stuck to the old ways, there wouldn't
be a YHA. There'd be a few hostels with a small
membership of ageing hostellers, with no newcomers and
INTERVIEWER: Colin, can we talk a little about rural hostels ...
I know you've had to close some of these. How do you
decide when to close a hostel?
COLIN: There are any number of reasons for closing a hostel -
leases run out, buildings become uneconomic, visiting
patterns change. The general policy is to consider closing
hostels which are significantly below standard, particularly
in terms of safety, where the remedial work required
would be very expensive ...
INTERVIEWER:It seems odd to be closing them down when I
know a lot of companies in this type of business are doing
just the opposite.
COLIN: Mmmm it's true. I do get lots of enquiries - more every
year - from people who want to set up a hostel or a chain
of hostels. And I suppose I do wonder sometimes if we
might end up with more hostels than the market can cope
with. Take the island of Skye in Scotland, for example, ten
years ago, there were 20 hostels there, now there are over
500 ... (fade)