Thousands of hostels could see months of further hardship as a result of social distancing and quarantine measures, experts have warned.
As countries around the world continue to ease their lockdown restrictions, the wider travel industry is already plotting a route to recovery after months of stasis.
But hostel owners face an uncertain future, with new social distancing regulations likely to make it impossible to fill densely packed dorm rooms.
Generator, which operates 15 city-based hostels in Europe and the United States, is among those bracing themselves for trying times ahead.
“The next six to eight weeks are going to be very tough,” said Generator’s CEO, Alastair Thomann.
“The hostel industry has been hit very badly, and getting occupancy back to 40-45 per cent could take another four to five months.”
Proposals in countries such as the UK and France to introduce a two-week quarantine for foreign arrivals could also spell difficulty for the hostel industry, which relies heavily on international customers.
In the meantime, uncertainty still lingers over the future of school trips, which also comprise a significant chunk of the industry’s customer base.
But amidst the concerns, many are optimistic that the months of lockdown are sparking an urge to travel that could help many hostels balance their books for the year.
James Blake, chief executive of the Youth Hostel Association, said: “The industry will continue to be hard hit – I certainly can’t see dorm rooms returning for the foreseeable future. I think we’ve got to be realistic about the fact that things are not going to bounce back to normal.
“But when we come out of the other end of [lockdown] I think people will be desperate to get out of their houses, out into the countryside, and we want to be able to help them do that.”
The YHA operates 150 hostels across England and Wales, many of them in rural locations.
With a high number of private rooms, the organisation is hopeful for a boom in bookings from cash-strapped families looking to salvage their summer holiday plans.
Thomann is also cheerful about Generator’s future, citing the resilience of the hostel industry’s backbone: the young backpacker.
“Here we’re dealing with a segment of travellers that has traditionally come back more quickly than anyone else,” he said. “The 18- to 28-year-olds are ready. They feel they’re indestructible and are raring to go.”
Generator’s booking figures show good cause for confidence too: bookings for the first quarter of 2021 are stronger than they were last year, and across the board it appears that travellers are using the New Year as a marker for resuming international travel.
However, like the YHA, a high proportion of Generator’s beds are in private rooms, where social distancing rules will prove less of a challenge than for hostels with higher amounts of shared space.
Possible new rules stipulating a minimum distance between beds could well see a price hike as owners, forced to reduce capacity, try to recuperate their losses.
There are also concerns among enthusiasts that an essential part of hostelling’s appeal – the community – may be lost.
“People go to hostels because of the social experience – because they want to meet new people, socialise with new people,” said Thomann.
“I think we’re going to lose a bit of that hostel magic.”