THE body which represents the hostel sector in Scotland is bidding to put a challenging two years behind it with a new drive to place hostelling at the forefront of the tourism industry as it recovers from the pandemic.
The newly-renamed Scottish Hostels, which has about 70 members, is looking to drive bookings after receiving grant funding from VisitScotland to launch a new website and overhaul its corporate identity. It is seeking to convince more tourists, including families, to consider hostelling when planning their holidays, and to reconnect with more mature travellers who visited hostels in their younger years.
Part of the new strategy will see independent hostels work more closely with other service providers, including activity companies, to help the tourism sector maximise its recovery from the huge disruption of the past two years.
The relaunch of the former Scottish Independent Hostels comes as people begin to plan their spring, summer and autumn holidays for the year ahead, and follows a stop-start period for the sector since the pandemic broke out in March 2020. Long periods of lockdown have been interspersed with busy summer spells as domestic tourists have favoured the staycation route while foreign travel has been less accessible.
Dominique Drewe-Martin, chairman of the board of directors for Scottish Hostels, said: “This is an exciting time for Scottish Hostels following a difficult couple of years for the sector. Evolving our brand identity showcases our commitment to creating a trustworthy, genuine, and sustainable hostel community and resource of independent hostels across Scotland, with a strong focus on service.
“We’re unique because ‘we are our guests’, giving visitors the opportunity to explore the real Scotland, staying in safe, accessible hostels run by local people with a passion for the outdoors, nature, history and local culture. Hostels can be great for those looking for a budget break but not many realise just how good they are for families, with many providing family-friendly activities for young children. We will connect guests to local activities and off-the-beaten track pursuits that fulfil their aspirations, with responsible tourism at their heart.”
With Covid restrictions having recently begun lifting again in Scotland, Ms Drewe-Martin said there is optimism once again within the sector. But she said that it has been a difficult period for hostels.
Ms Drewe-Martin, who owns and runs the five-star Ballater Hostel in Deeside with husband Daniel, told The Herald that coronavirus restrictions robbed hostels of their communal essence when they were in force. “We have had it a lot harder than your B&Bs and your hotels,” she said.
“What makes hostels what we are is we are sociable [and] we have communal areas. When you then bring in social distancing, you are then having to look at closing communal areas, which takes away half the hostel experience, what the environment is, how the atmosphere is. It really turned hostels on their heads, so when we had all those restrictions last year … we basically turned ourselves into a B&B without the second B, so we were just a bed. We provided private rooms without any of the meet-and-greet in the communal areas, where people were planning out there day and meeting other people. It just changed the whole atmosphere. For those who were maybe staycationing for the first time in the UK and were coming to hostels, they weren’t getting the same hostel experience.”
She added: “It was a lot harder [and] we had a lot more restrictions. We couldn’t do mixed dorms – it was private rooms only, whereas [at] B&Bs and hotels it is always [a] private room. In hostels you are mixing in, you are sharing the kitchen, you are sharing the living room, you are sharing a bedroom.”
Ms Drewe-Martin said the most recent season had ended strongly, with her own hostel having “one of the best Octobers in years”. She noted: “It will be interesting to see what this year brings when we have got a full season to play with. Will we get the staycationers again? Will we get last year’s statycationers coming back because they think: Do you know what, it is just as nice in the UK as it is abroad.”
Ms Drewe-Martin also hopes the new marketing strategy will lead people to reappraise what hostels are. Video clips are being filmed to showcase the kind of experiences tourists can have. “Our standard age range here is probably 40 to 50-year-olds,” she said. “It is not your 18 to 25-year-olds. It is that perception that we trying to break through. There are so many families that come and stay because it’s cheaper. You haven’t got to go out each night to get food, and you are not paying for your breakfast.”
“You can cook those meals.”