Saturday, June 5

YHA - Whither the Future

A piece in July's TGO reminded me to take a look at how the YHA is handling change these days. As a long time, if increasingly non-youthful supporter, I've expressed concerns in the past about the direction the movement is headed.

Investment plans to expand new hostels; Changes in the hosteling clientele; Shortcomings of the booking system; Even a well aimed kick at the groin in return for the refusal of a bed for the night and being left with the impression that my presence was Not Wanted Around Here;

During these pieces I hope my support for the YHA ethos has been supportive, whatever the individual criticism, with due recognition of the commercial necessities for a large business juggling solvency against a demanding & fluid customer base.

(If you want to see how the YHA judges its own efforts then their 2009 Annual Report can be found here)

But to business. Back in May YHA announced a further round of hostel closures including Capel Curig, Exeter, Grasmere Thorney Howe, Kendal & River Dart (They will continue to operate until at least Sept '10)

Grasmere I can understand, with 2 hostels in near proximity, even if the Grasmere Butharlyp Howe always seems to be bursting at the seams.

But some of these others?

I've stayed at both Capel Curig & Exeter. Both are in in great locations. Both have superb potential.

What went wrong such that they are deemed candidates for closure?

As a balance two new hostels will open next year, at Southease (Sussex) & Berwick on Tweed (Northumberland) plus investment schemes at two others (one being YHA Oxford Street in London)

The press release also mentions that the YHA’s Board of Trustees will look at opportunities for further funding this year at 'popular small country hostels'.

It's that last line I'm currently hanging my hopes on at present.

For it seems to me that the out of the way hostels, essential for walking trips 'off-piste', are slowly disappearing in order to fund (larger?) city based sites.

Off course there is a question of balance & running costs.

Use of the smaller 'traditional' style hostels can go extremely quiet out of season, if indeed they are even open.

But somewhere amongst this redistribution of the YHA property stock there must come a time when the hostels offered, & the core membership, come to a divergence of views on Hosteler demand & Hostel supply, leaving a new type of Hosteler in charge of YHA income.

And on present showing that could well be one that probably doesn’t give a damn about any long term continuation of the YHA's legacy, except as a budget B&B to use once in a while if the local Travel Lodge is full.

Use it or loose it folks.

Whilst you still have a choice.

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John, I wonder about the YHA myself. Questions about locations and attention to maintenance spring to mind. I stayed in Capel Curig earlier this year and it felt a little tired but nothing too far gone, really. But a number of their hostels have faced uncertain futures when the time came to refurbish them. Is this a YHA weakness and do they need to launch a special refurbishment fund?
The problem I guess is one of refurbishment. For example the Capel Curig hostel is in a great location but now has a lot of local competition, and other businesses tell me things were a lot quieter last year.

Just up the road is the Ogwen YHA which is an amazing place and offers a range of services that seem stunning in a YOuth Hostel —it is always packed!

I do have some sympathy with the YHA. They have to attract a younger clientele and we are getting far more demanding.

Still, we are right to ask the questions! Earlier on this year I saw a YHA officer visiting a hostel and driving a sports car!
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