The Youth Hostels Association (YHA) seems to have forgotten its roots. It has given notice that it will cut its ties with the proprietors of a number of simple hostels and camping barns, leaving them to fend for themselves.
Last summer I wrote about the Elenydd Wilderness Hostels Trust (EWT), having spoken at its tenth anniversary lunch. I learnt of the enthusiasm from its members who manage and maintain the two hostels, Dolgoch and Ty’n Cornel, in the remote heart of Wales known as the Elenydd. These provide vital accommodation on the Cambrian Way.
The EWT runs the hostels, voluntarily, as part of the YHA network. Ten years ago, when the YHA threatened to sell these and other small hostels, the EWT was formed to rescue them. It bought them and then, due to the hard work and dedication of its members, kept them going in a continuing partnership with the YHA which markets the hostels and shows them on its hostel maps.
At the end of November, the YHA gave the EWT only three months’ notice that it intended to end this franchise agreement. The EWT gets about 60 per cent of its overnights from the YHA so this announcement has bitter consequences. The YHA has given similar notice to the proprietors of many other small hostels and camping barns. Most are small ventures, and all are affiliated to the YHA.
Trustees and officers from the EWT met the YHA’s head of enterprise and procurement, John McGrath. He gave two reasons for ending the agreement.
1 The YHA wishes to promote the ‘YHA Experience’ brand image. Every hostel will offer the same facilities and level of service, ie they will be boringly predictable. The YHA believes that the ‘unbranded affiliates’ such as the two Welsh hostels ‘dilute’ the YHA brand. The standard of facilities required by the hostels is higher than that which the EWT would wish, or be able, to provide—and indeed than the visitors would want.
2 The YHA does not get enough income from EWT, it claims it makes a loss.
It is deeply depressing that the YHA wants to go the way of the Holiday Inn or Travelodge, where you know exactly what you will get. The charm of the hostels has always been their variety, different standards, and the range of accommodation, facilities and level of staffing. Now, although many continue to be housed in interesting buildings in fine countryside, it seems that they will lose their quirky distinctiveness.
The YHA has extended the contract with the EWT until the end of May 2017 and in the meantime the tireless volunteers are looking at alternative ways of marketing the hostels. They will consider other booking agencies and means of publicity. The chairman, Marilyn Barrack, is determined that the hostels will continue to thrive. They certainly deserve to do so.
Other threatened facilities include Alstonefield and Taddington Camping Barns in the Peak District National Park, and Puttenham Eco Camping Barn on the North Downs Way in Surrey. These ventures are all true to the ethos of the YHA’s founders, but the YHA seems to have forgotten about them. It was bad enough to sell off many simple hostels but now it is turning its back on them altogether.
Independent Hostels UK offers a network of hostels and bunkhouses and is providing marketing and support to many of the facilities set adrift from the YHA.
Please support the EWT and the other threatened accommodation providers and write to John McGrath at the YHA, and the chief executive Caroline White, to tell them what you think about the YHA’s behaviour (firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com).