There was chatter in the common rooms, fully booked dorms and some activities — though not all — were back in session.
But travel has dramatically changed, and hostels, the backbone of affordable travel, barely survived. The future for many is uncertain. Hostels — the majority of which are small businesses — are built on community and camaraderie, places where people go from introducing themselves to sharing meals and beers or planning the next leg of their journeys together. They are a petri dish for friendships, but in a global pandemic, there was concern they could also be a petri dish for Covid-19. Border restrictions, lockdowns and social distancing were particularly devastating. And the challenges are not yet over: The more contagious Delta variant brings uncertainty for the fall travel season. Earlier last month, the European Union removed the United States from a safe list of countries, leading the way for some member states to impose restrictions, particularly on unvaccinated travellers, or banning non-essential American travellers altogether. Countries outside of the bloc, too, including Norway, have taken similar steps.
“We are in constant adjustment,” said Melkorka Ragnhildardottir, manager of Kex Hostel in Reykjavik, Iceland. “You just need to take things as they come.” A rise in domestic travellers or assistance from government programs has helped hostels scrape by. But owners and managers have had to rethink their operating strategies, from launching bagel businesses to renting dorm rooms for group bookings only or creating office spaces. Many cling to the belief that hostels play a vital role in the travel ecosystem — an inexpensive way visit new cities and make friends while doing it — one, they say, not even a pandemic can eliminate.
“The world of hostels is so incredibly creative,” said Kash Bhattacharya, a travel blogger and author of “The Grand Hostels: Luxury Hostels of the World.” “It still has the ability to confound expectations.” “Some things will change, but I don’t think that the core of the hostels will change.” Linda Martinez, who co-owns the Beehive Hostel in Rome with her husband, struggled after reopening in June 2020, with few visitors despite the high season. When the second wave of the coronavirus hit last fall, the hostel, and the couple’s confidence, went dark. “Even though we had the Beehive for more than 20 years, we felt so bad about ourselves,” Martinez said. Her husband’s bread-making skills helped save them. In October, they launched Beehive Bagels, which delivers freshly made bagels throughout Rome and Italy.
At its busiest, Beehive Bagels made 1,200 bagels weekly. Sales have dropped recently, but the carbo-loaded impact on morale stuck. “The bagel business was a boost not only financially, but psychologically and emotionally,” Martinez, 54, said.
Petri is a journalist with NYT©2021
The New York Times