Hotel Alternatives: Micro Hotels and Designer Hostels
By Lawrence Adams Principal, Lawrence Adams Architect | April 2020
Since their inception, hostels have provided safe inexpensive lodging in stimulating locations offering the opportunity for robust social interaction and cultural enrichment for young travelers. As we shall see the prototypical youth hostel has evolved into a sophisticated design-centric lodging option comparable to stylish boutique hotels.
By comparison, Micro Hotels, while providing inexpensive lodging and opportunities for invigorating social interaction, with their miniaturized but well-designed guestrooms and private bathrooms, also provide a level of privacy and control not generally offered in typical hostel shared sleeping quarters and bathing facilities.
Youth Hotels that facilitated affordable and safe travel accommodations for young people cycling and backpacking around Europe was originally conceived by Richard Schirrmann, a German school teacher in 1914. Schirrmann created the world's first youth hostel at Altena Castle, a medieval castle in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, which is still in use today. The World Youth Hostel at Burg Altena offers 36 beds in a variety of room sizes ranging from 2 to 14 beds in a room. Meals are still served within the historic castle. In 1919 Schirrmann founded the German Youth Hostel Association which, to ensure safety of its guests, required membership to stay at one of the hostels. By 1932 there were more than 2,000 hostels throughout Germany and another 600 in other European countries.
The first youth hostel in the US opened in Northfield Massachusetts in 1934 and American Youth Hostels (AYH) soon followed with Franklin D. Roosevelt as honorary president. In the first year after AYH's formation, 30 hostels opened throughout rural New England along biking and hiking trails.
Fast forward to 1966 when a prosperous economy, affordable air travel and the introduction of young Baby Boomers to the traveling public, global hosteling became more prevalent than ever. In the US, AYH in 1969 opened its first large urban hostel in Washington DC. The success of the DC hostel prompted a shift toward an urban model of hostels and by the 1980s, new urban hostels populated San Francisco, Boston, Miami and Seattle.
The growth of urban hostels continued in the 1990s with large new hostels in New York, Chicago, Orlando and San Diego. With the rapid expansion of urban hostels in the US came a realization that quality standards were needed and so AYH joined with Hostelling International to adopt new more focused hostel quality standards under the new banner of Hostelling International – American Youth Hostels (or "HI-AYH").