Young travelers through Europe will often hostel-hop from city to city, carrying little more than large backpacks and their passports. There are hundreds of choices for where to stay in London or Amsterdam or Barcelona.
In New York City, that’s not an option. Youth hostels, for the most part, have been illegal ever since a 2010 state law shut more than 55 of them.
Now there’s a push to bring hostels back to NYC, thanks to a City Council bill sponsored by Margaret Chin, a representative from lower Manhattan. The bill seeks to recognize and license hostels, create an office to regulate them and provide standards. For instance, they would be allowed only in commercial areas, and each would contain space for at least 30 guests.
City officials say the bill would overcome the obstacles set by the state law. Hostels differ from hotels in part because rent is charged per bed, not per room, and each bed is far less expensive than most hotel rooms.
The move to legalize and better regulate hostels is welcome, but must come with rules to keep facilities clean and safe, prevent theft, limit noise and address other concerns. Hostels are a critical piece of tourism, as they provide accommodations for travelers on very tight budgets, and who otherwise would likely bypass NYC altogether.
City officials admit that part of the reasoning behind the legislation is to provide competition with Airbnb, the website that allows people to rent their homes and apartments for short-term use. They worry that Airbnb lowers affordable housing availability across the city, as landlords rent units through Airbnb rather than make them available to traditional renters for the long term.
This effort should increase competition and provide new options in the tourism industry, and that should help the city and ultimately give travelers better deals. But it’s important that the City Council’s move to legalize hostels doesn’t come at the expense of options like Airbnb and existing low-budget hotels. And it’s critical that the city adds in appropriate regulations and monitoring. Then, perhaps, more backpacking travelers will tour through NYC, too.