Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 7, 2013

Hostel on Horizon?

BY LORAINE ANDERSON landerson@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Kristine Dietrich has done the research, developed a business plan and found an ideal place in hopes of opening something Traverse City doesn’t have — a hostel.

Hostels and “hostelling” long have been popular in Europe, other countries and increasingly along America’s Atlantic and Pacific coastlines. Michigan has only one — Hostel Detroit, an educational nonprofit that opened in April 2011 in Corktown, an old city neighborhood that has seen a recent wave of development from young entrepreneurs.

Friends cautioned Dietrich not to share her business idea for fear that someone would take it, but that doesn’t bother her.

“I just want to see a hostel in Traverse City,” she said. “The more the merrier. There’s a need here.

“Hostels aren’t money-making ventures, they’re ‘a community-good’ project,” she said.

Dietrich has dreamed of starting a hostel for 15 years.

It will remain a dream for a while longer because her plan, created in a 2012 Northwestern Michigan College small business entrepreneur class, hinges on a couple of details. The house she has in mind currently is not for sale and she needs to find full-time employment. She now teaches Spanish for Northwestern Michigan College’s extended education Lifelong Learning program. She is certified to also teach English, history and English as a Second Language.

Dietrich became a fan of hostels years ago while studying, traveling and working in Europe and Mexico and teaching English, Spanish and history. Her parents have lived in Northport since the 1980s, and she’s lived in Traverse City full time for 13 years.

“If you go to a hotel, the purpose is to rest and relax,” she said. “At a hostel the purpose is to connect with other people. Hostellers want to learn about the place where they are staying and also learn about the lives of other guests.”

Maria Johnson of Leelanau County agrees. She has used hostels in the United States, Canada, Spain and Italy. She prefers Hostelling International inns and always books private rooms with inside bathrooms or shared bathrooms.

“I prefer hostels because of the camaraderie and companionship with other fellow travelers,” she said.

“I see traveling as a learning experience. Hostels make you mingle and deal with the local realities of the country you are visiting. They’re friendly and homey places where the traveler meets other travelers and gains tons of information about where to go and the best ways to continue the journey.”

Holly Jo Sparks of Interlochen also is familiar with hostels. She took over management of her parents’ Creekside Cottages, located on two acres of land not far from Interlochen Center for the Arts property along M-137.

“We just got it launched during the Traverse City Film Festival last year,” Sparks said. “We were full. We’re open now and the private rooms are booking up quickly. “We’re not 100 percent occupied, but we’re not empty.”

Creekside is a small, 11-unit complex of four private cottages and a house with three apartments that she operates as a hostel in the summer and by the month in the winter. Rates are $35 a night for each of the eight bunk beds in a 400-foot-square “bunkhouse,” the same rustic log cabin that houses the main lodge area. Room rates for the private cottages and apartments range from $80-$120 a night. Each includes a communal kitchen, living room, shower and bathrooms for self-catering guests.

Hostelling International USA has nearly 60 hostels in the United States, and is linked to nearly 4,000 hostels in more than 80 countries worldwide, said Megan Johnson, an HI-USA staff member in Chicago. The majority of HI hostel guests are between 18 and 30 years old, but many seniors, families and groups use hostels, too. HI-USA hostels are located in major cities but also in smaller cities, rural areas, points of interest and national parks.

Big city hostels, in places like New York and London, run $25-$45 per night. Smaller and medium-sized facilities can cost as little as $15-$20 per night. Guests have to be a member to stay in a Hostelling International hostel and have the option of purchasing a full annual membership or a temporary one for their stay.

Dietrich said she followed Hostelling International-USA recommendations in developing her business plan because she wanted to to be accepted as an HI-USA member if she eventually establishes a hostel in Traverse City. Membership includes HI-USA global advertising. The organization’s specifications cover many things, among them: hours, access to nearby laundry facilities and a grocery store, walking distance to local and public venues, number of bathrooms per number of beds, parking, and cubic measurement of refrigerator space per patron.

She said she has learned several things about hostels through her 18 months of research, travel and hostelling experiences:

• Hostels traditionally are closed between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. for cleaning. Hostellers arrive after 4 p.m., talk with others or get advice on best places to visit and then tend to go out to explore the area. A few may stay and cook a meal. Hostellers return by 12 a.m., when doors are locked unless alternative arrangements have been made. They can breakfast in communal areas anytime before 9 a.m.

• Managers and owners tend to have other job obligations.

• Hostellers generally are asked to register online and pay ahead with a credit card to verify that they live beyond a 50-mile radius of the hostel.