History of the Independent Hostel Guide

Independent Hostel Guide, a copy of every issue published showing the history of the hostel network

The Independent Hostel Guide began in 1993 when Sam Dalley, cyclist and traveller, decided that the list of  Independent Hostels she had gathered on her travels had the makings of a book.  Fifteen of the twenty hostels on the list agreed to fund the booklet and the Independent Hostel and Field Centre Guide glided off the photocopier.

Distribution was tricky the first year but those guides that got out were quickly circulated and the following year lots of bunkhouses and hostels got in touch.  In 1994 Cordee Books and Maps agreed to distribute the Independent Hostel Guide through the UK’s bookshops.  Sales quickly rose into the thousands and the professional guidebook was born.

history of independent hostels

In 1995 Irish hostels were invited to join and in  2000 Continental Europe hostels were incorporated.  By this stage the guidebook had a coverage of 280 hostels and bunkhouses across Europe.

The Independent Hostel Guide website was introduced in 2003 and  featured all the details that were found in the guidebook. Despite this  sales of the guidebook, now printed on recycled paper, continued to grow.

independent hostel guides from 1999 to 2013

In 2007 Independent Hostels UK was created.   IHUK is the UK’s network of independent bunkhouses, hostels, camping barns and group accommodation.  The accommodation in the Independent Hostel Guide became members of IHUK and  the Independent Hostel Guide become IHUKs  handbook.

After IHUK was formed less Irish and Continental Europe hostels featured in the Independent Hostel Guide and in 2009 the guidebook changed to  feature exclusively UK hostels.

Independent Hostel Guides from 2013 to 2019

In 2010 Independent Hostels UK began a four year partnership with Berghaus.  The annual Independent Hostel Guide cover photoshoots were launched with Berghaus funding  and these photoshoots projected fresh new images into IHUK’s marketing each year.

In 2012 IHUK and the Independent Hostel Guide embraced social networking. The network now included 350 places to stay.

In 2013 Independent Hostels UK held a conference, to celebrate the 21st anniversary of the first Independent Hostel Guide.  Held at Hatters Hostel Liverpool and attended by  70 delegates.

Independent Hostels conference

In 2014 IHUK gained the GOLD award from the Green Tourism business scheme and in 2018 Ordnance Survey agreed to mark the locations of the Independent Hostels in the network on their maps.

2019 saw the launch of a new website, the third redesign in the history of the guide.  The Independent Hostels website was now a fully operational booking platform, with the ability to read availability from 90% of the world’s booking systems and provide online booking for 60% of its members.

The network now included over 400 places to stay.

staff at offices of independent hostels ltd

March 2020 saw the coronavirus pandemic, and for the first time in its history, the Independent Hostel Guide missed an edition.  There is no 2021 edition of the Independent Hostel Guide.

The pandemic decimated the trade for hostels.  IHUK took on a stronger support role and access to Kickstart funding enabled the network to expand staff numbers. During the pandemic, IHUK was providing daily updates on the safe operation of hostel accommodation in England, Wales and Scotland, with the aid of advice from UK Hospitality.

IHUK  lobbied the government for extra support and the Hostelling Together initiative was formed between the YHA, IHUK, Hostelling Scotland, Scottish Hostels and HIYHA.

logos of all the hostel networks in hosteling together

By 2022 the pandemic had stabilised sufficiently to enable the 2022 edition of the Independent Hostel Guide to be printed.  For the first edition ever, this guide represented a reduced number of hostels. Many hostels remained mothballed in the light of the energy crisis.

This was the 30th Edition of the Independent Hostel Guide and it celebrated the history of the network.

Independent Hostel Guidebooks 2020 2022 and 2023

In Autumn 2022 IHUK won an Ethical Consumer Magazine Best Buy Award.  The Independent Hostels website provides direct links to the hostel’s own booking systems, supporting the hostel’s own marketing rather than competing with it.  This website was found to be one of the three most ethical booking platforms for UK accommodation.

independent hostels booking platform graded their best in country by ethical consumer

The 2023 Guide was published in a thinner format, allowing IHUK to achieve carbon reduction goals.  The number of hostels in the guide again dropped from the previous year, reflecting the fallout from Covid.  Some places permanently closed as the owners retired and others repurposed as holiday let accommodation.

2023 saw the launch of Clarity Hostel Booking, a free booking engine designed specifically for hostel and bunkhouse bookings.

IH Booking system


Publication of the 2024 Independent Hostel Guide showed that the network had turned a corner, with an increase in the number of hostels featured.

Graph showing Number of hostels in the UKs Independent Hostel Network

Independent Hostels UK’s continues to be the largest hostel network in the UK.  It is approximately twice the size of Youth Hostel Associations in the UK (YHA plus Hostelling Scotland).  The network aims to promote all accommodation providers equally, from small rural setups to large city hostels.

IHUK offers a broad marketing package that targets the UK’s outdoor market and independent travellers.

If you operate a hostel, bunkhouse or hostel-style accommodation and would like to join IHUK you can find out more on the button below.

Featuring in the Independent Hostel Guide

If you would like to find out more about the hostels in IHUK why not buy this years Independent Hostel Guide direct from the publishers.

Buy the Guide