The Future is Bright for Hostelling.

A group of cyclists outside Ballater Hostel

Hostelling is in better health than it’s ever been. There are more hostels now than at the height of the youth hostel movement, in the 1950’s . And while the YHA closes more hostels, the independent sector is blooming.

The Rise and Rise of Independent Hostels.

It is becoming more and more likely that the next hostel you will be visiting will be an independent one.

Take a look at the graph below to see how, over the years, the loss of YHA hostels has been filled by the growth in independents.  Since the late noughties there have been more independent hostels than YHA.

Times feel good here at the Independent Hostels Network and we are excited to see how the next blue column will look!

graph showing Number of youth hostels in England and Wales over the years

Many thanks to David Hilton for his immense knowledge and painstaking research into the number of YHA hostels.


The Tough Times are Behind Us

It has been tough, with Covid and high energy bills but the independent hostels’ sector has turned the corner and many hostels are busier than ever before.

Having weathered the difficulties of the pandemic, many independent hostels are enjoying their busiest time ever.  Hostel style accommodation in Scotland has seen a pronounced upturn in demand.  As Dominique Drewe-Martin, who runs Ballater Hostel  in the Highlands reports,

“2023 has probably been our busiest season to date (since we took on Ballater hostel in 2016). People are staying longer and getting outside so much more than before. There’s definitely a shift from the cultural tourist to the outdoor enthusiast this year.  We were probably 50/50 in previous years; I’d say we are more 70/30 now (70% being outdoor enthusiasts)”.

Radcliffes LOdge, heralds a bright future for Hostelling
The fabulous lounge at Radcliffes Lodge with stunning views over the marina in Amble.

Tony Pull, owner of Radcliffes Lodge  in Amble on the Northumberland coast reported (July ’23) their busiest season to date, with a noticeable increase in groups of cyclists. He says,

“Traditionally hostels were thought of as less expensive accommodation for cost-conscious travellers but we are seeing more and more families, groups and individuals who aren’t on a budget. They just want the complete hostel experience, the less formal atmosphere compared to a hotel.  Guests can sit in our beautiful lounge eating fish and chips or making their own food in the guest kitchen, it’s is all part of staying in a hostel. Having a large secure store for bikes & surf boards, a laundry and drying room definitely makes our hostel more user-friendly for the outdoor enthusiast. We are feeling very positive about the next few years”.

Kettlewell Youth Hostel with owners and independent hostel network staff
Kettlewell Hostel, in the picturesque Yorkshire Dales, offers guests a 5 star stay. Hearty home-cooked meals are available and an excellent 2nd-hand book shop.

While Saul Ward who bought Kettlewell Hostel in the Yorkshire Dales from the YHA says,

“Since coming out of lockdown we have seen more and more people booking here at The Kettlewell Hostel, many people trying us for the first time.  I think that the thing that we, as a society, have learned from lockdowns is how important spending time together is. This is where hostels are perfectly placed with a more social / communal nature, encouraging people to spend time together whether it’s chatting whilst making a cup of tea in the self catering kitchen or often eating together in the dining room. We all realise how nourishing it is to spend time together.

Although there is a place in the world for boutique hotels and fine dining, hostels have found a nice little niche, where friendliness, hearty food and un-pretentious furnishings give a simple homely feel. The hosteling movement is nearly a hundred years old, yet, it answers a very modern need for getting back to the things that matter, and enjoying the outdoors.”

Christine and Ian owners of Elterwater Hostel, outside the hostel gate woth eleterwatr hostels and independent hostels network signs
Christine and Alan owners of Elterwater Hostel, by Pete Savin Photographer

Christine Thomas who, with husband Alan, bought Elterwater Hostel from the YHA as a retirement project 10 years ago, agrees that hostels do indeed meet that need. “We regularly stay at the hostel as guests ourselves, and love the variety of people we meet.  If we went to a hotel, we probably wouldn’t speak to other guests who tend to hide away in their rooms.

“At Elterwater hostel,  guests regularly gather in the communal areas to play games and chat and at busy time may find themselves sharing the breakfast table with others, one reason why they are so attractive to solo travellers. We love just sitting in the lounge and taking in the atmosphere knowing that it’s something we have helped create.  And staffing levels at the hostels mean that staff have more time to chat with guests, impart knowledge and share experiences in an informal way.”

Says Christine: “ While there have been many challenges along the way, our vision of enabling others to enjoy the great outdoors and be able to travel from one hostel to another on a budget, as we both did as youngsters, and to provide great service in a beautiful location remains intact and we are looking forward to the next ten years of our journey.”

This surging demand for hostel style accommodation can be attributed to the public’s new-found love of walking, cycling and the countryside, a legacy from our months in lock-down.  Furthermore,  the sustainability of hostel tourism is encouraging others to holiday in this sector.

Independent Hostels UK, the only network to include England, Scotland & Wales.

Founded 30 years ago, the Independent Hostels network has grown gradually in size and reputation to become the market leader it is today.  The annual Independent Hostel Guidebook, (currently in its 31st edition) is still printed every year and is the only historic record of non-YHA hostels. Nowadays, the impressive Independent Hostels website has become the go-to place for a wealth of information on individual hostels, accommodation on the long-distance routes, and holiday ideas.  It also provides a booking platform where everything you pay goes directly to your hosts.

The chart below shows the growth in the Independent Hostel network and the distribution of members between England, Scotland and Wales.

Graph showing Number of hostels in the UKs Independent Hostel Network


About Sam Dalley

Director and Founder

Sam started the Independent Hostel Guide as a hobby in 1993. She is delighted to see how the network has grown and proud it provides a vital booking platform for hostels in the UK.