New York City is missing out on millions of tourism dollars from young student travelers, and a city council bill wants to breathe new life into the stalled industry.
Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Queens) introduced a bill on Monday that would legalize youth hostels licensed by the city, allowing up to eight beds per room in commercial districts where hotels currently can’t be built.
A 2010 law changed the state’s multiple dwelling law, aimed at snuffing out illegal hotels, but also caused about 50 local hostels to close. Hostel advocates say that move is costing the city $280 million a year in lost tourism.
“We had to adjust our bed count down, and basically what you did is cut your beds in half and doubled your price,” said Tim O’Reilly, who manages the Chelsea International Hostel on West 20th Street. “Being one of the few hostels left in Manhattan, our downstroke was not that terrible, it took us a few months to readjust, reconfigure and retool. Now you’re getting $50 a bed when before you were charging $25 a bed.”
O’Reilly, who was part owner in three hostels shut down by the city, said at one time he had 800 beds, and now has just 175.
“My biggest issue (with the 2010 law) was you’re telling us what we can’t do. Tell us what we can do,” O’Reilly said. “In that respect, this bill is starting to get to that point.”
Metro spoke with several travelers at Chelsea International Hostel and the International Student Center on West 88th Street near Central Park who said they didn’t have any trouble booking a local hostel stay.
Edd Stewart, 22, who is from England and studies at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, said he booked his room — a shared dorm with five bunks — about three weeks ago without a problem.
“I was expecting it to be pretty hard because it’s spring break week, but it was really simple to find” Stewart said. “The room is $35, which is really good for right in the heart of Manhattan.”
“I would rather stay in a hostel because you meet people who are interested in doing the same things as you, and hotels are way too expensive for me” said Daina Anderson, 21, who met Stewart at the hostel and planned to visit Strawberry Fields in Central Park.
Anderson she booked her first two nights at the hostel two weeks ago, then booked extra nights when she arrived in the brownstone.
“There’s just less choice, and it’s a bit more expensive, but that’s New York,” said Anderson of the state of hotels in New York as opposed to other countries.
“New York isn’t even tapping into the youth travel market right now,” said Feargal Mooney, CEO of booking site Hostelworld International, when asked why local hostel travelers weren’t having trouble finding a room.
Mooney, who has been pushing city government to amend the 2010 law for years, said New York is missing out on the “big business” of hostels -- and lost an estimated $280 million in tourism dollars and bookings last year alone.
Mooney said New York hosts about 300,000 hostel visitors a year, compared to about 1.6 million in London.
Bjorn Hanson, a professor at NYU’s Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism, said the average hotel night stay in New York City is about $290.
“How many students can afford that, even if they try to put more than one person in a room?” Hanson asked.