Hostels, as every nomadic youth knows, are the tentpoles of budget travel, and Covid-19 failed to take them down.
The coronavirus did, however, shake up how hostels apportion space—and that could be a secret to finding extra savings for travel this spring and summer.
In 2020, when all of us were social distancing, so were hostel guests. The category of cheap lodging has always depended on multibed dorm rooms as a core of the business, but many hostels also have a few inexpensive private rooms that, by dint of their simplicity, are usually priced much lower than mainstream hotel rooms.
When the virus had travelers at their most skittish, many hostels limited the number of guests in each dorm room, which made many rooms essentially private, or the hostels converted small multiperson spaces into additional private inventory.
"There was a noticeable shift during Covid where the mix of available inventory shifted from predominantly dorms to closer to equal mix during peak Covid," says Johnny Quach, chief product officer of Hostelworld, one of the largest hostel booking sites in travel.
Thanks to Covid, it became much easier to reserve affordable private rooms at hostels around the world. That was good news for people who love saving money. And for people who hate communal snoring.
The shift to private rooms was already a movement even before the pandemic began.
"Before Covid, there was a growing trend for more privacy and the number of smaller rooms was growing," says Cécile Yerle, network and brand manager with Hostelling International, a federation of groups operating more than 3,000 hostels around the world.
Tensions over the virus have subsided since its onset 3 years ago, but some hostels have been slower to return those converted rooms back to group use, especially in Europe.
"In many destinations, the inventory mix has returned close to pre-Covid levels; however, Europe is still lagging in returning to the pre-Covid mix," says Hostelworld's Quach.
Your private or dorm room may be cheap, but it probably won't be cheaper than before the pandemic. Quach says prices in the hostel sector have recovered and are now a little higher than in the Before Times.
"Dorms continue to be the preferred option of our customers and despite the lower mix available to our customers currently, the demand for dorms is almost back to 2019 levels and trending upwards. We expect the continued recovery in demand for dorms to drive the continued increase in dorm beds available to our customers," Quach says.
Hostelling International's Yerle predicts that the economy may also force the reduction of private rooms once again.
"The demand continues to evolve, and with the rising prices of energy and travel, we see the demand for shared rooms, which are more affordable and sustainable, growing again," she says.
So this spring and summer, travelers will still find more affordable private rooms than they could have found 4 years ago—but don't expect that bonanza to last.