In Review

Is 2020 the year of ‘affordable luxury’ travel?

How hostels are reinventing themselves in the 21st century

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Not so long ago, hostels were almost exclusively the accommodation option of choice for backpackers and other travellers on a shoestring budget. The economical lodgings were synonymous with bunk beds, shared dorms and often raucous nights of drinking with fellow impecunious holidaymakers. 

Over the past decade however, that has changed as some of Europe’s key hostel operators have attempted to reinvent themselves as a reasonable option for budget-minded travellers who nevertheless want a base level of comfort and privacy. 

One of those, Generator, has today completely “reinvented itself as a sleek, stylish accommodation option”, according to Breaking News Travel

As a new decade dawns, The Week caught up with the company’s CEO Alastair Thomann to discuss the future of travel, and what “affordable luxury” actually means.

What does luxury mean to you?

Luxury doesn’t mean what it did twenty years ago. For me, luxury is all about experience and personalisation, price tag doesn’t really come into it. Luxury is anti-generic and entirely customer-led. In the hospitality industry this translates into authentic experiences, exceptional service, unique design-led spaces - it’s less about five-star accreditation and all about quality of experience. Sure, it could mean a view and a nice pool-side bar, but ultimately luxury is about great personalised service and good hospitality.

And is "affordable luxury" not a contradiction in terms?

Absolutely not, Generator is proof that that the two go hand-in-hand. Affordable no longer equates to ‘cheap’, it’s about value. At Generator, guests will find all the trappings associated with luxury accommodation – central locations, good food and drink concepts, penthouse suites, fantastic facilities such as roof-top swimming pools and basement ice bars, high-end design – at extremely competitive prices. It’s possible to have a product which is both aspirational and attainable.

Outside of the world of hospitality, which brands do you admire for their take on affordable luxury?

I have a lot of respect for industry disruptors like Supreme, which really have innovation baked into their brand DNA. They do things very differently; they swap traditional marketing in favour of a more strategic use of social media and leverage unique partnerships - such as the Louis Vuitton collaboration which paired one of the biggest luxury label brands with a cult streetwear brand - to engage with their audience in new, exciting ways. 

How has travel changed over the past decade? And how will it change over the decade ahead?

The industry has changed significantly in the past ten years. We’ve seen a real blur in the lines of traditional accommodation categories – hostels adding ensuite private rooms, hotels incorporating dorm rooms, big brands listing hotels on Airbnb - which really reflects the rapidly changing needs of the consumer. People are travelling younger and seeking experience driven travel and personalisation. It’s no longer enough to provide a comfortable bed, consumers are willing to pay a premium for the experience which surrounds it – from a great bar to curated events. Additionally, travellers today are much more tech savvy and dependant and the travel industry are having to adapt to engaging with their target audiences through this medium.

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Most people think of staying in hostels as something that they grow out of some time in their twenties, but you are hoping to change that. What exactly are “poshtel”?

We’re already changing that – our aim has always been to challenge and upend outdated perceptions of hostels. Hostels are no longer associated with budget-minded backpackers, you can visit Generator any morning of the week and you’ll find the widest cross section of people.

Personally I’m not too fond of the term “poshtel”, but the idea is correct. Our properties offer the style and comfort of a boutique hotel with the social element traditionally associated with a hostel. It’s not just a place to sleep but also an opportunity to experience the culture of the city – we work with local artists, the design aesthetic reflects the location of the property, immersive experiences are anchored around local events – but we also provide a consistency in quality which differs to the sharing economy.

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