By Shubhangi Shah
Sneha Patra is thankful to her friend for introducing her to the concept of youth traveller hostels. After all, where else can you get everything related to your stay covered at a little over Rs 600 a night? “This is much better than the shady hotels that come at a similar price. Here, we get a clean bed with a lively interior. The best part is the common area, which allows us to mingle with fellow travellers,” says the 20-year-old engineering student from Greater Noida who was staying with three other friends at a goSTOPS dormitory in Amritsar, Punjab, recently.
Aby Matthews, another young solo traveller from Kerala staying at the hostel, agrees. He prefers a hostel over a hotel as it is “economical, clean, and basic”. “At times, the services are better than what you pay for. You also get to easily meet fellow travellers, which is otherwise not possible in a hotel. It is isolating in that sense,” he adds.
Although quite prevalent in Europe and southeast Asia, the concept of budget accommodation has picked up pace in India “if you look at co-living and co-working spaces”, offers Pallavi Agarwal, the founder of goSTOPS, a premium chain of youth traveller hostels that opened its first hostel in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, in 2014.
GoSTOPS allows guests to choose between staying in a dormitory with other travellers or a private room, with the latter evidently pricier. While a private room offers privacy, the common area ensures that you do not miss out on intermingling. For instance, the Amritsar hostel’s rooftop serves as the perfect common area.
Well-lit, its different sitting arrangements allow you to mix up with others the way you like. There is a game zone, a common TV area, and a cafe. The cool interior, chiefly characterised by colourful throw cushions, adds to the experience.
Starting with Varanasi, Agarwal’s company has now expanded to 32 hostels, with plans to grow further. While her initial clientele comprised chiefly of foreign backpackers, the current lot includes a considerable chunk of Indian travellers. “While, initially we opened at places like Varanasi, Delhi and Agra, which are on foreign backpackers’ itineraries, we have now opened in Mussoorie, Ooty-Kodaikanal, and Coorg, which are more popular among domestic travellers,” she says.
Mostly, young Indians between the ages of 18 and 30 years are Agarwal’s targeted clientele. Within this age group, 24-27-year-olds comprise her core audience. “These are generally first jobbers, who are independent of their parents, or live outside their hometowns for work, with their friends, and who plan to travel,” she explains. For them, budget is crucial. Although the fare varies as per location and demand, your stay per night at a hostel can cost from Rs 249 to Rs 749 for a dorm and Rs 1,099 to Rs 2,599 for a private room.
And where do these young Indians like to travel? “Although we get good demand across our 32 locations, there are favourites because of catchment areas,” explains Agarwal. For example, Rishikesh and Mussoorie get good numbers as they are close to Delhi. Similarly, Goa is a 12-month market, given it is close to Maharashtra. The same applies to Coorg, as it gets a good inflow from Bengaluru. “Centres close to metros do well,” she adds.
Covid was a major blow to the hospitality industry with the hostel business also seeing a dip. “However, just when restrictions eased after each Covid wave, the number of travellers shot up, and it did with a bang, as people came back with a vengeance,” says Agarwal. Speaking of the changes initiated by the pandemic, she says, “With the new hybrid working mode, people are staying with us longer, from 1.5 days earlier to 2.5.”
Agarwal believes that the concept of budgeted accommodation can change the way people, especially those from 18-30 years of age, travel. “A good accommodation at a low price can certainly increase the frequency of travel. While earlier, you could cover a single location on a certain budget, you can now cover three,” she says.
However, there can be some irritants. “For example, having to share a room with an annoying roommate can be one,” says traveller Matthews. “A lack of space to dry your clothes can be another,” he adds.
Speaking on women’s safety, which is a major concern, Agarwal says, “Although in dorms, people tend to behave themselves, we are moving towards gender-segregated dorm rooms so that nothing untoward happens.” Currently, goSTOPS operates mixed dormitories, with some reserved solely for women travellers.