Crain’s New York Supports Hostels in NYC

Hostels want to return to New York. 
The city should welcome them back

By Crain’s Editorial Board

Budget-conscious travelers would love to have somewhere safe and inexpensive to stay in New York City. Hostel executives are eager to invest millions to accommodate them. Commercial

DUTCH TREAT: An Amsterdam property run by Generator Hostels, one of the hostel operators eyeing the Big Apple

landlords would gladly 
lease or sell property to the industry. Local tourist attractions and small businesses would appreciate new visitors. Edgy neighborhoods would benefit from their activity and spending. And the government would welcome the added tax revenue.

Hostels would create many winners—but so far not enough, apparently, for lawmakers to pass a bill allowing them to flourish here.

A 2010 statute banning short-term apartment rentals inadvertently ruined the economics of hostels, leading most of New York City’s to close.

The few that remain face limitations on sleeping arrangements—no more than four guests to a room, for example—that render their traditional dormitory-style cost structure impossible.

Legislation to fix this was drafted by a city task force in 2011 but, incredibly, the City Council has given it scant attention. The hostel industry is trying to revive it but has been struggling just to get the chamber to schedule a hearing, which is crucial because changes are needed to reflect the advent of quickie rentals booked on the internet. Provisions should be added to reassure council members that hostels will not be like Airbnb, which is disliked by many city lawmakers because some folks use the listing service to book tourists in what should be affordable housing for New Yorkers. The bill would support those legislators’ interests because hostels would compete with Airbnb for budget travelers without using apartments or land zoned for residential use.

The bill also needs a new primary sponsor or some advocacy from its current one, Councilwoman Margaret Chin. She has no discernible enthusiasm for the measure, having inherited it from a colleague who left office. It needs a true champion to research and reshape the legislation and win over powerful interests, especially owners of unionized hotels and the politically potent union that represents their workers.

Hostels serve an entirely different clientele than unionized hotels, so the union ought to be neutral about their return to the city, if not in favor of it. The bill also needs community and de Blasio administration support, which can be generated by adding terms that restrict hostels to commercial areas.

Every year that hostels are frozen out costs New York up to $500 million in lost revenue, while rival cities like London are cashing in. It’s time we showed this industry a little hospitality.


Empire Government Strategies Featured in New York Times Article

Hostel Business Wants to Make a Push Back Into New York

By Tanya Mohn

Pouring rain one day last week didn’t stop a dozen or so European and American hostel owners and executives from taking a four-hour bus tour through the industrial neighborhoods of Long Island City in Queens.

Intent on reviving and expanding New York’s atrophied hostel business — which they say could enhance the city’s appeal to youthful tourists — the visitors were sizing up thousands of square feet of commercial space and warehouses.

The properties included an auto body repair shop; a hardware supplier; and a clothing restoration business that over the years has worked on Winston Churchill’s military uniform, Princess Diana’s gowns and Melania Trump’s wedding dress.

“Old buildings all have great stories,” said a visitor from Dublin, Anne Dolan, a founder and director of Clink Hostels, whose keystone business is housed in a former London magistrate’s court.

“Hostel owners are like backpackers,” Ms. Dolan said. “We dare to go where others haven’t gone.”

But the issue in New York City, these hostel experts say, is that too few backpacking and other young and budget-conscious travelers dare to pass through town, because of a dearth of hostels. As a result, they said, the city is not only losing tourist business and tax revenue, but also the chance to advertise

Anne Dolan of Dublin, a founder and director of Clink Hostels, on a tour of potential locations for a hostel in New York.

itself to young people from around the country and the world who might someday return to work and live in New York.

“I think hostels make great cities accessible to young people,” Ms. Dolan said. “New York is missing out.”

Hostel proponents blame a six-year-old New York State law, the Illegal Hotels Bill. The law was aimed at nonconforming rentals, overcrowded single-room occupancy residences and other forms of lodging deemed substandard by the legislation’s sponsors.

Although Airbnb was not as big a presence in 2010 as it is now, the law has been wielded to crack down on various types of listings on the company’s service. Last week Airbnb settled a lawsuit against New York City in which the company had opposed the city’s right to impose fines on Airbnb hosts who listed properties that did not conform to the 2010 law.

Also caught in the 2010 law’s dragnet were almost all of New York City’s hostels, according to Feargal Mooney, whose company arranged last week’s tour. Mr. Mooney is chief executive of Hostelworld, a hostel booking firm that represents properties in more than 170 countries.

Nearly five dozen New York City hostels were put out of business by the 2010 law, and new ones have been prevented from opening, Mr. Mooney said. Most of the remaining ones advertise as hostels but are now formally classified as hotels.

Mr. Mooney and others on the tour say they hope that a new piece of legislation, awaiting a hearing by the New York City Council, could revive the city’s hostel business.

Right now, the only bona fide hostel in the city is run by a nonprofit group, Hostelling International USA, on Amsterdam Avenue on the Upper West Side, he said. It is able to operate its New York City property because of its building classification and special use permit.

Aaron Chaffee, Hostelling International’s vice president for hostel development, said he would welcome additional hostels in the city but supported the need for regulation.

The final stop on the bus tour was at the Paper Factory, an elegant, edgy hotel decorated with repurposed objects from its former life as a pulp plant.

“Wow, I love it,” said Eric van Dijk, managing director of MeiningerHotels, a company based in Berlin that owns 16 hostels in Europe and has 13 more in the pipeline there. He said the game room and other communal spaces gave the property the look and vibe of a hostel.

The Paper Factory, a hotel in Queens whose owner would like to convert it to a hostel if a New York City law is changed.

Gal Sela, the hotel’s owner, went into contract for the building in 2010 intending to operate it as a hostel. But when the law went into effect, he couldn’t proceed.

“I like the business model of hostels,” Mr. Sela said. The revenue per square foot from dorm-style rooms is profitable, he said, but more important are a laid-back ambience and a focus on community. “It’s something unique in hospitality,” he said. “I’d change it into a hostel in a heartbeat if the law changes.”

Before the 2010 legislation, some hostels were substandard, Mr. Mooney conceded, but not all. He said that hostels around the world today were typically safe, clean and modern, with kitchens and laundry facilities, on-site cafes and even 24-hour reception desks. Many reflect high-end design similar to boutique hotels.

Hostelworld has hired Jerry Kremer, president of Empire Government Strategies, a lobbying firm, to help change the law affecting hostels.

Jerry Kremer at Madame Paulette, a potential site for a hostel in Long Island City. Mr. Kremer is a lobbyist working to make New York City’s laws more friendly to hostels.

“Young people coming to the city have very few choices,” Mr. Kremer said. “The hostel industry is frustrated that the city hasn’t embraced a form of tourism that not only brings in money but also encourages young people to come to the city and stay. Any other major city in the country would be chasing after us.”

New York currently yields about $234 million a year in revenue from hostels and related tourism — about a third of the amount a city its size should be generating, according to a recent Hostelworld analysis.

“Hostel owners will go in areas that are underserved and turn them into something special and change a neighborhood,” Mr. Kremer said. “They are ready, willing and able to write checks.”

The group met with City Council members to discuss legislation that would authorize the creation of hostels and provide specific oversight for their licensing, regulation and operation. The hostel group hopes to have a hearing before the Committee on Housing and Buildings by early next year.

“It was a good and productive meeting,” said the bill’s primary sponsor, Councilwoman Margaret S. Chin, a Democrat whose district is primarily in Lower Manhattan. Providing good, safe and affordable accommodations for young travelers is “critical,” she said.

Laura Daly, deputy director of the World Youth Student and Educational Travel Confederation, a nonprofit trade association for the global youth travel industry, said international destinations like Berlin and Amsterdam welcomed hostels “with open arms.”

Paul Halpenny, a group director for Hostelworld, said Barcelona was another city where political efforts brought results. “Owners there spent years battling the city,” he said of Barcelona. “But today it has some of the best hostels in any city around the world.”

In Rome, a change in the law last year resulted in about eight new or planned hostels.

In the United States, Ms. Daly said, cities including Miami, Los Angelesand Chicago are attracting hostel investment over New York.

Generator Hostels, based in London, has a dozen properties and several in development in Europe, and a property under construction in Miami scheduled to open next year.

Both Generator and Meininger, the German company, have full-time staff in the United States actively looking for sites.

And yet, for all the activity, hostel development in the United States has been slow, compared to other regions of the world, said Bjorn Hanson, a professor of hospitality and tourism at New York University’s Tisch Center.

That, he said, is because of strict regulations, the rise of less expensive limited-service hotels in urban areas and the popularity of hotel-chain loyalty points. And not everyone sees the appeal of bunkhouse camaraderie.

Still, there is a trend even in the mainstream lodging industry for guests to spend less time in their hotel rooms, in favor of public spaces to work and meet fellow travelers. “Hostels do that extremely well by offering more of a social experience than most hotels,” Dr. Hanson said.

All of which is why the visitors on the bus in Long Island City last week remained hopeful.

“There’s power in numbers,” Ms. Dolan of Clink Hostels said. “It seems like the right moment.”


Here’s Hoping We’ll See the More Reasonable Trump

Here’s Hoping We’ll See the More Reasonable Trump

Whether you like it or not, the 2016 presidential election is now long over. It is a simple fact that America is sharply divided, and it will take a lot of charm, discipline and accomplishments by one man to reduce the amount of tension in this country. President-elect Donald Trump has a lot to prove, but we, too, as citizens, have many obligations as well. The job will be very difficult for both sides.

Trump has shown some softening on a number of the issues that helped him get elected, because once an election is over, reality sets in. Prosecuting Hillary Clinton is a popular idea among some of the Trump voters, but that isn’t a way to charm the scores of millions who didn’t vote for the new president. No doubt, there are a few members of Congress who have no original ideas or morals and who will try to pick up the sword and pursue Clinton for the sake of a headline, but they will fail if the president tells them to knock it off.

It is comforting to hear that Trump is hedging a little bit on issues such as global warming and waterboarding terrorists. I guess it helped that a respected general told him that you get more out of a terrorist with a pack of cigarettes and a can of beer than when you try to drown him. It was OK during the campaign to blame the Chinese for dreaming up global warming, but now that rising tides will threaten the Trump golf course in Scotland and the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, it’s time for some sober thought.

There will be other statements by the president-elect that will reflect the reality of what the job entails, but I wouldn’t go to bed thinking that Trump is a new man who will completely reverse his campaign platform. There’s no doubt that the wall between Mexico and the U.S. will be enlarged by some more fences, but it will be us, the taxpayers, who subsidize it. The idea of deporting millions of immigrants has a great deal of sex appeal around the country, but I doubt there will be any mass purges in the near future. Any efforts to implement major deportations will be challenged in the courts for many years to come.

Many of Trump’s new appointments very much reflect the ideas of the voters who championed his cause. There will be many military people in the cabinet, and a few of his loyalists will wind up with significant positions. While a few moderate people may make it to the White House or some federal agency, don’t hold your breath waiting for any serious Democratic appointments or any prominent names beyond Mitt Romney.

The cold, hard fact of political life is that it is our duty as citizens to support the good things that Trump does and protest the things that we think will hurt our country. I do hold out hope for the possibility that he will invest a massive amount of money in fixing our roads, bridges, tunnels, airports and public schools. He has pledged to do that, and I think he will follow up, because that’s the way to create jobs, jobs and more jobs.

Despite the fact that some of his appointees have in the past shown themselves to be racist, homophobic, anti-woman and sometimes just plain irrational, I don’t believe that Trump wants to be remembered as the president who destroyed the American dream for people who just want to live for a better day.

So for now, let’s declare a temporary truce with our warring spouses, friends and relatives, some of whom didn’t vote the same way we did. I give the president-elect the benefit of the doubt, but reserve the right to be doubtful and angry.



Looking Ahead While Looking Back

For quite a few people, even though the national election took place almost a month ago, it seems that the division within the country will continue for some time to come.

No matter where I travel these days, I overhear arguments between husbands and wives, mixed groups and grown children over the results of the election.

Having been a student of history, an elected official and a commentator at the national and state levels, I have seen quite a few elections where the country was polarized by the two presidential candidates, but not to the extent of this one.

I have endured the losses of Walter Mondale, Hubert Humphrey, Al Gore and enjoyed winning quite a few.

But, when those elections were over, the country went back to work paying little attention to the aftermath of the campaigns.

The 2016 election will be seared into the memory of millions of people for a number of reasons.

At the top of the list is the impact of social media and the news media.

With so many people on Facebook, the universal use of cellphones and the easy flow of communication, negative news spreads fast and it feeds into how the public forms its opinions about the candidates.

The mass media was the source of a torrent of news about the candidates.

For 16 months we were subjected to day after day of so-called “breaking news,” which in quite a few cases was either inaccurate or was on a number of occasions retracted by the anchor, too late to catch up with people who had already spread the word.

Facebook is also enduring a heavy share of the criticism over the fact that it is alleged to have been the spreader of false news, paid for by the Republican candidate.

At the beginning of the campaign many in the media treated the candidacy of Donald Trump as some type of circus act that would help drive ratings and increase advertising dollars.

On each and every occasion that candidate Trump was willing to offer an opinion on something, he would get top billing.

In most cases, the media reports on Hillary Clinton were often negative and repetitive.

The irony of the mass media’s addiction to Mr. Trump was when they decided that he might actually win, they changed their tone from positive to negative.

The end result was that the general public became more and more confused and unable to figure right from wrong.

All elections are battles about issues and ideology.

This one left us with a nation in a state of mass uncertainty about the future.

The winners get congratulated and the losers get condolences.

But going forward we must follow political events and news with the same degree of attention as we did during this campaign.

We will be exposed to four years of heightened coverage of the new administration, and the good news is that in the blink of an eye it will be 2020.



An Election Season We Can All Be Ashamed Of

An Election Season We Can All Be Ashamed Of

We can be thankful that the 2016 election nightmare is officially over. There are almost no happy observations we can make, but I’m compelled to talk about the bad, which has outweighed the good. The best thing that happened during the entire election cycle was the Cubs-Indians World Series. At least we had a few moments of relaxation thanks to the battle of two underdogs.

I’m not sure which disappointment to list first, but let’s start with the influence of big money. The race between Todd Kaminsky and Chris McGrath for a State Senate seat in the 9th District is reported to have cost $7 million. If that’s true, and I believe it is, it’s not only obscene, but outrageous. The fate of every Long Island Senate seat is a big deal, because they affect control of the Senate. But $7 million?

When you look around the country and hear how much money was spent on House and Senate races, you’ll find that, collectively, they cost over $1 billion. Add to that the battle for the White House, which easily cost over $1 billion by itself. The good news is that as far as New York state is concerned, we generally know where all the money came from. When it comes to national races, however, we had no idea where the big bucks came from, and that’s the scandal.

Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, corporations are considered people, and they can give — and give freely. The Citizens United case opened the door to uncontrolled spending in federal races, and the targets are now both Republicans and Democrats. Republican candidates were happy (for a short time) that all that mystery money would pour into their campaigns. Lately, quite a few Republicans I know are complaining about the amount of money their Democratic rivals are spending, so the through-the-roof spending is finally bashing both parties.

My second great disappointment in this election is what it did to personal relationships. Once upon a time you could have an intelligent conversation about your favorite candidates, no matter their party, but not this year. I have witnessed, with shock, dozens of verbal battles between husbands and wives, fathers and children and total strangers on the street. It’s fine to clash over which candidate is best qualified, but calling people crooks, perverts and other obscenities is way over the line of protected free speech.

The tone of this year’s battle has been disgraceful. It started during the Republican primary debates, when Donald Trump had a name for all of his opponents, from “Little Marco” Rubio to “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz to “Low Energy” Jeb Bush, all of which were uncalled for. I can’t imagine what happened during the historic Lincoln-Douglas debates, but I don’t think Abe Lincoln called for his opponent to be locked up. What’s worse is that we encourage our students to pay attention to the election, and they see things like a grown man mimicking a disabled person and talking about attacking women.

As the father of four daughters, I very much resented Trump’s verbal assaults on women based on their body types, looks and real or imagined stamina. What’s terribly sad is that elections don’t automatically stop people from doing obnoxious things. Women have a hard enough time competing with men; they didn’t need Trump to raise the glass ceiling even higher. Hillary Clinton may have called Trump supporters “deplorables,” but at least she apologized. Trump doesn’t apologize for anything.

My last and greatest disappointment is the Federal Bureau of Investigation. As far back as I can remember, it was the gold standard for law enforcement. I can still envision Elliot Ness locking up the bad guys and putting the FBI on the map. In recent years, the FBI and the Central Intelligence Agency have been feuding instead of cooperating on the challenging issues of the day. The recent conduct of the FBI raises the issue of whether it’s an investigative agency or a political club.

Let’s all hope that the next national election will be conducted at a higher level. Unfortunately, the next 12 months promise to be more of the same ugly stuff.