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What Makes HI USA Different

A recent article in Forbes announces that big hotel companies can learn from hostels. It’s true, yet hardly new news for those of us familiar with hostels. With HI USA being one of the highest guest-rated hostel networks over the years, I’ve had my share of chats with hoteliers seeking insights they can apply to their properties. Yet those conversations inevitably conclude that some HI USA practices simply can’t be applied to hotels. Here’s why.

The Forbes article takes an understandably business-like approach to dissecting hostel strengths. Hostels offer social experiences. We pay close attention to what our guests think. And we attract welcoming, multi-talented staff who grow quickly beyond traditional hotel roles.      

That’s a good summary for many hostels, but for HI USA it’s missing a key point: we are organized as a nonprofit with a social impact purpose. 

Our mission is cultural exchange, not heads-in-beds, and we live it. Our guests learn it when they walk through the front door and see our purpose artfully displayed on our walls: “HI USA is founded on an enduring belief in the power of travel to foster a deeper understanding of people, places and cultures.”

Nonprofits are like that – we believe in what we do and want to share it with others. And you can see it in HI USA hostel stays, our local volunteer engagement, and our organizational governance.  

Our engaging staff understand we exist for a larger purpose and our guests feel it. Cultural exchange is our north star, and grounded in respect, friendship and understanding — a powerful customer service pledge.    

Our volunteers lead programs that produce memorable experiences for those who stay with us. Imagine free tours led by local volunteers who are proud of their communities and want to share what they know with others. (Our volunteer-led programs for guests will be re-introduced at most hostels as COVID fully recedes.)

Like other nonprofits, our hostels can and do generate a modest operating surplus in most years (with the pandemic a notable exception).   And as a nonprofit, we put 100% of it back into our hostels and programs so those who use hostels feel the benefit; we have no investors to pay.

Which means we are governed differently than a for-profit business. We have a board of directors elected from the community of travelers – those who travel and those who value it as an experience that can change lives. Every year we invite applications from the general public and this year the deadline is November 5th. Learn more here.

We invite you to find out for yourself what makes HI USA different by staying or volunteering at one of our hostels. We are centrally located in key cities across the USA, and for a memorable recreation break, check out our seaside hostels in coastal areas outside of Boston and San Francisco. Learn more at