Something odd is happening at the YHA. I am sure that it is a pragmatic thing. But, I am not sure that it is a good thing.
The Youth Hostels Association’s stated aim is: “To help all, especially young people of limited means, to a greater knowledge, love and care of the countryside, and appreciation of the cultural values of towns and cities, particularly by providing youth hostels or other accommodation for them in their travels, and thus to promote their health, recreation and education.”
That statement pretty much sums up the YHA as I know it. I have been a grateful guest at several of their hostels in a number of different locations around Britain and, via Hostelling International, a network of hostels spread around the world, most recently staying in the DJH Jugendherberge in Oberammergau. You know what you are going to get: simple accommodation; basic facilities; good value; often wonderful locations.
Since its inception in 1930, the YHA has been a lifeline for countless travellers; walkers; holiday-makers, wanting to gain access to some remote corners of Britain’s beautiful countryside, not to mention affordable stays in some of our towns and cities.
So, what is YHA Exclusive Hire?
Now, I’ll admit, my current crusade is provoked by something of a personal grievance, rather than some deep-rooted commitment to egalitarianism. The fact is, I fancied walking the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path. Maybe not all of it. But the northern section. From St Dogmael’s around to Martin’s Haven. It would have been close on 100 miles. A decent-enough challenge. So, I started to make preparations.
I split my route up into eight sections, planning to walk roughly twelve miles a day. I began to hunt out suitable accommodation where I could stay each night. There was a nice-looking B&B overlooking the beach at Broad Haven; a fancy inn for a bit of R&R at Porthgain; a possible glamping pod, I’d got my eye on, south of Solva. However, on some sections of the route, the choice of accommodation was severely limited; this was relatively wild, remote territory, far removed from any villages or basic amenities. Thank God, then, for the YHA.
The hostel at Pwll Deri looked as though it was going to provide a lifeline; somewhere that I could rest my weary head on the long, off-the-beaten-track section of the route between Fishguard and Porthgain. On top of that, the location of the hostel looked absolutely stunning. The reviews by previous walkers who had stayed there had all been absolutely glowing: “breathtaking views”; “awesome location”; “great value for money”. I tried to make an online booking for a bed for one night. And that was how I first encountered YHA Exclusive Hire.
It was no longer possible to book a bed for one night. Not even possible to book a private room. You had to book the entire hostel, for a minimum stay of two nights, at a cost of £399 per night. That meant shelling out the best part of eight hundred quid for a simple bed. And this was one of the cheaper periods. Other dates were priced at £599 per night; some more at £749 per night. Admittedly, I’d get the choice of 28 different beds spread across seven separate rooms all to myself, but it was not really what I was looking for. What had happened to the ethos of helping “young people of limited means”? This seemed to be catering only for the fabulously wealthy.
Now, I am guessing here, but I am presuming that the YHA was badly hit when the Covid lockdown put the kibosh on many people’s travels during 2020 and, as a reaction, it has relooked its business model, coming up with this alterative solution. But is it really generating more money? Looking at the availability calendar for Pwll Deri, there are only a handful of dates throughout the year when the hostel appears to have been booked for Exclusive Hire; most of the time, it is just standing empty; unavailable for walkers like me who would love to be able to make use of one of their empty beds; not bringing in a sou in terms of revenue for the YHA.
And it is not just Pwll Deri that is only available for Exclusive Hire. The YHA website states that it has “100 unique properties in top locations across England and Wales, perfectly placed to explore hidden gems and national treasures.” Just not for lone travellers, like me.
In the end, the unavailability of any accommodation in Pwll Deri forced me to rethink my entire trip to Pembrokeshire, with the corresponding knock on effect of a loss of revenue for the nice-looking B&B overlooking the beach at Broad Haven; the fancy inn at Porthgain; and the glamping pod, I’d got my eye on, south of Solva.
In the past, the YHA has always been a byword for healthy, youthful, outdoorsy exploration and endeavour; it is like the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award in bricks and mortar; Enid Blyton’s Famous Five all crammed into one bunk bed. I hope that long and admirable tradition is not going to change such that all the YHA becomes synonymous with is exclusive stag and hen parties.
© E. C. Glendenny
E. C. Glendenny is off looking for an alternative to walking the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path.