Many years ago, as a young law student, one of the subjects I had to study was Jurisprudence, the philosophy of law. The point of the course was to question the purpose of laws and a legal system. Why do they or should they exist and what should they do? Not surprisingly, what I learned proved to be of little use in the real world but now, in the world of COVID, I find myself asking similar questions. What is a hostel for? What purpose should it serve? Is it just a place to sleep for travellers on a budget or is it something more than that?
Traditionally, a hostel has been a lot more than that. Most hostellers happily accept the trade-off that in exchange for sharing a (comfortable and reasonably priced) room with friends, family or strangers they will have access to generous communal facilities such as a kitchen, dining room and lounge. There they will mingle with, chat to and socialise with their fellow guests. In a hostel like ours most of those guests will be fellow walkers. In others they may be backpackers or world travellers. The point is that the hosteller chooses to stay in a communal environment and interact with other people.
As outdoor people and seasoned travellers that is the sort of business which Helen and I wanted to run. We felt that by encouraging this sort of atmosphere we made the lives of our guests at Saddle Mountain Hostel (and our own lives) richer as a result. As far as we are concerned, that is the point and the purpose of a hostel.
For now, all of that has gone. Like most hostels, in 2020 we have had to run something more like a motel or a budget hotel. We have had to close off our communal facilities, we can only allow one household per bedroom, and guests are discouraged from mixing with each other.
Outside the hostel, the face of tourism in the Scottish Highlands this year has been one of people keeping to themselves in self-catering cottages, in camper vans and in their tents while “wild” camping.
Like everyone, we are worried about what 2021 may bring. Our fear is that for us and others in the hostel business it will be much like 2020. We will adapt and do what we have to do to survive but for the foreseeable future we will not be running a hostel. We just hope that given enough time we can return to being an actual hostel again because we think that what hostels provide is worth saving and cannot be replicated by any other sort of accommodation.
We just hope that when that time comes there will still be a hostel network for guests to come back to. When people emerge from their cottages, their camper vans and their tents what will they find? Will there still be local hostels, B&Bs, cafes, pubs, restaurants and hotels? We have to hope so. In the meantime, “Support our Hostels” and all of our local small businesses. We may not be able to provide our normal service just now but we are all doing our best and fighting to survive. If we are going to succeed it will because of your help.