In April this year, two employees from Deutsches Jugendherbergswerk, our sister organisation in Germany, went on an exchange to HI Norway, and visited our hostel at Bergen Montana. Here is what they want to share from their experiences.
How innovative projects carry the Youth Hostel idea into the world
Youth hostels worldwide have to face new challenges of mechanization, new markets and changing guest requirements. This makes us, as employees of the Deutsches Jugendherbergswerk, busy every day. However, the Bergen Youth Hostel and its team approaches this topic in a wonderful way. We were able to experience it first hand during a visit to Bergen Montana and the Norwegian regional association based in Bergen.
In Bergen, an innovative volunteer project was started, which can certainly serve as a role model for many hostels. The hostel staff was thinking about the basic idea of the youth hostels. What sets us apart from the hotel industry? How can we bring guests closer to our beautiful country? And how do we make the idea of youth hostels as “meeting places of cultures” come to life?
The idea was to come in even closer contact with the guests, to show them the region personally and to promote the community of guests. A truly committed approach that could not have made the core of the youth hostel idea any better.
The hostel invites volunteers from all over the world to the youth hostel during the season. The volunteers do not have the tasks of making beds, cooking in the kitchen, or cleaning the rooms – they are fully in the service of the guests. Every evening, a “coffee and cookies” meeting of all guests of the youth hostel in the lounge was initiated. And the guests came, not because of the delicious cookies and the free coffee, they came to experience something together, to get to know each other and to get advice and ideas for their free time. I have never experienced such a warm and friendly atmosphere between guests. “Youth hostels are more than just a bed – they are part of society”, we explain to journalists if you ask us what the youth hostels are. We refer to our hostels as “meeting places for people of all countries and cultures”. And we all keep this central to our work. But it is rarely possible – especially for me as office worker – to see how our youth hostels do this in practice.
Every day, the volunteers offered guests a hike to the mountains, a city walk, or a visit to a tourist attraction. And every day the guests joined the activities enthusiastically. The offers are free and, in addition to the opportunity to get to know the city and the countryside, gives you the even more exciting opportunity to meet people from all over the world and spend the day together. One afternoon we had the opportunity to accompany the Spanish volunteer Christina and the guests on a mountain hike to the snowy peaks of Mount Ulriken. There we also met Chang, a traveler from Shanghai who had never climbed a mountain in his life, and probably never would have done so alone. Up on the mountain, the volunteers offered coffee, tea and biscuits and an enthusiastic Chang, who shouted fervently on the summit “I conquered the mountain!”.
This was an incredibly beautiful experience, and also shows another incentive to promote such projects: People are overcoming their own boundaries and experience personal growth.
Youth hostels can make that possible. With their ideas, their social commitment and their committed employees. Never before was the idea of the youth hostel closer to me than on this mountain, with a thundering wind, and with all these guests from the USA, Canada, Germany, Spain, China and South Korea.
Text and photos by Britta Cassuben (Head of Service Center Youth Hostel Hamburg “Auf dem Stintfang”) and Tina Hellwig (Marketing Assistant DJH-Landeverband Nordmark eV)
HI Connect is the staff and volunteers mobility programme facilitated by Hostelling International. This exchange was made possible through financial support from the Norwegian-German Willy Brandt Stiftung.
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