Ian Waldie  /  Getty Images
Traveler Larry Weather writes in his diary at a backpackers hostel.
updated 9/13/2006 2:52:42 PM ET 2006-09-13T18:52:42

Betty Kam, a 30-year-old teacher from Hong Kong, carefully planned her July vacation in Scotland. She plotted a detailed itinerary and reserved accommodations for each leg of her journey.

The only unusual thing about her trip: She decided to stay in hostels, long the preserve of young and spontaneous backpackers.

Kam is among a growing number of people choosing to book stays at hostels in pre-planned vacations, a departure from the adventurous, happy-go-lucky ethos that has long defined backpacking culture.

The trend springs from older travelers looking for cheap deals, easy access to city centers where many hostels are located, and a desire to experience a laid-back atmosphere.

"Customers have at least a rough itinerary and are less adventurous," said Niamh Ni Mhir, hostel division managing director of the Dublin-based online hostel company, hostelworld.com.

"The customers now say, 'I know I want to have a bed,' whereas five to 10 years ago people would line up outside hostels at 7 a.m. hoping for a bed, or at least a mattress on the floor at a discounted price."

Many of the world's hostels are changing to cater to the pre-planner.

Hostelworld.com, which lists more than 10,000 worldwide hostels on its Web site, books reservations for about 20,000 customers every day. Five years ago, only 1,000 people booked stays at a hostel. Ni Mhir attributed that partly to the growth of the Internet, but also to the changing profile of hostelers.

Katie Ricard, 27, has worked as a receptionist at Castle Rock Hostel in Edinburgh, Scotland for the past three years. The Brisbane, Australia native has seen an upswing in families and tourists in their 30s staying at the 270-bed hostel across from the famed Edinburgh Castle, along with teens just out of high school and long-termers.

"We get a lot more variety than we did even three years ago," Ricard said. "People want to enjoy the hostel atmosphere - like congregating in the kitchen or hanging out in the lounge - with more luxuries."

The new brand of hosteler is willing to pay more.

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In general, hostel prices increased about $6.50 to $13 over the past five years. Travelers who would usually book a budget hotel room for $102 for four people now spend $26 per night in a hostel, Ni Mhir said.

The pre-planner also tends to want smaller hostels and rooms with more privacy.

"Our four-bed rooms are more expensive than our 10-bed rooms because the people who pre-plan want smaller rooms," said Laura Cuello, Groups and Agents Manor for Leinster Inn Hostel in London. "The people who stay in the bigger rooms are the wanderers. The rest seem to pre-book."

Cuello said 80 percent of reservations are booked in advance, meaning on weekends, many people who come unannounced get turned away for lack of space.

Some younger hostelers aren't happy about the trend of older travelers joining their ranks.

""The whole point of staying in a hostel is to meet new people and mingle, to socialize with younger, freer people," said Ivy Okoniewski, a 21-year-old student from Green Bay, Wisconsin.

"Why do they want to be with younger people when they won't interact with the younger crowd?" she asked. "It's equivalent to a senior citizen wanting to live in a college dormitory."

If You Go...

HOSTEL RESERVATIONS: http://www.hostelworld.com

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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