Bill seeks to bring hostels back to NYC

Young international travelers often rely on hostels when visiting different cities. The dorm-like accommodations with shared common spaces tend to be the most budget-friendly option.

"It's ideal for traveling because it's cheaper and it's a great way to meet other travelers," said Lily Hextell, of the U.K.

But when tourists like Hextell plan their trips to New York City, hostel options are few and far between.

"There weren't very many to choose from, and they were fairly pricey as well," she said.

A 2010 state law meant to crack down on illegal hotels, by banning most stays under 30 days, also restricted hostels, forcing most to close.

Only a few, including Hosteling International on 103rd Street and Amsterdam are allowed to still operate.

"There are a lot of visitors to the United States and New York City and young people prefer hostels, this is how they travel throughout Europe and Asia — how come we aren't taking advantage of this market?" asked City Council member Margaret Chin.

Chin is co-sponsoring a bill with Council member Mark Gjonaj introduced Wednesday that would lift the ban on hostels and create an independent office within the Department of Consumer Affairs to handle licensing and oversight. She argues bringing back hostels could steer travelers away from illegal Airbnb offerings.

"The intent is to create affordable accommodations and to challenge Airbnb happening in the city that is taking away affordable housing," Chin said.

Cathy Thompson, Global Head of Customer Experience at Hostelworld, a lead hostel booking website, says lifting the ban would draw more tourists to New York City who currently find prices here out of reach.

"To open up the City to budget accommodation, it's going to allow travelers that have New York City on their bucket list to be able to go and afford it," she said.

Should the bill pass, she expects Hostel chains would be quick to set up shop in New York.

"I think the industry has been waiting for over a decade to be able to operate in New York," Thompson said.

The bill will head to the consumer affairs committee, though it's unclear whether it will advance from there. Similar bills have been introduced in past years but have failed to reach a vote.

As for Airbnb, Josh Meltzer, Head of Northeast Policy, said the bill could help bring home sharing to NYC.

"On the surface, this bill sounds very familiar — a path forward for responsible use, standardizing an industry, and a fair enforcement structure — and much like what our community has asked for from the Council for the past three years," said Meltzer.  "We hope this shift in the Council's position on hostels indicates they are willing to further adapt to the times and extend the same courtesy of clarity to their many tens of thousands of constituents who rely on home sharing."