Before the age of Airbnb, hostels were the hottest thing in low-cost travel accommodations around the world. Over time, some have evolved into extended stay-style lodging, while others are serving their communities by offering accessible ways for visitors to see a city from a local’s perspective, without the high hotel prices.
For the last three years, Drifter Jack’s Hostel has provided thousands of travelers a safe and inexpensive place to stay in Austin. But this bunk bed-bearing hostel, located directly off the Drag near the University of Texas campus on Guadalupe, offers much more than just communal-style sleeping arrangements.
“We’re not a hostel that exists to provide dormitory accommodation,” says owner Andy Ward. “We exist because we are deeply in love with our city and showing the outside world what Austin represents. A lot of people come to Austin, spend a few nights on Sixth Street and that’s their experience. We aim to show our guests all the nooks, crannies and community events that make us special. If our guests leave with a real sense of the values that Austin holds, we’ve done our job.”
According to Ward, the average age of visitors at Drifter Jack’s is 22. He says most hostels draw in the 18-35 crowds.
So why isn’t Dallas maximizing its chance to provide affordable, culture-rich housing to young tourists? Is there an entire population of underserved travelers that Dallas isn’t serving? Why isn’t Dallas following Austin’s example of showcasing an entire city in a one-night stay?
If Dallas can attract younger visitors, and give them the experience they want, then those same visitors are more likely to return again and again. If they’re sold on the city, they may even choose to relocate to Dallas and contribute to its economic growth.
But it’s not always about the money. Ward says the presence of hostels can convey the importance a city places on cultural awareness.
“A good hostel focuses on communal interaction,” says Ward. “You don’t meet people you’ll stay in touch with for the rest of your life in hotels or Airbnbs. In hostels you make thirty new friends instead of one. It would surprise you how many conversations or experiences in hostels have altered the course of someone’s life.”
The only comparable overnight option in the Dallas area is Irving’s Wild Wild West Backpackers Hostel, and unfortunately it is quite far from our city center.
Areas such as the Bishop Arts District in Oak Cliff are prime real estate for hostel development. Why? Because it’s one of the fastest-growing neighborhoods in Dallas and its housing market is proof. Not to mention food, entertainment, nightlife and transportation are all available by foot. (DART’s D-Link runs through Bishop Arts for free.)
Several Dallas area hostels have come and go in the past few decades – this outdated map shows a few options that simply no longer exist. Location could the culprit behind their demise, but a new hostel in a location that’s dense in destinations, such as Drifter Jack’s on the Drag in Austin, could be more successful and fill the current gap in the city.
Similar locations in Dallas might include Deep Ellum, Oak Cliff or the Design District, all areas popular with young millennials who may lack the disposable income to afford regular hotels but still want to be close to the action.
According to visitdallas.com, Dallas has a whopping 77,000 hotel rooms – and sadly, none feature bunk beds or communal kitchens.