A train station - that's where many a journey around the Czech Republic begins. Backpackers from across the continent and from as far as Japan or North America use trains to travel around Europe, because they are versatile, comfortable and affordable. For young travellers, affordability is often the decisive factor in choosing accommodation as well. Young travellers and students have different needs and demands than tourists in other age categories, and they need a different approach.
"Youth tourism is a very strong business. You have to know that only in Europe, youth tourism is bringing 70 billion dollars of income. So it's a great, great industry."
Goran Beus-Richemberg from the International Youth Hostel Federation explains the objectives of his organisation.
"The International Youth Hostel Federation is one of the biggest NGOs for youth in the world. The main aim is connected with youth travel, with youth tourism. We are the biggest youth accommodation chain in the world. We are dealing with the local associations in seventy countries, which means that almost all continents and countries are covered by an infrastructure of youth hostels. There are more than 4,500 of them. They are of different standards and different types, according to the local needs, according to the local tradition. We are encouraging people to develop their own type of youth hostels in order to create a special product for youth."
Bretislav Svoboda from the newly-founded Czech Youth Hostel Association explains which particular age group his association tries to address.
"Our target group is mostly young people. For example we cooperate with associations around the Czech Republic providing school accommodation for school groups, school trips. Then of course, there are a number of older people who are travelling, but that is only around twenty percent. Eighty percent are young people between eighteen and twenty-eight years of age."
This particular age group usually cannot afford expensive accommodation. Many young people, for example those who take a gap year before university, travel around the world for several months, and their resources are limited. Typically, they want to see as much as possible for as little money as possible. Goran Beus-Richemberg from the International Youth Hostel Federation.
"Our main task is to promote youth travelling as something which is not only for people who have a lot of money. We are here to help people to travel more easily, quickly, safely and to find people of their age around. We are promoting travelling with no differences between races, nationalities, without any kind of discrimination."
Until recently, hostels were something that Czech people did not know much about. There were student dormitories or inexpensive hotels around the country, but youth hostels as we know them started appearing only after the fall of communism.
"The notion of hostels is still quite new to people in the Czech Republic and many people still don't know what a hostel means. It is a kind of accommodation which offers affordable lodging for mostly young people. This kind of accommodation can be as good as a hotel but still have a lower price."
Bretislav Svoboda from the Czech Youth Hostel Association explains that his organisation, which replaced an older association, wants to expand fast.
"After five months of working we already have nineteen hostels in the association, meaning we have 1,200 beds all over the Czech Republic. The Czech Youth Hostel Association wants to get more hostels and more beds within the next two years so we can offer a bigger selection of different cities and different places all around the Czech Republic. The Czech Youth Hostel Association is part of the International Youth Hostel Federation which means we can offer some sort of standards. All of the hostels meet these standards, so people can rely on these standards."
As Bretislav Svoboda says "hostel neni jenom postel" - or a hostel is not just a bed but it also involves meeting people in a friendly atmosphere. Currently, ninety-six percent of the clients in hostels in the Czech Republic are foreign travellers. The Czech Youth Hostel Association wants to attract more Czech clients to use their services. Goran Beus-Richemberg from the International Youth Hostel Federation would also like to see more young Czechs travelling abroad.
"We are not very new here and Czech people have some idea about international hostelling. But since 2002 we have a new partner which is the new Czech Youth Hostel Association and the founders of the association decided to create a non-profit organisation, which will promote youth hostelling in the Czech Republic and give the opportunity to Czech young people to travel abroad, because the membership card of international hostelling is valid worldwide. So if you have this card, you are accepted in all of those seventy countries and all of those youth hostels without any differences. We would like to see more Czech people travel around and use the infrastructure, because all the neighbouring countries are very well covered by youth hostels."
The International Youth Hostel Federation also provides some additional services to young travellers. Goran Beus-Richemberg.
"There is also one very important thing. We call it the "International Booking Network, IBN". It is a unique reservation system and you can use booking centres which are now situated in GTS offices in the Czech Republic. If you want to book places in London, Paris, wherever in 400 places in the world, you can do it through this booking centre - or from your own home because the system is on-line, web-based. If you have a bank card, you can do it from your own home, you can change itineraries, change your plans. Everything is possible. All combinations: changing the youth hostel, changing the dates, the itineraries, everything is up to you. If you do not have a bank card - and a lot of young people or students do not have a bank card - you can go to the nearest booking centre and the people there will help you to create your own itinerary, to find the place and free beds for you. All of those things are benefits for young Czech travellers."
More young Czech travellers going abroad or travelling around the country and more foreign tourists coming to the Czech Republic - those are the goals of everybody involved in the youth tourism business in this country. Goran Beus-Richemberg.
"We are very happy that a new association will provide all those possibilities to Czech people but also, on the other hand, the Federation will do everything to promote the Czech Republic as a destination. It is one of the most important destinations in Europe. Especially after the floods we feel that we have to do more to convince people that the local tourist product in the Czech Republic is absolutely perfect and they have to come here to see it and enjoy it."
And finally, the most important piece of information. How much does a night in a hostel cost, for example in the Czech capital? Bretislav Svoboda from the Czech Youth Hostel Association.
"The average in Prague, for example in a double room in a hostel, will be something around 500 crowns per person, including breakfast."
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