Back in the day, the best backpackers could expect from a hostel was a rock-hard bunk bed, a grimy shared bathroom, and with luck, checking out with all their belongings in tact.
But now, a burgeoning cohort of young travellers dubbed “flashpackers” — backpackers with a slightly larger budget — has given rise to a form of lodging that at one time would have been considered an oxymoron: the high-end hostel.
Unlike the dingy dormitories of decades past, hostels in Canada have been revamped to cater to millennial wanderlust, offering affordable luxuries such as free breakfast, private rooms, digital amenities and modern-day security features.
Look at the M Montreal’s Instagram feed, and you’ll find photos of guests lounging in the hostel’s two rooftop Jacuzzi, partying in the neon-lit bar, taking in musical and comedy acts or chowing down at the cafe, which offers free or pay-what-you-can dinners several nights a week.
Located in Montreal’s Gay Village, the hostel’s most lavish accommodations — a 700-square-foot private room with a kitchen, living room and large-screen TV — can run for up to $250 per night during peak summer months.
Owner Andreas Zacharakis said the M Montreal is designed to facilitate connections among tourists and locals alike, which he sees as the hostel’s competitive advantage over five-star hotels and shared-economy accommodations such as Airbnb.
“The customers are smart. They’re smarter than ever before,” said Zacharakis. “They don’t mind paying. They just want to be assured that they’re going to have a good experience and a good service.”
In low season, budget-conscious guests can still pick up a key card to a 10-person room for roughly $30 per night, which includes a bunk bed with a back pillow to lean on while web surfing, outlets for charging devices, storage spaces, a curtain for privacy and access to a shared ensuite bathroom.
Zacharakis compared today’s tech-savvy consumers to “cyborgs” who are pushing hostels to provide upscale amenities on par with hotels through reviews on social media and sites such as hostelworld.com, where the M Montreal globally ranks as the best extra-large hostel of 2019.
“There’s a communal spirit going on,” said Zacharakis. “When you’re checked in, you’re introduced to everyone in your room… By the time you’re leaving, you feel like you’re about to cry, because you’re leaving your family.”
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