Interviews

Hostels on a par with hotels

Hostelling International – known as AIG in Italy – offers a bona fide lowcost alternative for people who really want to see the world. We spoke with Lucia Chessa, who runs the youth hostel in Milan.

Lucia Chessa1AIG, the Italian Youth Hostels Association, currently has more than one hundred hostels, making it the largest accommodation chain in Italy. The Italian Hostelling International hostels have kept pace with the global development of the movement and adapted to cope with the growing demands for social and youth tourism. This has led to the accommodation being given a facelift: smaller rooms, which always have ensuite facilities, rooms for families and for people with disabilities, a focus on biocompatibility and minimum environmental impact. AIG’s hostels can also count on some Italian added value: 65% of the hostels are located in buildings of historical or architectural value that have been converted to fit their new purpose. Another plus point is that they offer many mainly cultural activities in addition to accommodation.
How is the Milan hostel run?
The youth hostel is a special type of accommodation originally designed for young people but is now open to people of all ages. The real advantage is that it is very economical and has many common areas that encourage and make it easier for guests to socialise, a fundamental element of a proper education for young people. The Milan hostel can sleep 350 people and complies with all health and hygiene regulations. If not properly managed, the refrigerator could potentially become a main source of contamination; this is why we decided it was better not to offer our guests access to a shared refrigerator in such a large establishment. However we do offer a shared refrigerator at our hostel in Bergamo, which has a capacity of 85 beds.
Who typically stays in your hostel?
Generally speaking we have three types of guest: young people, families and groups. The young people range from 18 to 25/27 years of age; they are traditional travellers or youngsters visiting Milan on study or cultural trips. The families, particularly in the summer, are foreigners with young children who are travelling as tourists or use the hostel as their main base. The groups are high school, college or university students mainly from other countries, or sports clubs, choirs, and cultural associations with shared interests.
What is the hostel’s capacity and when are you busiest?
Occupancy is heavily influenced by what’s going on in the city, such as events and trade exhibitions. The biggest is the Milan Furniture Fair, which brings in the most guests, and is closely followed by the International Tourism Exchange exhibition and the Macef International Home Show. Gusts also stay here for major football matches, such as UEFA and Champions League games, or Formula One Grands Prix, as well big concerts, particularly in the summer.
How many refrigerators do you have? Is the fridge a meeting place?
In Milan, we have the kitchen refrigerator for the breakfast food and a fridge in the reception for the employees; we sometimes let guests use this one if they need to keep medication cool. We also have other refrigerators kept in a locked room that are available for young people who stay with us for several months at a time while studying or training as they have different needs. The Bergamo hostel is ranked as the Best European Hostel thanks to its location and the quality of the furnishings and facilities. It has a Refrigerator Area where
guests can store their food in traditional hermitically sealed containers labelled with their name and the date.
This makes life easier for those who manage the cleaning. I reckon the refrigerator is a fantastic “place” to get together with others. In a hostel it’s also a bit of an attraction, like a design feature, especially if it looks stylish.

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