Pick a hostel between Riga and Rome and chances are it's stuffed — probably in mixed-gender dorm rooms — with Americans, from college-age study abroad kids to middle-aged location-independent nomad workers.
Airbnb has, without doubt, grabbed a portion of the higher end of the hostel market, but as long as they keep renting beds for $14 a night in European capitals, we're going to keep them at or near capacity.
The hostel experience doesn't translate quite as seamlessly outside of Europe: cheap hotels dominate the backpacker scene in southeast Asia, while hostels are noticeably thinner on the ground in South America and Africa. And while American hostels remain busy thanks to foreign guests, most American travelers would look to a Motel 6 or other cheap lodging before a hostel.
That example isn't an accident: the prototypical voyage of American discovery is the road trip — and motels (motorway + hotels) dominate — often on the side of an interstate highway. In Europe, the equivalent trip is from one notable city to another, sometimes by discount airline but often by train. High-density hostels make sense in high-density city centers.
The team behind Generator Hostels — already a hit in Europe, with 14 locations that include Paris, London, and Rome — is betting $60 million of expansion funding that they'll be able to shift that paradigm. Its first North American property is coming in early 2017, in Miami; it hopes to augment that footprint in New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Toronto. That money isn't going into marketing — the brand professes to rely instead on Gen Z word of mouth — but into the high-impact design, especially in each location's common spaces; sleeping spaces (both private rooms and dorms) are less hyper-designed.
In a way, Generator tests the key difference between European and American mentalities: an appreciation for community versus the cult of the individual (no prize for guessing which one we are). Can streamlined furniture and a penchant for socialism trump our need for our own space, something Airbnb is all too eager to provide?
IKEA, with its blond wood and egalitarian cafeteria, conquered us years ago.
Here's betting Generator follows in their Euro footsteps.