The roots of the Finnish Hostel Association are in hiking
Hostel business started in Germany more than 100 years ago. At first, hostels were located in the countryside and they were surrounded by nature. Hostels offered young people the opportunity to camp and stay in fresh air and cleaner environment.
International hostel operations begun in 1909. A teacher Richard Schirrmann accommodated his students in a school classroom sheltered from the harsh weather. That night, he came up with the idea of youth hostels. Three years later, the first hostel opened its doors in Altena Castle, Germany.
The development of affordable accommodation spread quickly from Germany to the rest of Europe. First city hostels were established in the 1930s. Nowadays nearly all major cities have more than one hostel. International Youth Hostel Federation (IYHF), today known as Hostelling International (HI), was founded in 1932. Over a hundred years, the development has led to a worldwide network of HI hostels with over 3,500 properties in about 90 countries.
Hiking associations started hostelling in Finland
The driving force behind hostelling in Finland was the Hiking Commission of the Ministry of Education. It convened a number of hiking and sports organizations to establish a European-style hostel association. The purpose of the association was to develop a camping culture and act as a liaison for youth camping organizations. In addition, the idea was to provide camping sites and trails, and to supervise their use and care. The task was to develop international camping activities and to obtain affordable travel for members of member organizations. The Finnish Youth Hostel Association (SRM) was founded in December 1935. The idea behind it was to be a non-profit association for the Finnish hostel network. Three years after its foundation, the association took a step towards internationalization and joined the IYHF.
At that time, the Finnish Youth Hostel Association’s huts were only accessible to hikers who had a Hiking Membership Card. Young people and hikers on foot, bicycles, canoes or skis had the privilege to use these huts. In the 1930s, the European model emphasized youth accommodation in youth hostels. However, Finland initially wanted to provide accommodation for all travelers, regardless of age. It was precisely the affordability of the accommodation that made travelling possible especially for young people.
Strict rules for both guests and huts
Back in the day, the huts had quite detailed rules. There were obligations and restrictions on how to use and run these huts. During the day, guests were not allowed to sit down, lie down, or store goods. Guests also had to wash and clean their feet thoroughly before going to bed. Huts also had written guidelines. The guidelines included what the huts should be like and what the ideal location would be. The huts had to be by a lake or a river. Or otherwise surrounded by a forest or park, close to a main road with beautiful views. A decent hut had to offer separate rooms for men and women, and at least a sauna and proper cooking facilities.
Today, the hostels in the network are similar to other accommodation options. The clientele has expanded to include all ages. However, old visions of hostels are still firmly in people’s minds. We still need to reassure people that hostels are open to all, they have no age limits, they also offer private rooms and the doors do not close at 10 pm.
From hiking bases to hostels for travelers
Over the decades, the basic concepts of hostel operations – sociality, internationality and affordability – have proven to be vital. Even though hostels have undergone a major transformation and development. The term “hostel” in Finnish was adopted in the early 1990s. The name combined different types of huts, lodges and summer hotels under the same term. The hostel term also described the change in the industry from school accommodations and large dormitories to high-class, comfortable accommodation. In 2014, SRM also changed its name to the Finnish Hostel Association.
The internationally known and popular HI hostel network has evolved to meet the expectations of travelers. Large dormitories are starting to be rare and most hostels also offer private rooms with private bathrooms. The boutique trend is also gaining ground in hostels. Popular design and boutique hostels provide travelers with a thrilling accommodation experience in individually decorated rooms. However, hostels still provide everyone with access to different places, cultures and people. Hostels also provide a comfortable, immediate atmosphere and safe accommodation at affordable rates.
The Finnish Hostel Association in 2020
Even today, the Finnish Hostel Association maintains and develops a hostel network on behalf of its member associations. The base idea is to provide affordable accommodation especially for members. Today, 30 national youth-, student-, sports-, retirement-, trade union- and tourism organizations are the Finnish Hostel Association’s member associations. Member associations and their members play an important role in hostel operations, both as clients and decision makers. Today there are 45 hostels in Finland that have signed a cooperation agreement with the Finnish Hostel Association.
Read more about the Finnish Hostel Association at www.hostellit.fi/en/