Five Scottish Hostels to Close

SYHA issued a press release yesterday announcing the closure of five of its hostels. The news was picked up by the BBC, but does not seem to have made much impression elsewhere yet – including the SYHA’s own website.

Here is the news release in full:

SYHA Hostelling Scotland announces changes to its network

SYHA Hostelling Scotland, Scotland’s largest network of Youth Hostels, has announced its intention to enhance the future performance and long-term sustainability of its network of 46 Youth Hostels.

It will achieve this by closing five of its existing Youth Hostels to make improvements necessary to meet rising customer expectations and to compete with recent increases in the quality and quantity of other low budget accommodation.

The decision was reached as part of SYHA’s ongoing annual review process and the Youth Hostels earmarked for closure are located in Arden, Broadmeadows, Canisbay, Kirk Yetholm and Melrose. It is anticipated that the recommendations and other structural changes will be implemented in stages from February 2012 onwards.

These particular locations have been selected as they are failing to attract a viable number of guests. In addition, where they are in a poor state of repair insufficient funds exist to refurbish them in a sustainable way.

Keith Legge, Chief Executive of SYHA Hostelling Scotland said: “While it is always sad to close some iconic and long standing Youth Hostels, the reality is that SYHA has to make responsible decisions which support our charitable aims. As a not-for-profit, self-funding charitable organisation, we have a duty to make best use of scarce resources to ensure a sustainable future.”

SYHA believes in the importance of enabling young people in particular to learn about Scotland’s culture and natural heritage whilst improving their health and wellbeing by encouraging them to be active and spend time outdoors.

In line with this ethos, the organisation aims to ensure that sufficient investment is available to provide accommodation and other services that facilitate the ongoing commitment to its youth development programmes. This investment is also important in meeting the needs and expectations of today’s budget travellers in an ever increasingly competitive market.

Keith said: “As a result of listening to our guests’ feedback about their experiences, requirements and expectations, we are striving to have a more sustainable, modern and fit for purpose hostelling network for the future of like-minded budget travellers from within and to Scotland.”

In the meantime SYHA is continuing with its upgrade programme to meet market trends in guest expectations for high quality, affordable accommodation, as seen recently in Lochranza, Oban and Glenbrittle.

Keith added: “SYHA aims to offer guests the best possible facilities at an affordable budget cost. Our ongoing review has resulted in many of our properties being refurbished and upgraded to provide smaller rooms, some with en-suite facilities to suit couples, families and smaller groups along with the traditional overnight and larger group accommodation and services provision.”

It sounds like the Scots are adopting a very similar policy to that being followed south of the border – closing and selling hostels to invest in the remainder of the network. I’m sure it will be just as controversial up there.

Of course, with a much smaller network to begin with, the effects of each closure will be more keenly felt. This won’t be helped by the fact that three of the five hostels are in the same area – by closing Broadmeadows, Melrose and Kirk Yetholm, SYHA have wiped out their entire offering in the borders region.

I stayed at two of them during a recent walk along the St Cuthbert’s Way. Melrose is a “big Victorian house” hostel – a type that can be difficult (and expensive) to adapt to 21st century tastes, so I’m not wholly surprised to see it on the list. Kirk Yetholm is a smaller, cosier spot – and of course it’s at the end (or the beginning) of the Pennine Way. I’m surprised they can’t keep it going.

Readers will remember that, not so long ago, a batch of YHA closures looked sure to clear almost all the hostels from the southern side of that border. What actually happened is that a mix of enterprise scheme takeovers, partnerships with locals, and even a couple of new hostels have left the North Pennines as (deservedly) one of YHA’s most thriving areas.

So, given the resourcefulness of border folk, maybe there’s more to hear from this story. I certainly hope so!

STOP PRESS: A statement about the closures has now been made on the SYHA site. There’s also been coverage in the John O’Groat Journal and the Southern Reporter.

31 thoughts on “Five Scottish Hostels to Close

  1. Andrew Bowden

    Terrible news. Stayed in Kirk Yetholm after finishing the Pennine Way and it seemed to have so much potential.

    And as for Broadmeadows, they only recently celebrated its’ 80th birthday.

  2. Nigel

    The other two are equally surprising. John O’Groats (Canisbay) and Loch Lomond (Arden) – this is described by SYHA themselves as the most beautiful hostel in Scotland, a sentiment I would agree with. I can only assume it’s a Derwentwater like cash cow for them.

    So in one fell swoop – SYHA have knackered long distance walkers on the best known walk – The Pennine Way – and cyclists on the best known charity cycle – LEJOG. Perhaps YHA can know use that as reason to close Edale and Land’s End :-)

  3. Chris Hunt Post author

    It’s largely water under the bridge now, but I wouldn’t characterise Derwentwater as a “cash cow”.

    True, its sale raised a lot of money that we can invest elsewhere in the network. However, if we’d kept it, it would have cost a lot of money to bring it up to spec – money that could only have been found by selling hostels elsewhere. SYHA may be in the same boat with regard to Loch Lomond.

    As far as the PW/LEJOG are concerned, what we don’t know is how much business they actually bring to the hostels concerned. Apparently it’s not enough. My guess is that a lot of people either camp, set off for home straight away, or book themselves in to a hotel for a bit of celebratory last-night luxury.

  4. munrobagger

    Sadly the SYHA CEO has presided over closures at Armadale, Coldingham, Glendevon, Inverey, Killin, Kyleakin, Loch Lochy, Whiting Bay, Edinburgh Central, Edinburgh Bruntsfield, Cannich as well as plots of land – now another 5 hostels to go including Loch Lomond.
    Bed nights have fallen dramatically during Keith Legges reign, we have seen amazing blunders like the damage at Carbisdale Castle and yet he seemingly answers to no-one.
    Where are the ideas to grow business?
    Must be great to be paid £70,000 a year when all you really need to do is sell the family silver. I pity the person who takes over from him as there will be no assets left to sell.
    It’s pointless refurbishing hostels if you don’t know how to fill the beds in the first place, maybe he should address this and start connecting with the youth market?

  5. Sam_Gibbs

    Both SYHA and YHA have completely lost the youth market. My daughter and friends have travelled throughout the UK and Europe and despite my advice to use YHA hostels and the Hostelling International network, they found it a much cheaper and better experience staying with independent hostels. In fact word among the current ‘youth travellers’ is to stay clear of the hostel associations. Maybe they should sell up completely and open the doors of their remaining assets to independent operators who actually have an interest in running a viable business. At least that way some on the locations we cherish will be saved for future generations.

  6. Tammy Norie

    Perhaps the time fast approaches when the (rapidly developing) networks of independents effectively replace the (rapidly shrinking) networks of the established yhas as the ‘official associations’?
    The independents lack of matlocrats means much lower central costs, eg they do not pay out, as yha does, a total of over half a million pounds to just 6 members of staff (YHA Annual Report 2010-2011). Despite this lack of centralisation they manage to communicate well with their market (qv the excellent – and annual – handbook and pretty good website). The yha could listen and learn much from the success of the independents – but I fear it will need a massive culture change within the organisation for this to happen.

  7. hostelman

    More SYHA closures including the iconic Loch Lomond Hostel which they have run into the ground and is now in a disgracful state. As Munrobagger says, the CEO Legge has offered no strategy to combat the decline in bed nights and disconnect with the youth market. The only response is to increase prices and hope that the middle class Hostel diehards continue to come. Alas demograpics and time have finally caught up with the once great SYHA and Legge is prolonging the slow death by once again flogging the family silver. Its such a tragedy that this once great pioneering organisations has been mismanaged almost to the point of making it irrelevant to young travellers and the budget market. How did they let the once strong network of 100 hostels be overtaken by a vibrant independent hostel sector? The original hostel pioneers must be turning in their graves, how very sad!

  8. hostelman

    Why does Keith Legge refer to Loch Lomond Hostel as Arden? is this some feable attempt to disguise the fact theat SYHA have closed once of its most famous hostels?

    That just about sums up the lack of integrity within SYHA mgmt.

  9. munrobagger

    Hostelman, it does look like he is trying to hide the fact that he is closing Loch Lomond by naming it Arden – he also did the same with John of Groats by calling it Canisbay, pretty crude marketing effort at trying to deflect the impact. I mean, you don’t cycle from Lands End to Canisbay do you? I suppose now you can do the famous Lands End to Tongue journey and with Kirk Yetholm closing that’s the Pennine Way route messed up.
    I would like to see in their Annual Accounts, a hostel by hostel breakdown of income, costs etc as clearly the city hostels are not performing well enough to subsidise the smaller hostels.
    Still, once Legge sells these hostels he can reinvest the money in upgrading some of the remainder and they can sit empty for years on end apart from the odd unwitting traveller or typical life member staying now and again.
    It’s woeful that this oraganistation is in this state – what are the board doing allowing Legge to continue ruining the association – sack him now and get a professional in with some sort of commercial hospitality background. Big Danger of losing their charitable status as things are going, no engagment with the youth and soon only city hostels will remain with a token amount of rural ones – shocking!
    I have always had a strong affinity with Scotland as my grandparents were scottish and big hostellers, they would be turning in their graves if they could see what is happening.
    Sorry for the rant – Mae’n flin ‘da fi

  10. Tammy Norie

    Also Broadmeadows – with its historical significance as Scotland’s very first hostel to open. As this is volunteer run it can hardly be a huge drain on SYHA resources!

  11. munrobagger

    Good point Tammy, some of the hostels are volunteer run so very little overhead. Also I am sure Broadmeadows was refurbished quite recentley for the 75th anniversary – money well spent! Give it another 2-3 years and I bet Durness & Rassay are put up for sale.

  12. Disgusted

    For the past 63yrs Scottish Hostellers Canoe Club leased a small area of Loch lomond YH on tha banks of the loch which served as a boathouse for it’s 60 members. Our lease was due for renewal in Nov 2011, it was refused with no reason given other than their Lawyers demand to vacate. They refused to enter into any form of negotiation to either lease or sell the plot.
    Only now we find out that the whole place is up for sale.
    This club was set up in 1947 by hostellers for hostellers and offered kayaking for anyone interested and was a member of the association.
    This has led to us selling off much of our equipment as we now have no storage. We feel pretty let down by a no longer caring organisation

  13. Marie

    From the SYHA statement on their website: “It will achieve this by closing five of its existing Youth Hostels to make improvements necessary to meet rising customer expectations ….” WHY do these CEO types assume that the way to get bums on seats (or into beds) is to have luxury hostels that cost a lot, particularly for family rooms? Speaking as a life member, I stopped hostelling after more than thirty years because it became too expensive and I didn’t need en suites, bed lights, bed linen packed in a plastic bag and licensed restaurants. Those currently in charge seem incapable of realising that the whole ethos of hostelling centres around inexpensive, clean and basic accommodation where one can meet like-minded people. As for people having rising expectations, SYHA and YHA are now trying to produce accommodation for non-hostelling types whose expectations are higher (and whose wallets are fatter). I go camping now instead, where I find myself falling over children and young people who don’t seem to worry too much about roughing it in a tent. Both the SYHA and YHA are finished, in my view, and I do feel angry that these organisations have been run in the way they have been in the last few years. The contribution from ‘Disgusted’ just about sums it up.

  14. munrobagger

    Marie, maybe if they had turned some of the land surrounding Loch Lomond into camping pitches and used the main building for showering, drying rooms, kitchen use as well as retaining some rooms/beds for hostellers, then people would have had good choice.
    Eleswhere on this web site there is an SYHA article about SYHA turning boom from bust! Clearley not the case given that they are once again resorting to the only idea Legge has – selling more hostels.
    The comments from “disgusted” does indeed sum up this organisation up now.

  15. Tammy Norie

    Hogmanay is a time for getting leggeless… so how about it SYHA?

    It seems to this writer that the hostel associations both north and south of the border bleat long and hard about how they have no money and must sell properties to raise funds. Yet at times money appears to be thrown away like there is no tomorrow… the yhas rebranding / new logo / colour coding of hostels have already been mentioned here (I assume the Matlock phones were perennially jammed by irate members demanding that some 3000 of their annual subscriptions be spent on a rebrand??). I now hear that when the new (branded) bedding packs were introduced by YHA that the displaced bedding was simply thrown away – irrespective of condition! Please, please tell me this is not true!!!

  16. munrobagger

    Nice idea Tammy “Leggeless”, unfortunately when you speak to any SYHA staff during your travels, they all say he is like a “Bee in a honeypot”, taking his fat salary, expensed car, bonus etc, so he won’t be going anywhere soon unless the Board wake up! Unlike the managers & staff at Melrose, Loch Lomond and all the others who will now have to find new homes and jobs no doubt.
    I think both associations are gulity of throwing away good money – I mean the SYHA TV advert is a great example of that! Blink and you miss it, poor quality and aimed at whom – managed to catch it once here in Wales? Must have cost £75K to make and run that. Why dont both YHA & SYHA pool some of their resources like joint marketing and seek partnerships with other organisations, youth groups, schools etc?
    I know it’s easy to sit here and be critical of the way Legge is killing the SYHA but really a village idiot could do a better job – go now please Mr Legge!

  17. Helen Pike

    The YHAs clearly cannot afford their current number of centralised staff! Those who are driving business strategies seem to lack the insight required to sustain the Hostel networks. There are professionals who possess the passion, and necessary mix of skills, who would gladly be employed for half the salaries of the current national office workers. The idea of closing hostels that are an integral part of the classic walking and cycle routes is suicidal for both organisations. Some members of the (paid) national team seem to use their roles as an egotistic self-congratulating platform and show themsleves to be more pre-occupied with flaunting their qualifications and IT experience than seeing themselves as responsible for YHA’s survival. There seems to be a LOT of waste in resources. Will this ever change?

  18. Marie

    “The idea of closing hostels that are an integral part of the classic walking and cycle routes is suicidal for both organisations.” Absolutely – but walkers, cyclists and canoeists are old hat as far as NuYHA and NuSYHA are concerned. It seems to me that people of limited means (young or otherwise) are the last people they want coming through the door! The target market now appears to be middle-class families with four wheel drives who are accustomed to something a bit more classy than a youth hostel – hence the constant need to upgrade to meet their expectations. Meanwhile, their abandoned core market (and their money) defects to campsites, independent hostels, Travelodges and B&Bs. If either the YHA or SYHA (or both) goes belly up I will not be in the least surprised.

  19. Me

    We all know what you don’t like Marie. But I’ll challenge you once again to come up with positive suggestions about what should be done.

  20. Marie

    I do rattle the bars of your cage, don’t I, Me? But never mind! I shall merely reiterate that, as a life member and after thirty years’ hostelling, I no longer use YHA hostels for the reasons that I have already outlined. And I’m not the only one – check out the comments on the CTC’s website. I now make extensive use of campsites, caravan parks and Travelodges instead because they offer far better value. The YHA and SYHA have lost their way completely in my view, but it’s not up to me to come up with a business plan for them. If you want to spend your money on NuYHA’s hostels with en suites, restaurants, licensed facilites, bedlights, designer murals etc. then that is up to you – go ahead!

  21. Me

    You moan both associations have lost their way but you’re not prepared to even respond to the simplest question about how that can be put right or even mildly improved. If you don’t contribute your ideas you’re very unlikely to see anything you like. Every time you get asked (and there have been several occasions) you either don’t respond or duck the answer like you have this time. That’s moral cowardice of the highest order.

    The only thing you’ve said of any honesty is that you get me rattled. Yes you do, you and all the other moaners on here who have no idea about running a business, how YHA (I make no comment on SYHA) actually does take time to find out what it’s customers want and just bitch because it isn’t what you want. I’ve had enough of this, I wish Chris the best with whatever plans he has for the site but I won’t be back – not even to see your response as I can imagine the self assured smugness that you will be feeling.

  22. StoneFish

    Sorry, if I could just jump in here. You want a positive suggestion? Lower your prices to beat those of you nearest independent hostel,campsite and travel lodge. Stop charging for wifi (£2 an hour really leaves a bad taste in your mouth when every sane hotel and b&b has been offering free wifi for the past 5 years). Market your locations individually to the youth travel market like independent hostels do and get rid of these idiots at Matlock and Stirling who pilfer the coffers trying to make everything look like travel lodge. Travel lodge customers want to stay at travel lodge and will always stay at travel lodge no matter how many times you tweak the YHA or SYHA aesthetics.Hostel goers however want to stay at hostels but (in SYHA’s case especially) find it cheaper to stay at travel lodge and so go to the travel lodge. Its not rocket science.

    We stayed at Rowardennan this year in a ‘twin room’ which was at best 5 by 5, smelly and in fact not a twin at all but a cupboard with a bunk bed in it. I would like to stay again but for £58? Come on.

  23. hostelman

    Just heard that SYHA have given up on their Corrour Station house Hostel (at Corrour Station, near Loch Ossian) after only 1 season. Another madcap idea from Legge, running a hostel with only 3 rooms and a cafe which had a wage bill for 6 staff! No wonder SYHA (sell your Highland Assets) are selling off hostels to shore up this gross mismanagement. Is he responsible to anyone for running this once fine trail blazing organisation into the ground and ultimately extinction?

  24. Helen

    Haven’t been following SYHA or YHA closely but this is so sad. I guess there is probably some sound reasoning behind it though on the face of it, it does reflect badly on the management. But these are difficult times and once something is loss making it’s a very risky business to keep it going in the hope that business will pick up, even if radical changes are made. There has been great debate on this site recently but one inescapable truth is that we are living in very different times to the heyday of SYHA and YHA.

  25. munrobagger

    Hostelman, there is nothing on the SYHA website about Corrour Station Cafe closing, is Legge hiding again?
    I can see that they have given up running St Andrews though, looks like the staff there are doing it themselves now and been added as an affiliate to make it look like SYHA have a larger network than they do must be more affiliates than SYHA hostels now? Maybe they should sell off the remainder and just become a booking agency for affiliates.
    Time Legg was removed from this critical position before it’s too late to rescue what is left of what used to be a worthwhile organisation.

  26. hostelman

    Yes, looks like they are being as supportive as they were when the locals tried to keep coldingham open under local management.Very poor!

    Lets get real, they have no interest in keeping the hostel running they just want to sell another asset to keep the SYHA ship afloat for a few more years and try and put off its sad terminal decline!

  27. Walter snowdon

    I Have Been a yha member for sixty one years and IT saddens mehr to See the Organisation dying. I have brought up both my children and three grandchildren tobe keen hostellers but my daughter (a widow) cannot affordthe high price of family rooms. Me? Imiss the small hostels which were so homely and friendly and which are disappearing. I spend about 35 nights a year hosteling and for me it is a way of life.MY experience of city hostels I very bad- especially London. They tend to be badly kept,dirty,smelly and far too expensive. With the high price of city land, selling these horrid places would keep Yha and Syha going for many years

  28. Walter snowdon

    Hello again.Grinton lodge has always Been my favourite hostel since I first stayed there as a thirteen year old in 1953. I have Been there many times.I stayed there three weeks ago and WOW the refurbishment is superb!!! Anda big thank you to Ian and his staff for the great job they are doing. This hostel is a must visit before you die!! Walter Snowdon.

  29. Iain Morrison

    I, like many others am shocked at the closure of the Loch Lommond hostel, a true jewel in the crown being sold to cover bad management and bad policy. What is it about this country that from bankers, politicians and a host of leaders of other public and community based organisations, incompetence is never challenged and those making disastrous decisions carry on unchallenged except in blogs like this or on Facebook. It is a scandal and to see the Loch Lomond hostel lying in darkness and the sign painted out is surely a disgrace too far. I notice too that the raasay hostel is also for sale – totally disgusted.


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