The papers released after the Coalport meeting give a pretty good picture of the package on offer to affiliated hostelling groups. There is much in it to be welcomed, and the staff at Matlock should be congratulated on listening to some group concerns and acting upon them.
However, there are significant downsides to the current offering too, and even well established groups may be hesitating to sign up under the YHA banner next year. What follows is a breakdown of the main pros and cons of affiliation, please comment if you think I missed anything out…
Access to Insurance
The group insurance policy negotiated with Perkins Slade on groups’ behalf offers an excellent amount of cover for a very modest outlay. If you want access to this policy, you have to affiliate.
The redesigned YHA website to be rolled out over the Christmas period will, we are told, offer significantly more affiliated groups-related content than the current one. That may not be saying much, but it is welcome nonetheless. The package is expected to include a page for every group giving their basic details (or redirecting to their own website where appropriate).
In addition, groups may be offered greater coverage in Triangle, though what form this might take is unclear.
Role in Governance
Affiliated hostelling groups currently elect delegates to the national AGM and to regional councils. Whilst all this is currently subject to the review, groups can realistically expect to retain some role in the running of the Association.
An annual conference is organised, and to some extent funded by the YHA, at which representatives of affiliated groups can come together. As well as being a social occasion, it’s a great way for groups to compare notes over issues of importance to them.
Advice and Support
The YHA serves as a source for expert advice on legal and technical issues affecting hostelling groups.
Group Membership Card
A free group membership card is currently given to all groups, though in two years time it will be charged for. Members of an affiliated group do not therefore have to be individual members of the association. This will be viewed as an advantage by some groups, but not by others as I’ll point out later.
Clear Access to YHA Name & Logo
Groups paying a nominal licence fee will be permitted to use the YHA’s logo and incorporate “YHA” in their names. Many groups would dispute whether their names need to be licenced in this way, but if you affiliate and pay up there can be no argument about it.
Though not explicitly stated, it is assumed that licences will not be on offer to non-affiliated groups.
Occasional special offers are expected to be targetted specifically at affiliated groups.
Appearance on This Website
Well, I have to blow my own trumpet somewhere! This website is currently limited to the coverage of affiliated YHA groups, though that policy might change if there are significant numbers of dissident groups.
Enforced Level of Insurance
Groups are free not to take up the Perkins Slade insurance if they so wish. However, according to the recently issued FAQ:
If you choose to arrange cover independently, the cover must be at least comparable to the Perkins Slade scheme.
If you have lesser cover from some other source (perhaps through the Ramblers or CTC) that you feel meets your needs, that’s not good enough for YHA. Any competing policy might reasonably be expected to have better cover in some areas and worse cover in others, which might suit the particular priorities of your group. It is not clear whether such policies would be deemed “comparable” either.
Furthermore, the level of cover offered may change over time. If the Perkins Slade cover gets better, or the competitors’ get worse, groups may no longer be able to affiliate.
A better approach might be to set a rather lower bar at the level of insurance that any responsible group absolutely must have, and to spell it out explicitly. For example: “All groups must have x thousand pounds public liability insurance”. If the YHA are saying that the Perkins Slade policy represents that minimum bar, they should make it compulsory and have done with it – though they might want to say why they’ve tolerated our substandard insurance cover for all these years.
As noted above, Groups who wish to affiliate and use the term “YHA” in their names will be expected to pay a nominal licence fee for the privilege. The amount charged, currently £1, is not an issue, but the principle is. Groups paying up are effectively saying “we acknowledge that the name we’ve been using for years is actually in the YHA’s gift.” It’s offering a hostage to fortune in that YHA might one day, in response to some spurious legal argument, unilaterally demand that groups suddenly change names that they may have operated under – building up a considerable “brand”- for decades.
That might seem far fetched, even paranoid, but that is exactly what happened just a few months ago. The plan was defeated by an emergency motion to the National AGM, but groups are understandably cautious about offering Matlock the power to try it again.
Groups really have no interest in bringing the YHA name into disrepute, still less their own names. Surely some compromise could be worked out in which groups sign a code of conduct over what they will and won’t do? Is the “protection” offered to YHA by licensing worth having anyway? Not in my opinion, but that’s an argument for another day.
Compulsory Group Card
As noted above, groups currently have access to a group membership card, and some will view it as a valuable benefit. The point is, currently it’s free. In two years time groups will have to pay for this card – the 2006 price for it would be £25.50.
Now, by their very nature, most YHA groups contain a high proportion of individual YHA members (a lot of them life members in many cases). 100% individual YHA membership was a condition of affiliating until quite recently, though it wasn’t all that rigorously enforced. For such groups a group card simply is not needed or wanted, so charging them twenty-five quid for one is not going to go down well. As well as aggravating well-established groups, this card will act as a disincentive for group members to join the Association – which seems like a curiously self-defeating move.
I do not believe this decision has been properly thought through. Matlock have looked at the existing free card, decided that it is too expensive a perk, and decided to charge for it without considering whether groups actually wanted it in the first place.
The solution is simple – make the group card voluntary. After all, groups no longer need to prove their affiliated status to wardens as they no longer get any special booking or pricing concessions from them. All that needs to happen is that, on arriving at a hostel, they show their group card (if they have one) or their individual cards (if they haven’t) just like any other set of hostellers. If a cardless group brings non-members on a trip, they pay the £3 extra per night (or they join!)
Many groups will be faced with an agonising decision over whether to affiliate next year if the package remains unchanged.
In particular, long-established groups who use “YHA” in their names and dispute YHA’s right to control them doing so will be thinking about leaving. If they ever have to defend their usage of their own names in court, they’ll be in a much stronger position never having paid a licence fee than having paid one for two years and then left because of the group card.
Groups unaffected by the naming issue will have an easier time, provided they don’t already have (for them) adequate insurance. There’s still plenty of time to sort out the group card issue.
Is there life outside YHA affiliation? Certainly there is. What is to stop any group of YHA members grouping together and going hostelling together? It’d be nice to think that YHA would want to support and encourage such groups, and it is my sincere belief that they do, but if some of their strictures get in the way of running such a group then YHA has more to lose than the group does.
That’s my opinion of what’s on offer. Are there other benefits that I’ve missed? Are there other pitfalls that I haven’t spotted? Is your group going to affiliate next year? Over to you…