Published: Thursday, September 2, 2010 4:47 PM EDT
It’s an unassuming red duplex on Indiana Avenue. Walk by, and you might not be able to tell the difference between it and the neighboring single-family homes and student rentals. But since opening Aug. 6, with virtually no marketing, the Wayfaring Buckeye Hostel has been booked almost every night with visitors from France, Holland, Turkey, Japan, Brazil … you name it.
Hmm. Guess Columbus apparently did need a hostel.
The 15th largest city in the country went almost a decade without a hostel. For years, young entrepreneurs and local artists have yearned to plug the gap in our hostel-less city. It took an Ohio State business student to pull the trigger.
“With the exception of Detroit, we were the largest city (in the U.S.) without a hostel,” said Mathew Dietrich, who converted his campus-area home into a six-bed hostel.
“Indianapolis has two.”
Columbus used to lay claim to hostel on East 12th Avenue in the Ohio State University area, but the home was demolished in 2003 to make way for a Mormon church.
Dietrich saw the necessity as a potential business opportunity. He spent several months researching the concept, decided it was worth his investment and scrounged up the funds necessary funds to renovate the seven-bedroom duplex that he’d purchased as a college student.
“I’ve never been a renter,” Dietrich said.
Initially, his roommates helped him cover the mortgage. Now, a seemingly endless flow of overseas guests are helping foot the bill.
“I’ve been fortunate enough growing up that I’ve done a lot of traveling myself, and I’ve stayed in a lot of hostels,” Dietrich said.
For years, talking heads at places like Hostelling International have preached about the need for budget accommodations for student and youth travelers. (Think: 20s and 30s, recent college grads, grad students with no kids, all scratching their global travel itch while they can, or simply scouting job opportunities across the country—including Columbus—on the cheap.)
Cheap beds, however, are not the only draw.
If you’re bunking with half a dozen people in the same room, with perhaps just as many languages being spoken, the cultural concentration is a real draw, he said.
“That’s my favorite part of it,” he said.
After a couple of cans of paint, some new fixtures and a handful of trips to Ikea, Dietrich was ready for guests. He posted his humble destination on hostelworld.com, and in a surreal Field of Dreams kind of response, the international clientele that proponents promised would discover Columbus actually did.
Dietrich has housed potential OSU students, he’s had folks looking for work or arriving for an interview and he’s had travelers from abroad just passing through.
It’s a clientele, experts say, that often is overlooked by visitors’ bureaus, though to be fair, these unconventional travelers apparently don’t think to go the traditional “visitor’s bureau” route first; similarly, they don’t think “hotel room” first. They chart their course by visiting sites like hostels.com and hostelworld.com.
In fact, last year, Experience Columbus told The Other Paper that it had received exactly zero inquiries about hostel traveling in the city.
This year, they’re up to half a dozen or so, said Scott Peacock, spokesman for Experience Columbus.
“A couple of weeks ago, we had a group of backpackers ask about a hostel,” Peacock said. The need is, “nowhere near dire, but it’s something that stays on the radar.”
Now Peacock and folks at Experience Columbus are tickled that a hostel has sprouted up in their midst, saying it will diversify our city’s accommodations.
Dietrich uses websites like the one run by Experience Columbus to keep foreign travelers abreast as to what shows, block parties, sporting events and festivals they can attend during their visit. Entertaining, and showcasing Columbus’s cultural diversity, is something he’s always enjoyed, Dietrich said, and apparently, he’s kind of good at it.
“I’ve had visitors say, ‘I would really enjoy living here’ and it catches me off guard,” he said.
“I love Columbus, but a lot of the general consensus among those who grew up here is, ‘when can I get the hell out of Ohio?’”
Online reviewers have given him high marks in all areas except location—something Dietrich hopes to remedy soon.
He’d like to open a hostel somewhere south of his current location, which is between Lane Avenue and Hudson Street just north of OSU’s campus. Dietrich said he’d ideally like to be between the Short North and campus to be a little closer to the action.
In the meantime, he hopes to convert a couple of his seven bedrooms into private rooms to accommodate requests from travelers who aren’t keen on the traditional dormitory-style hostel stay—and those high rollers are probably willing to drop a few bucks more than the $20-per-night fee that Dietrich is asking.
Also trendy among the international hostelling crowd is all-female dorms, which Dietrich also hopes to incorporate.
So far, he’s not bumped into whatever the mysterious obstacle was that kept Columbus hostel-free for almost 10 years.
When he graduates in December, he might take his hostel management position full time.
“We’ll see how things fluctuate between now and winter,” he said.
In the meantime, the city can finally remove that embarrassing hostel-less label that’s lowered us in the eyes of our foreign peers. Take that, Indianapolis!
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