Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Alexandrians need to learn about the need to create a comprehensive accommodations plan, treating hostels as a full-fledged element

(not that other communities do this either). GGW points us to some coverage of the approval of a "youth" hostel in the Alexandria Patch, "Hostel in Old Town: Affordable Accommodations or Rowdy Roadhouse?" and how some Alexandrians, thinking that hostels are just for hippies, don't approve.

I've argued for some time that cities need to have comprehensive plans that encourage the provision of a wide variety of accommodation types, to meet the demands of various segments of the tourism market. I've stayed in hostels in Philadelphia and Portland myself, and considered doing so in Seattle and Baltimore.

-- 2006 Associated Press story "American hostels have long way to go to catch European counterparts"
-- 2010 Associated Press story, "Redefining hostels"
-- 2010 Associated Press story, "Check out hostels in Baltimore, Harlem, Chicago and Venice Beach"
-- Hosteling International
-- Hosteling International USA
-- Hostel Management website

This blog entry from 2011, "Start with a city-wide accommodations plan: then consider TIF requests comprehensively" addresses the issue and builds on other work I've done.

From the entry:

In commercial district revitalization framework plans I did for Brunswick, GA and Cambridge, MD, one of the recommendations I made for each is that the communities need to develop a broader and complete "accommodations" plan as part of the economic development element of the city's comprehensive/master plan.

I don't think I've ever come across such a component in master/comprehensive plans in the U.S., but it's something that has occurred to me over the years because most communities don't offer a complete array or set of accommodations to visitors. They're certainly not thinking comprehensively about it.

Many cities make the provision of Bed and Breakfast accommodations illegal, even though it can be a good way to make keeping up a massively big house affordable ("Making a home is their business The Chorpitas find rewards in a B&B" from the Philadelphia Inquirer), not to mention it's much more sympatico with ecotourism and experiencing a community more like a local.  There are other issues too, such as the issue of couch surfing through online services like Airbnb raises other zoning related issues.

At least for communities that are tourist destinations, it ought to behoove them to think more comprehensively about this to better meet the needs of various market segments.

Probably I got the idea because it is laid out as part of the Tourism Destination Areas Self-Guided Workbook assessment and economic development process created by the Province of Nova Scotia in Canada. (I have written about pieces of this idea in the blog as well, such as in "Lower cost travel for the young and creative" and "More phenomenal tourism business development resources" in 2006.)

Accommodations plan worksheet, Tourism Destination Areas Workbook, Province of Nova Scotia
Accommodations plan worksheet, Nova Scotia Tourism Destination Areas Workbook. 

This is pretty simple, but it's more a scoping/current conditions assessment. It's not at the detail of a full-blown economic development plan.

Such accommodations plans should include hotels, motels, conference facilities, bed & breakfast, boutique inns, and depending on the market, hostels and campground facilities, at a variety of price points.

Now I would argue that such plans should also discuss online sales of hotel rooms and tax capture issues (see "How much might Expedia et al owe D.C. for back sales taxes" from the Washington Business Journal) as well as couch surfing/collaborative sharing accommodations and some of the implications involved including zoning (see "NYC Judge Rules Airbnb Rental Is An “Illegal Hotel”" from TIME and sales tax collection (see "Airbnb is still snubbing SF, even after a NY judge rules it illegal there" from the San Francisco Bay Guardian).

Note that I don't know much about it, but there is a hostel across the street from the Takoma Metro Station in DC, which offers a different experience than the one downtown, but is still transit accessible.  It's called Hilltop Hostel.
Historic Takoma House Tour sign in front of a participating building
I wish they had a nice porch.  They tried to put one on using the facade improvement program that I worked on in 2009, but the city deemed the proposed use ineligible.

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