Can this hotelier make hostels fashionable?

As the world opens up after the pandemic and travelers book plane tickets again, Nina Kleaveland is determined to reinvent a type of lodging that many Americans haven’t tried: the hostel.

Kleaveland, former vice president and global chief strategy officer at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, is co-founder and CEO of Lanyard, which offers a new approach to the hostel experience. She dreamed up the brand and launched it as a solo entrepreneur in the summer of 2020, at the height of the pandemic.

Lanyard hopes to attract millennial and Gen Z domestic travelers who want to meet people after the long months of isolation during Covid. “When you stay at an Airbnb, you compromise on the social aspect,” she says. “Our target customers crave a human experience.”

Lanyard currently has two properties under contract, one in Lake Placid, NY, and another in Killington, Vt., which Kleaveland hopes to open later this year.

Hostels, known for their simple and affordable accommodations, are popular in Europe, but have yet to be discovered by many travelers in the United States. “We want to change that,” Kleaveland says. “We also think we can attract the domestic traveler. This is what we build the brand around.

Kleaveland aims to make hotels stand out by offering stylish decor and an ambience reminiscent of summer camps where they may have made lanyards. “The brand works well in outdoor destinations,” she says.

Lanyard properties are designed to offer a cohesive layout that includes commons, canteen, councillors, community and cabins. These locations will be shaped by local destinations and partnerships.

The company is working on developing technology that will allow guests to connect with roommates after their stay. “We’re building that,” Kleaveland says.

Lanyard brought in two other co-founders who joined the team as operations advisers and real estate managers; there are also a handful of entrepreneurs.

The company raised about $1 million from friends and family, according to Kleaveland. “We’ve had a lot of interest in investing in the operating company and the real estate,” Kleaveland says.

Kleaveland and his co-founders continue to speak with potential backers. “We are looking for the right investors,” she says. “These are innovative reception rooms. We are looking for investors to embark on this journey of building a new brand in the hotel space with us.

The company plans to open a total of five locations in 2022-23, aiming to grow to 100 locations in North America and expand globally.

Although many women work in the hospitality industry, there aren’t many female CEOs, Kleaveland notes. “I hope I can be an inspiration to other women who have big ideas,” Kleaveland says.