Innovators: Generator’s Alastair Thomann explains how hostels are growing

“Innovators” describe the people who drive the future of travel: those who lead rather than follow, who break things, take risks and solve problems in innovative ways.

A few weekends ago, Generator CEO Alastair Thomann happily waited 45 minutes to enter the Broken Shaker bar at the New York City Freehand. The long wait to enter the hotel’s rooftop bar was real-world insurance for Thomann. Earlier in October, the owners of the Generator brand, a chain of hostels spread across Europe with a breakthrough in the United States, spent $ 400 million to acquire both the Freehand and Broken Shaker chain from the Sydell Group, parent company of NoMad and Line hotels. “If you come up with a concept where customers are willing to wait 45 minutes to an hour to enter the hotel bar or restaurant – and apparently it’s even longer in the summer – you’re on a good thing,” Thomann says.

Generators in Berlin, Paris, Dublin and Miami draw large audiences, from Gen Z travelers in dormitory-style shared rooms to millennials who prefer to spend the night in one of the hostels‘ private suites. And now they’ve got the more upscale Freehand in the fold, which relies more on single rooms and food and drink offerings like Broken Shaker to lure travelers. We sat down with Thomann to discuss the changes and how hostels have grown over the past decade.

You went from Pentahotel, a hotel chain of the Rosewood Hotel group, to hostels when you joined Generator two years ago. What’s been the biggest learning curve?

To be honest, selling in bed was a huge challenge. Many of the systems that you would typically need to manage a hotel property, such as an income management system, don’t actually exist for hostels. There were a lot of manual Excel spreadsheets when we first started.

Although I used to work for a lifestyle brand, Generator is truly a Millennial, Gen Z brand. Before, with the lifestyle brand, the average age of customers was probably 35 years old. Now with Generator you are looking at 20-25 years on average. One of my biggest learnings is that not everything I love – music, art, whatever – isn’t what everyone loves. So you need to surround yourself with the right people who really have a feel for what this generation is looking for in everything from the design to the activations in public spaces to the concept of catering. It’s a very different customer and you have to deal with it differently.

How do you think hostels have evolved over the past 10 years? And why did you decide to remove “hostel” from your name last year?

The traditional hostels we’ve all stayed in in the past are still here, but there is certainly a segment that has grown over the past five or six years. And Generator was one of the precursors. But you have brands like Meininger, Freehand — which actually started out as Freehand Hostels — and A&O, as well as some cool design brands, all coming up as well, giving our industry a lot of movement.

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