One unintended consequence was that youth hostels around the five boroughs, which were not codified under building regulations, were forced to close because of the well-intentioned SRO legislation.
Now, the hostel industry is working hard to make a comeback in New York City and the measure has the support of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Speaker Christine Quinn. New legislation in the City Council would create a new classification in the building code to define hostels statutorily and ensure that they are safe, and follow all building and fire codes.
Queens stands to benefit greatly from any new hostel openings. Countless tourists, who can’t afford luxury hotels in Manhattan, are drawn to Queens when they visit our city and inevitably spend tourism dollars on restaurants and other amenities in our borough.
According to one estimate, New York City is losing $150 million annually since the 2010 law was signed. Unable to book cheap accommodations in New York, young travelers have gone elsewhere, especially during the summers.
Currently, students from around the world are spending their free time and money in places such as China, San Francisco and Brazil, where the hostel industry is thriving.
These bright, young people exploring the world and staying in hostels today will become the businessmen, job creators, and investors of tomorrow. New York City can’t afford to ignore them. The longer it takes for New York City to allow hostels, the more money we lose.
NYC & Company, the tourism arm of the city, estimates that 175,000 tourists a year would stay in hostels, if New York City were to allow them. These tourists would bring an additional $116 million to spend while they were here.
Luckily, Queens is “open for business” and has something for everybody.
There is no shortage of commercial areas in Queens where there is space for a hostel to grow and be profitable. While the borough is developing more every day, there are still areas that can use the economic development that the hostel industry, and its customers, would bring.
Long Island City, for example, is full of beautiful condos with city views and hip restaurants and clubs and has ample space for a hostel. So does Astoria, which is the location of the famous Museum of the Moving Image as well as some of the best Greek food outside the Mediterranean.
Sunnyside is another neighborhood that is a successful microcosm of all Queens has to offer with its taquerias mixed in with Irish pubs. The Rockaways attract the summer tourists with their beaches and easy subway access.
Roosevelt Island, technically in Manhattan but geographically connected to Queens, is about to become host to a world class Cornell University technology campus. A hostel just across the bridge in Queens would be a logical destination for visiting applicants and professors interviewing for jobs.
I am proud of the borough’s well-deserved reputation as one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the entire world. The mix of culture, landmarks, cuisine, beaches, and parks is unmatched by any other community.
Young people are moving to the borough in greater numbers than ever before and many of our businesses are thriving. Young tourists want to visit and explore our great borough.
It is time for the City Council to pass licensing legislation this year and allow the hostel industry to expand and flourish in the city. I know Queens is ready.
Jack Friedman is the executive director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce.