Martha’s Vineyard Hostel is one friendly place

Hosteling International (HI) named its Martha’s Vineyard Hostel in West Tisbury the “Most Friendly Hostel” in the world at an annual ceremony to crown the top hostels in HI’s global network of approximately 1,800 hostels.

The winners were selected based on ratings from HI customers and were announced at the HI Hostel Managers’ Meeting earlier In December. The Hi-5ives! awards are presented in five categories: Most Comfortable, Most Efficient, Friendliest, Best Hostel Country, and Most Prestigious.

“This award is based on ‘report cards’ that guests fill out after their stay and not just a panel of judges, so it really means something to us,” Deborah Ruhe, Executive Director of Hosteling International’s Eastern New England Council, said. “I’d say that this award comes about largely from the fabulous staff that we have. We have a husband and wife couple, Donnie Morgan and Mike Gambone. This year will be their third year coming back. They had also worked in Eastham for us, and they won the ‘Most Efficient’ award while they were there too, so it really shows they are very skilled and customer service oriented. They make people feel welcome with a fastidious environment that is kept clean and neat, and they’ve done a lot of work to improve the overall quality of the hostel as well.”

As is the case with many Island businesses, the hostel relies on favorable weather to bring people out, and this year’s award-winning campaign got off to a slow start.

“We had a sluggish beginning to the season, as often seems to happen, because the weather was not optimal,” Ms, Ruhe said. “May wasn’t the best, and June was kind of rainy, but we actually ended up having more guests than we did the year before.”

By the time that all was said and done, the hostel ended up welcoming around 2,500 guests for the year.

The Martha’s Vineyard Hostel was the first hostel built expressly for that purpose in the United States. Most hostels are usually converted buildings that had previously been schools, hospitals, or other larger facilites. It has been open for 56 years, and it contains 64 beds.

The Martha’s Vineyard hostel is one of five hostels that are a part of Hosteling International which are located on the Cape and Islands, and this includes a new facility in Hyannis that opened this past year. Many guests will divide their time between the different hostels in this group.

Typical guests include a large number of young-adults in their twenties and thirties, and youth groups such as the Girl Scouts, church groups, or bicycling clubs. Guests commonly stay at the hostel for two or three days, and the maximum time a guest is allowed to stay is one week. Reservations are made in advance online or through the mail. The cost to stay at the hostel runs between $32 and $40.

International guests made up 16 percent of the hostel’s clientele last year. They hailed from countries such as England, Germany, France, Australia, China, South Africa, Argentina, and Brazil.

“I would venture to say that no other accommodations on the Cape and Islands attract this kind of diversity of travelers,” said Mrs. Ruhe. “These are people who would probably not be coming to Martha’s Vineyard if we did not exist. It makes it affordable and possible for them to come. Other than a few camps and recreational facilities, we’re pretty much it when it comes to accepting young travelers.”

Next year, the hostel will be open to the general public in mid-May; however in April the hostel will be open for the Camp Safe Haven Project, a camp for children who have AIDS. This is part of a yearly tradition that is in its fourteenth year. Mrs. Ruhe said that hostel would also be open to accepting other big groups between April and mid-May, if there were requests.

As for what new things guests can expect to see at the hostel for next year, Mrs. Ruhe said that they are always trying to improve the facility.

“I would encourage anyone, including those from the Island, to stop by around May to see all of the improvements that we have made. I’ve heard of Islanders who have too many house-guests, so they’ll send some over to the hostel, maybe if there’s college-age kids or something. People are always amazed to see how great it is. We also always try to encourage donations, as we do scholarship programs. We will bring four or five inner-city youth groups, mostly from the Boston area, who are kids that never get out of the city that much.”