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HI USA Connects Travellers to What Matters

By February 17, 2015travel
As I head back to the United Nations next month, I think about the positive and negative impacts of  travel on the world. With travel being such a large industry, people have the power to choose the impact they can have. Hostelling International is a global organization of world wide hostels who have had a focus on sustainable and responsible travel since 1932. I spoke with Richard Devine, Vice President of Community Engagement and Education at Hostelling International USA (HI USA)  to find out about their sustainability practices and their views on global citizenship.
Richard Devine, Vice President of Education and Engagement.

Richard Devine, Vice President of Community Engagement and Education

"To help all, especially the young, gain a greater understanding of the world and its people through hostelling."

“To help all, especially the young, gain a greater understanding of the world and its people through hostelling.” (sign found in HI San Fransisco Downtown)

Kasha: What is your role as Vice President of Community Engagement & Education?
Richard:  I have been here less than three years, part of the new staff that have come in to create one single national organization, HI USA out of what had been a number of affiliates, and turning them into one non-profit network. My role is aimed at providing strategic and thought leadership, service and support tools, and guidance to all of the staff around the country who work on community engagement functions in our hostels. Our CEO not too long ago, developed a strategic vision of our future called ‘vision 20/20’ which talks about the kind of organization Hosteling International and HI USA aspire to become and the impact it aspires to have on the world. It really focuses on enabling people to interact with us and become more active global citizens.
Kasha: What factors compose your sustainability model for HI USA?
Richard:  Our approach is very often to rehabilitate historical sites as hostels. Our goal is to turn them into green buildings as we do so. Some of our hostels have won awards for their sustainability efforts. We set out a plan each year for a number of properties to become bronze-level or silver-level, or some which are at bronze or silver to move to the highest level rating of gold (in sustainability and green practices). Its part of what we do as according to our mission being responsible corporate citizens and a part of who we are as global citizens who care about the issues and want to make a positive contribution.
HI Portland Hawthorne Hostel (living roof)

HI Portland Hawthorne Hostel (photo supplied by Hostelling International)

Kasha: How do you  incorporate this model into the guests’ experience?
Richard: We believe the hosteling experience is not only limited to staying in a hostel, it is more about understanding what travel in a social context means. We believe in social travel, socially responsible travel, travel that has a positive impact on the communities in which it occurs and on the environment as well that connects and interacts with unique and local culture.
Also, by virtue, the collective nature of the hostels is social in and of itself and allows people to connect and get to know each other in different ways; breaking down barriers. Part of the hosteling experience, the things people experience and feel at a hostel, the activities we offer and the signage that we use to talk to the guests about what we care about; we view our sustainability efforts all in the context of that.
Both in the practices we do to be green in the hostels, the way we inform them. Another thing we do with guests to help them get a better understanding of this are engagement activities that are offered to guests and community member.  For example, green tours of the hostel to understand the systems and functions  about the hostel, including the architecture that make it green. But then we also tour other buildings, places and demonstration projects in the city which are green.
HI Point Montara_ Garden for Peace 2014
HI Point Montara Garden for Peace Flags

HI Point Montara Garden for Peace Flags (photo supplied by Hostelling International)

Kasha:  Why do you think responsible and sustainable travel is so important?
Richard:  It’s the only way an active global citizen should aspire to travel. They care about their footprint on the earth, their impact on local culture, issues around human rights; stereotyping and other things, these are all characteristic of the types of people who view themselves as global citizens.
HI Chicago Window Mural for Martin Luther King Day

HI Chicago Window Mural for Martin Luther King Day (photo supplied by Hostelling International)

Kasha:  What are some ways to engage people in the issue of responsible travel?
Richard: What we can do (at HI USA) as an organization that have upwards of 500,000 people stay with us over a year, one of the best ways to engage people on the topic is in/around the things they see, use and interact with in a hostel and also through special events, activities, conversations on these topics (intercultural understanding, peace building, sustainable travel).  Other things we do in communicating this both to travellers in a local community or people who stay with us is through public speaking and other kinds of events. We also participate in different environmental outreach activities in the communities where we are located. We also do these activities involving our guests, kind of a “voluntourism” approach, where they can participate in things like beach clean ups and park clean ups and other activities that help the environment of the city they’re visiting.
HI Boston  Human Rights Social

HI Boston Human Rights Social (photo supplied by Hostelling International)

To find out what you can do to become a more conscious traveller check out Hostelling International’s awesome guide to responsible travel: (really worth a read!)

For  more information on Hostelling International USA and learn more about some of their community work,  visit their website at


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