Opened this summer, HI New Orleans hostel on Canal Street has conquered multiple challenges to provide young adventurers with a comfortable, stylish home away from home.
Over the last two years, a new type of hostel has opened in New Orleans. For those travelers who prefer a less casual, more chic vibe, there is The Quisby, opened in 2017, and, most recently, HI New Orleans (a property of the nonprofit Hosteling International USA), that opened in July of 2019.
HI New Orleans makes use of two circa-late-1800s buildings — the former Pickwick Social Cub at 1028 Canal St., and the upper floors and back of the ground floor of Fischer Jewelry at 1036 Canal. The hostel features 44 guestrooms (including 122 dorm beds and 24 private rooms), a cafe and bar, communal guest kitchen, dining area and lobby.
“While we welcome older folks, families and domestic travelers, our core [is] 18- to 30-year-old international backpackers who are looking to explore [New Orleans] and save on accommodation without compromising comfort and safety,” says Mike Foyder, general manager of HI New Orleans Hostel. “We also get plenty of folks who confuse the word ‘hostel’ with ‘hotel’ and create opportunities for us to welcome these newcomers to hostelling; they can experience our communal kitchen and common spaces, daily tours and social events, and let their guard down a little in an environment where other travelers welcome conversation and cultural exchange.”
The design is decidedly more sophisticated than a traditional hostel. HI USA worked with Coleman Partners Architects LLC, Jennie West of Studio West Design & Architecture, and general contractor BEC Development for the project. The expansive lobby is awash in jewel toned hues and features original, reclaimed hardwood floors and floor tiles, along with a pool table, overstuffed tufted leather sofas and wingback chairs, and a variety of tables and seating arrangements.
“We are very excited about our two substantial, commissioned wall murals depicting important elements of New Orleans,” says Aaron Chaffee, vice president of hostel development at Hostelling International USA.
Local artists Carl Joe Williams (in collaboration with the Young Artists Movement) and Kristen Downing created the murals, one of which Chaffee says ties in well with what at first was considered the biggest design challenge of the project.
“A city requirement for a stormwater capture system was at first seen as a design burden, as we had no exterior location for this capture and it required a 6,300-gallon cistern inside the building,” says Chaffee. “Once we decided to make it a focal point, front and center in the lobby, it developed into a very intriguing part of our entry. The large cistern demonstrates a period when almost all homes and buildings in New Orleans utilized exterior cisterns.”
Foyder says the mural and cistern offer a bit of foreshadowing to another of the hostel’s challenges: water.
“[The] mural tells the story of New Orleans’ loving and troubled relationship with water,” Foyder says. It provides our nutrients, [waters the] soil, [fills] our ports, and [provides] our bounty of wonderful seafood, but it can also ravage us. Just 10 days after opening, our lobby, and soon-to-open café flooded quite badly. We are in the final phase of repairs.”
Despite beginning with a deluge, Foyder says the feedback from guests has been positive. Over the next 12 months, he says he will focus on meeting the hostel’s financial goals and overnight targets.
“We are really just getting started, so we will listen to what our guests are telling us and keep pushing forward to make sure we are doing all we can to provide a high-quality and impactful experience for them. We will also continue to forge partnerships with like-minded community organizations, bring more and more beautiful design and local art into our spaces, and really just work to share the very best that New Orleans has to offer with our guests.”
To keep employee morale high and encourage a positive work atmosphere, Foyder says the hostel puts a focus on having fun (at the time of this interview they were celebrating “housekeeping week” with “surprise snack carts, prize wheels and free lunches”) and promoting good communication.
“I am very thankful to be a part of an organization (HIUSA), where every staff member is encouraged to share their ideas and even challenge our CEO and senior leadership team on monthly calls to ensure we not only are fulfilling our nonprofit mission goals, but [also] that we are also providing a fair and equitable work environment for our teams,” says Foyder. “My philosophy is certainly that I do not have all the answers, nor always know best. Our strength and wisdom lie in our team, and we are only going to truly succeed by providing an atmosphere where the best of each of us can rise to the forefront.”
At a Glance
HI New Orleans
1028 Canal St.
Date of opening
July 1, 2019
44 guestroom hostel with cafe and bar
Number of Employees
25 to 35 seasonally (once Tacreole Cafe opens up)
Person in Charge
Michael Foyder, general manager