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Talks on Borders hostel closures

Borders tourist chiefs are to take part in talks over the planned closure of all three youth hostels in the area.

The Scottish Borders Tourist Board is to discuss options with SYHA Hostelling Scotland early in the new year.

The closures include Scotland’s oldest SYHA hostel – Broadmeadows near Selkirk – which opened in 1931.

The meeting was arranged by Borders Liberal Democrat MP Michael Moore, who expressed concern at the effect of the closures on regional tourism.

SYHA said in November it regretted the planned closures next year of Broadmeadows and hostels in Melrose and Kirk Yetholm near Kelso, but it had been forced to act as they had failed to attract “a viable number of guests”.

The charity is continuing to look for “a knight in shining armour” to provide sufficient capital to keep at least one hostel open in the region.

‘Low profile’

Scottish Borders Tourist Board chairman Colin McGrath said he was “very concerned” about the closures.

He added: “As far as the Borders is concerned, it has had a very low profile in terms of tourism.

“The area has lost its industries such as knitwear – and tourism is the only one left apart from farming, which doesn’t employ a lot of people. Tourism is where the employment is going to be generated.”

Mr McGrath said he wanted to establish from SYHA the precise reasons for the closures and discuss possible alternatives, including using private businesses to supply hostel-type accommodation.

He argued there was a need to look at better facilities to cater for changes in the market, such as the rise in the number of families using hostels for outdoor activity trips.

He added: “There may be opportunities to continue with hostelling in the area – perhaps using hotels that are suffering. I see various ways of working with the private sector and developing the youth hostels theme.”

Mr Moore, who represents Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk and is the current Scottish Secretary, said he was pleased SYHA chief executive Keith Legge had agreed to come to the Borders to discuss the closures.

He added: “Tourism is an extremely important industry here and the low-cost accommodation provided by SYHA makes it accessible as a holiday destination for young people and those on a tighter budget.

“I am concerned therefore that the closures will have a damaging effect on tourism in the region.

Mr Legge said he was “very happy” to take part in the meeting with the tourist board and Mr Moore.

He said: “I will obviously be explaining again the reasons for the closures and hope for support from them.

“We are all looking for a knight in shining armour to keep at least one hostel in the Borders open.

“We have been looking at this on and off for four years, trying to pull a white rabbit out of a hat in terms of our own resources and approaching benefactors – but when you put the business plans to them, the figures don’t stack up against the investment that is needed.

“Melrose alone needs £1.5m to £2m to make it fit for purpose and meet customer expectations.

“The unfortunate thing about our oldest hostel at Broadmeadows is that it has had the least amount of visitors of all our hostels – it is lucky to get 300 or 400 a year and although we run it with volunteers, it still is losing money.”

‘Challenging environment’

Mr Legge said a decline in outdoor education in recent years had seen the number of youth groups and schools using hostels falling to less than a third of total hostel usage.

He added: “It is a very challenging environment at the best of times in the Borders in trying to retain people to stay overnight because it is so accessible from the central belt and the north of England.

“We are looking for a philanthropist who would say ‘this is sad’, and come and support one of the oldest Scottish charities that has made a significant contribution to the social development of Scotland over the last 80 years.”

SYHA currently runs 46 youth hostels across Scotland.

Apart from the three Borders hostels, the charity plans to close two others in Scotland next year – the 110-bed facility at Arden, Loch Lomond, and a second at Canisbay, Caithness.

(Source: http://bbc.in/uTaWG0)

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