Hospitality finance specialist preps youth hostel plans for I-Drive area

Bob Moser
GrowthSpotter

A Brazilian veteran of hospitality finance is readying plans for Orlando's first hostel along the International Drive tourism corridor, targeting young budget travelers that will value being just 1.2 miles from Universal Orlando. 

Located at 6811 Visitors Circle, just off the I-Drive intersection with Universal Boulevard, the 0.76-acre parcel features an 11,000-square-foot retail building that has sat vacant in recent years. 

Owned since 2007 by an affiliate of the Shan and Karml families and managed out of their E-Z Rent-a-Car office on McCoy Road, the building formerly housed a shooting range and rental car business. 

Marcos Bravo, a senior financial analyst for Diamond Resorts International who has held similar roles with Starwood Hotels and Marriott Vacations since 2010, applied for a Conditional Use Permit earlier this month with the city of Orlando to operate a 30-bed youth hostel in 5,200 square feet of the building. 

"When I started my Master's Degree study at UCF's College of Hospitality Management (in August 2016) I began thinking of this hostel business," Bravo told GrowthSpotter. "In Brazil and most cities across South America and Europe I've stayed in hostels, where I made friendships and met many hostel owners. I saw this as an untapped market here."

Prevalent in most major urban tourism destinations in the United States and worldwide, hostels provide budget lodging for travelers who typically rent a bunk bed in a dormitory-like environment, share a bathroom and socialize in common areas. 

Despite Orlando being the no. 1 tourist destination in the U.S. last year the market has no hostels, with only a handful of local budget hotels advertising on common hostel booking websites. 

Bravo believes Orlando's tourism draw has evolved past that of only being a family destination, and is attracting an ever-growing number of Millennial budget travelers who want to visit the theme parks. The city was recently named the "Spring Break capital" of the world by AAA. 

"The challenge is getting landlords here excited about the idea, because they'd be leasing the property and it's a concept they aren't familiar with," Bravo said. "Most of the time these are well-educated young European travelers on a gap year. They prefer staying in hostels for the price value, and interaction they have with other guests." 

Bravo is developing his own new hostel brand to apply to the property, and has saved enough to not require major loans to fund the business, he said. Equity partners may be sought in the future to add new locations. 

"The lease will not be too expensive, the landlord is responsible for delivering a vanilla shell in good condition, and I already have some of the furniture needed in storage." 

The remaining half of the vacant building is being marketed for retail users by Randall Gill of Coldwell Banker, who said four Letters of Intent are being evaluated.  

Bravo said he's consulting with a local architect now on interior design. The hostel's amenities would be limited to WiFi throughout, guest storage lockers and a large common area for socializing. 

Looking forward, Bravo said he hopes to find more locations in other pockets of Orlando's tourism corridor to open another hostel after his first is established.

"My idea is to make something standard that can be easily replicated in other locations," he said. "Hostels are growing across the U.S. but there's much more room to grow, and this (industry) doesn't yet have a hostel management company or franchise here in the U.S. to lead that, like you'd find in Europe." 

Directly east on Visitors Circle, local entrepreneurs in construction supply have a site under contract with plans to build their first hotel with the new Best Western Vīb flag, first reported here Feb. 15

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at bmoser@growthspotter.com, (407) 420-5685 or @bobmoser333. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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