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Hostels provide budget oriented, sociable accommodation where guests can rent a bed, sometimes a bunk bed, in a dormitory and share a bathroom, lounge and sometimes a kitchen. Rooms can be mixed or single-sex, although private rooms may also be available. Hostels are generally cheaper for both the operator and the occupants; many hostels have long-term residents whom they employ as desk clerks or housekeeping staff in exchange for free accommodation.
In a few countries, such as the UK, Ireland, India, and Australia, the word hostel sometimes also refers to establishments providing longer-term accommodation (often to specific classes of clientèle such as nurses, students, drug addicts, court defendants on bail) where the hostels are sometimes run by Housing Associations and charities. In the rest of the world, the word hostel refers only to properties offering accommodation to travellers or backpackers.
Within the 'traveller' category, another distinction can be drawn between hostels which are members of Hostelling International (HI), a UK-based, non-profit organization encouraging outdoor activities and cultural exchange for the young (formerly the IYHA), and independently operated hostels. Hostels for travellers are sometimes called backpackers' hostels, particularly in Australia and New Zealand (often abbreviated to just "backpackers").