MARGO Paterson would make a great youth hostel warden. She’s welcoming and friendly, with just a hint of steel – you would never shirk a chore she set – and she is passionate about hostelling.

But the chief executive of Hostelling Scotland (HS) won’t thank me for saying that. At what was known as the Scottish Youth Hostels Association (SYHA), wardens and chores are very much things of the past.

Hostels now have managers, and a whole new image is being launched that should finally do away with the idea of draughty corridors, booze bans, curfews, worn lino, and late arrivals getting buckets of spuds to peel.

We meet at the rambling converted Stirling mansion that’s the headquarters of Hostelling Scotland. The place is more than a little like an old-fashioned hostel, but Paterson talks of en-suite rooms, competing with hotels, USPs and family-friendly accommodation.

The new name was launched this year alongside a new logo – cue some grumbles from the hostelling old guard – but the truth is change has been under way for a long time. Hostellers haven’t done chores since 1995, drink has been allowed for years and it has actually been sold by hostels since 2006.

The last five years under Paterson’s predecessor, Keith Legge, who stepped down last summer, saw the start of major changes to the properties, accelerating the move away from dormitories to more private rooms, and big money has been spent on bringing hostels up to modern standards.

After a pause when Paterson took over – “a foot-on-the-ball moment” – the process of changing the logo and updating the image began, with focus groups and debate over the name-change and direction. The next month should see a drive to publicise the new hostelling.

Paterson is 50 this year: “I’ve told my dad I demand a recount,” she laughs. She well remembers the old-style hostels: trips to them with school and the Girls’ Brigade gave the lass from Stepps near Glasgow a love of hostelling.

It meant she had a good idea of what to expect – and what might need changing – when she started in the SYHA accounts department 17 years ago after a career in finance. She went on to become Legge’s deputy for 12 years.

It feels like a confession when she says she’s no hillwalker – “singing and music is my thing” – but she loves Scotland’s scenery. Just driving to Stirling from the home in Clackmannanshire she shares with her husband is, she says, a privilege.

Of the hostels, Glencoe – funnily enough, an old wood-clad building with traditional shared rooms – is a favourite: “I shouldn’t say that really, it’s a bit like having a favourite child,” she admits.

“One appeal of working for the organisation is we are all over the country – the organisation has a commitment to being as far across Scotland as possible.

“Visiting hostels is not a chore, it’s a delight. Just last year I did the north-west coast and it was phenomenal, going round the hostels and places in between as well.

“Many of us don’t appreciate what we have in Scotland but raising awareness of it is what we’re here for.”

Anyone who’s been to a youth hostel in Scotland in recent years may well have been struck by the absence of youth. They are open to all ages, and many users appear to be those who began hostelling in their teens and are now approaching a second childhood.

The word youth has now been dropped but that’s not, says Paterson, an indication of any desire to move away from helping and encouraging young people to travel and enjoy new places. In fact youth is one of the things Paterson is especially keen on.

She has won the approval of the directors – who are elected by the members – to reserve a place on the board for one young person, and her hope is that more will be encouraged by that to stand for election.

When they came to look at how to change last year, research showed that there was “a real affinity” for the organisation among the older generation, but younger people didn’t really understand what SYHA was.

While they might do Interrail tours of Europe, or visit Australia and New Zealand using hostels, and would even join SYHA to get reciprocal benefits from similar organisations abroad, back home the word youth confused them and SYHA wasn’t seen as cool.

For many it still conjured images of those flinty-eyed wardens, draughty dorms and punishment chores passed down from their parents, who seemed to have failed to mention the access to the countryside, the friendship, and the camaraderie that SYHA provided.

“But as soon as we said we’re hostelling, which they knew from travelling, they knew what that was, and that led us to have a look at the branding,” Paterson says.

“It’s frustrating – fond memories are wonderful but I always want to say to my generation and the generation above me, tell your children and grandchildren about the wonderful opportunities we offer.”

Another move to encourage young people has been the launch of the £50,000 Explorer Fund, which youth groups can apply to for trips away.

“I would like to expand that further. For me it is important that every young person has an opportunity to get out and experience Scotland and hostelling is the way to do it.”

Plans are afoot for expansion into St Andrews and Dundee, with its new tourist-hub status. Hostelling Scotland needs to be in cities – where they compete with private hostels and even hotel chains such as Hilton and Marriott offering hostel-style accommodation – because they are where surpluses are made.

Although most of the rural hostels now pay their way, those surpluses pay for upkeep and development. A big part of Hostelling Scotland’s raison d’être – it is a charity – is providing accommodation in places where big commercial operators won’t go.

Among them are the splendid Loch Ossian hostel, reached only on foot or by rail, and Glen Affric, several hours’ trek from any direction.

I mention that the Glen Affric manager, Hanne Tristram, baked us scones last year on our return from a wet day on the neighbouring Munros. Paterson sparkles at the name: “Hanne is great, she’s been with us a long time and she is what we’re all about.”

She is well aware of the commitment of her staff, and says being involved in running hostels gets under their skin in a way commercial organisations might not. New apprenticeships are being developed to help bring in young staff.

”It didn’t take me long to be completely sold on the hostelling ethic, and we believe we are an employer of choice – people want to work for us because we’re doing something good.”

The fact that the chief executive of such a big organisation – it has 250 staff, a £9 million turnover, 34 hostels, and 380,000 guests a year – knows all about an individual employee gives a clue to Paterson’s attention to detail.

She’s also aware of the over-bright green safety lighting in the rooms at the Glen Nevis hostel that threatened to keep me awake on my last visit: “Hopefully in the refurbishment that won’t be a problem for you.”

That £2.2 million refurbishment is HS’s latest big venture, at a flagship operation in the most popular outdoor activity location in the country.

I get a sneak preview of Glen Nevis – due to re-open at the end of June – as builders are putting the finishing touches, accompanied by HS area manager for Lochaber Caroline Knox.

Knox is in the same mould as her boss, with a cheerful, no-nonsense approach, kidding with builders and sorting snags as she shows me around.

The building has been transformed. It’s hard to believe the original timber frame is still buried in the new larch cladding and smart, en-suite rooms painted cool, modern colours.

Those en-suite private rooms now make up half the 72 beds – there was just one before. The dorms have been reduced from sixteen to eight beds, meaning groups will often have them to themselves.

Vast new picture windows make the most of the stunning views out to the path up Ben Nevis, with glimpses of high snow. The cold bare room where I stayed just 18 months ago (and fetched a screwdriver to disconnect that sickly green light) is now part of the comfortable staff accommodation – single bedrooms, a kitchen and space to relax.

Changes like those at Glen Nevis put hostels in a new place in the market, somewhere between the crowded budget backpackers’ lodges, B&BS, and private self-catering cottages.

It’s smart, clean and comfortable; well-priced – Glen Nevis will cost £24 for a bed in a shared room and around £63 for an en-suite twin; meals can be supplied or guests can use the spacious new kitchen to cook their own; and there’s a log-burner and sofas in the lounge where visitors can meet up and socialise.

It will probably make a surplus, as the hostel has in the past, and at the same time those remote hostels, less smart and older but which have a unique position and atmosphere, will be maintained. It’s all part of the combination of change and tradition Paterson is masterminding.

As she puts it:“We’re not just another chain of accommodation providers. We never want to be just that: we are a lot more.”