Backpacker tourism faces a changing post-pandemic landscape – Skift

For decades, hordes of travelers have explored vast areas of the globe with backpack in tow. That they achieved what has been tried and true Banana Pancake Trail in Southeast Asia or memorably lose a diary on these trips, many people saw these trips as defining moments in their lives.

But backpacker tourism faces an uncertain post-pandemic future. Several destinations, like New Zealand, which are popular with backpackers may focus more on attracting high end visitors.

In addition, the death of backpacker tourism has already been prefigured the cheap flights that many young travelers have relied on may become less frequent as airlines seek to recoup the massive losses they have suffered.

But is such fear justified? Maybe not. Outdoor tourism remains a popular option for travelers looking for socially remote activities.

“I don’t think anything will ‘kill’ youth tourism,” said Wendy Morrill, head of research and education at the WYSE Travel Confederation. “And I say ‘youth tourism’ as ‘backpacker tourism’ is what I consider Australia and New Zealand branding / labeling of the 30-35 year old traveler segment or less and who use their working holiday programs, ”she added.

Milford Sound, Fiordland, New Zealand. Credit: Will Patino.

Nikki Scott supports Morrill’s opinion. “I think the backpack will definitely change after the pandemic,” noted the creator of Backpacker from South East Asia, an online community for travelers to the region. “But backpacker tourism could be one form of tourism that is rebounding faster than others.”

How the hike will change

So if Covid-19 isn’t killing backpacker tourism, how could that change?

Oddly enough, the pandemic could help create more backpackers. “Once travel is authorized again, people will want to travel so much that there will be a travel boom!” Scott predicted. “A lot of people realized during this time that they could do their jobs efficiently from home using just their laptops, so why not do it from the road?”

She added that with “working from home” being a modern norm, more travelers are likely to become backpackers and digital nomads, the latter of whom Morrill says “a lot of people are scrambling to figure out” whether this market provides value.

But regardless of whether more backpackers become digital nomads or not, destination marketing organizations (DMOs) should have a vested interest in ensuring the long-term sustainability of backpacker tourism (Tourism Research Australia classifies a backpacker as a person ” who spends at least one night in backpacker accommodation or in a youth hostel ”).

On the one hand, the youth travel market is incredibly lucrative. According to Adventure tourism association for young backpackers, an advocacy group for the backpacking and adventure travel industry in New Zealand, the youth market (defined by Rebecca Annan, the executive director of BYATA, as travelers aged 18-35 ) is worth $ 1.5 billion a year for the country. Meanwhile, across the Tasman Sea, the 2.4 million young visitors in Australia in 2019 accounted for 45% of all visitor spending in the country, or roughly $ 20 billion.

Improve communities

In addition, backpacker tourism can improve local communities. Research revealed that it generates less economic leakage than usual mass tourism, as backpacker-oriented businesses tend to be locally owned, thus keeping profits in the country.

“The backpacker tourism industry is certainly a high net worth for New Zealand because it is not just one-dimensional,” noted Annan of BYATA. “It affects our entire economy, as a number of small and medium-sized businesses also make a living traveling, shopping and staying all over New Zealand.”

But before financially blessing the place, backpackers will have to overcome certain obstacles before hitting the road. First, get vaccinated. “Travelers will most likely need to be vaccinated against Covid-19 before flying and they will need to have travel insurance that covers Covid-19,” noted Scott, of the Southeast Asia Backpacker. In addition, she believes that backpackers will not be able to cross international borders as easily as they could before the pandemic.

But globetrotting might not be as difficult as it sounds. “I think even if the price of flights from Europe to South East Asia doubled (which they show no signs of doing at the moment), I think backpackers would continue to regularly fly from West to East, ”Scott predicted. “Maybe that would mean backpackers are forced to plan longer trips in order to get the most out of their expensive plane ticket. However, I don’t think the price will deter them from traveling to Asia in the first place. “

She added that these future backpackers will simply stay at home a few more months and save money for their trips, which they will need because “travel insurance, flights and Covid testing will make travel more expensive than before. . Because of this, hostels and tours may become more expensive, as local tour operators and hostels will not be able to rely on the numbers as they once could. “

Make plans if western backpackers don’t come back

If Western backpackers aren’t heading to Southeast Asia in large numbers like they did before the pandemic, destination marketing organizations in the region need not despair as they can target Chinese and Japanese backpackers. “I think governments and tourist boards will push to attract these types of backpackers before Western backpackers return,” Scott predicts. “This will be encouraged by travel bubbles and special visa arrangements. As most countries in Asia seem to have much better control of the pandemic than Europe or the United States, I think we will see Asian countries teaming up to promote tourism among themselves, especially countries that managed to bring Covid cases down to practically zero.

During the pandemic, destination marketers were able to return to the drawing board, with New Zealand being one of them. “Recently, Tourism New Zealand has redefined its focus to ensure that tourism enriches our home and our people through four well-being: nature, economy, society and culture,” said a representative of the ‘agency.

Nugget Point, Caitlins, Otago in New Zealand. Credit: Miles Holden.

Likewise, a similar change is likely to occur in Southeast Asia. “During lockdowns around the world, many famous tourist destinations became empty and many locals saw the benefit of fewer people walking around local beauty spots. Many tourism departments promote sustainable tourism and focus on the rebirth of natural wonders, ”Scott said.

Such a development could kill one of the major events on backpacker routes: the Full Moon Party. “I cannot speak for the islanders of Koh Phangan,” Scott admitted, “but maybe once the pandemic is over they will look to replace the Full Moon Party (which has attracted thousands of possibly fueled by alcohol and drugs travelers on the island) with a more nurturing form of tourism that causes fewer people to pay more money to stay longer. “

Meanwhile, back in New Zealand, “our tourism players are looking for other ways to improve the overall backpacker experience,” noted Annan. “From a cultural and sustainable perspective, they are looking at their product line, providing a better and more rewarding experience.”

Part of ensuring a better experience for everyone is nipping issues in the bud. New Zealand Tourism Minister Stuart Nash made quite a fuss when he announced his desire to ban the rental of minivans without toilets to international visitors, saying “If the driver or passenger wants to go to the bathroom – we all know examples of that – they stop on the road and they poop in our waterways.

However, Annan does not seem worried about the problem. “The point we need to stress here is to educate the people in New Zealand who use campers and the people who visit [the country] and travel and hire campers. Our industry currently regulates motorhomes, so we are the ones who can make the necessary changes. Removing campers who do not have a bathroom will not necessarily solve the problem. Educate, regulate, provide facilities, that way we actually get the problem under control. “

Reconsider the budget traveler

Tourism stakeholders should also reassess preconceptions of the youth travel market. “I think countries like Australia and New Zealand have actually made an effort to make the tourism industry understand what you might think as a budget traveler – especially in the category of age under 35 – actually not a budget traveler, ”said Morrill. “These could be people who come for long stays and spend a lot of money compared to people in Europe who take weekend trips or a week stay.”

Having a decent amount of money separates today’s backpackers from those of yesteryear. “For many years now, backpackers haven’t been the cheapest, traveling on a restricted hippie stereotype of years ago,” Scott said. “Backpackers these days have money and something that many other types of travelers don’t: time. Unlike your average tourist, backpackers have time to quarantine themselves for two weeks to enter a country and stay there for three months. “

The ability for travelers to spend a long time in a certain destination creates new avenues for destination marketing organizations. “New Zealand is trying to connect the international student market with the tourism industry,” Morrill said. “You have these visitors who have been there for a long time to explore the destination and learn new things. They were working on this before the pandemic. A strategy that she says is totally different from places like Amsterdam, where school groups making short trips have been seen as a nuisance.

Nuisance… sometimes appropriate to describe backpackers as such. But they were missed in many places. Don’t worry, they will come back.

Photo credit: A visitor hikes in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Kent Miller / Flickr / GPA Archives


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John McTaggart

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