What happened to Melbourne backpacker hostels?

Sadly, that was the case for Paul Seddon, who operated the 50-bed Collingwood Backpackers for 20 years until he decided to sell the Johnston Street building, shut down the business and retire there. last year knowing that it would be years before backpackers returned.

The Collingwood Backpackers building, which has now been sold.Credit:Google maps

“Since I sold I have seen the places for backpackers drop like flies,” he said.

Mr Seddon said after a career as a lawyer leading backpackers was a joy – the dynamic young people who walked through its doors were fascinating and kind.

“My hostel was in the top four in Melbourne – I’ve never had a hard time getting backpackers in,” said the 70-year-old. “If COVID didn’t happen, I would always do it until I died. “

As with backpackers at the Ritz, a handful of working travelers live inside the two-story building as rent-free caretakers until the new owner relocates it in a few months.

The loss of backpacker tourism has had a major economic impact on areas like St Kilda, where hospitality places are crying out for workers.

The Lords Lodge on Punt Road in Prahran, which has now closed.

The Lords Lodge on Punt Road in Prahran, which has now closed.Credit:Google maps

“It’s a bit of a ghost town. It’s not really flourishing like it used to be, ”says Patrick Furze, who ran Lords Lodge in the nearby town of Prahran for 14 years until the pandemic struck.

He predicted a shortage of cheap accommodation once international travel restarted, as many operators would be charged outside the traditional backpacker suburbs that have become gentrified, especially given “the evolution of real estate prices. “.

“It’s incredibly expensive to open [a hostel] anyway – the fire and safety requirements are so strict, ”said Mr Furze, who has moved on to running a pub in Castlemaine.

By extension, tour operators that once catered specifically to young travelers with walking tours and parachute trips have also collapsed, according to Adventure Tourism Victoria president Alex Hill.

“You’re talking about 275,000 backpackers in the country before the pandemic – right now it’s between 20,000 and 30,000,” he said. Most of the backpackers who left went to North Queensland, he said.

Beyond the economic loss to industries that relied heavily on working holiday visas, Mr Furze said the loss of Melbourne backpackers had left a mark on the city’s culture.

“The thing about backpackers is they can be loud and messy, but they’re generally easy going and just want to have a good time and really enjoy the freedom of being away,” he says. “You laugh so much every day and there are fun cultural exchanges. I miss that side.

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