The Backpacking Industry

From my travels in Australia, I’ve noticed that there’s an entire industry here that doesn’t exist in the USA – the backpacking industry.

Going around any big centers of activity – tourist hot spots, city centers, nightlife areas – and you see all sorts of businesses absent in America – hostels, backpacker flights centers, backpacker ‘hubs’ offering free (really crappy) wifi while selling you on travel experience packages (and invariably full of people checking facebook).

I think there are several factors contributing towards the popularity of this backpacking industry:

1) High youth unemployment in Australia.  From my understanding, there are a lot of young people in Australia who are long on time but short on work.  And so, they travel around the Australia region on a shoestring budget.

2) A ‘gap year’ travel culture.  Just like how in the States, college is a party extension of high school where you learn to live independently, over here (and in much of Europe) there’s a culture of taking a year off to travel the world

3) A high “working visa” population, of people from other parts of the world coming to Australia to make some money, especially since Australia is desperately short on people doing menial work, and will pay upwards of $20/hour.

So as a result, many of the hostels I have come across are full of young people (at 27, I’m comparatively an old man) living on a shoestring budget – having pasta and ramen noodles every day, going out at night to party and find somebody to shag, looking for any job (often those paying under the table), and staying at hostels ‘long term’.

And businesses definitely take advantage of this situation.  At every hostel I have stayed at, at around 10pm, when the hostel reception (and hostel facilities) close, somebody comes by offering to take everyone to a nearby bar or nightclub, with free admission.

From a business point of view, its great market discrimination – you get a whole bunch of bored, horny young folk who probably wouldn’t pay the cover otherwise, give them each a free cheap drink to lure them in and loosen them up, and rake in the money as they buy more drinks (they have nowhere else to go anyways, might as well stay here!) and serve to ‘seed’ the club and attract even more people.  Kind of like how bars often have Ladies’ night.

I wonder how much these kids get paid to go to hostels, get friendly with everyone, and then guide them all towards the bar?  Do the hostels take a cut?

Similarly, the backpacker hubs cash in on the crowds – offer free crappy wifi and computer use, and all the backpackers flock in since there is no such thing as public wifi in Australia (only Mcdonalds and libraries, I’ve noticed)  As a result, you can cheaply buy a huge audience to sell travel services to – camper van rentals, bus tours through Australia, flights to nearby airports, bookings at nearby hostels, surf camps, skydiving trips, the works.

And I’ve heard that in New Zealand, there are tour buses like in major cities, but exclusively catering to people in their early 20s who want to quickly visit a tourist destination, take pictures for facebook, then immediately hit up the hostel and bars to drink and find companionship.

Clearly, in this part of the world, traveling is far from being off the beaten path – it is a well traveled and well maintained highway, this backpacking industry.

And I intend on staying well clear of that highway.

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