Cheap Travellers and Surprising $ Stats for Tourism Industries

backpacker cute woman mountainsShe might travel on a budget, but this backpacker can spend double the amount of money of the average non-budget traveller, and she’ll probably have more fun.

It’s easy to look down on the lowly backpackers when you are a country looking to earn lots of income from tourism. Many Middle Eastern countries rely seriously on tourism for bolstering the local economies, like Egypt, Morocco, Turkey and even Israel. When tourism drops, people feel it. So popular is tourism to iconic sites like the Nile River and the pyramids, or the Old City of Jerusalem that luxury vacations and hotels spring up all around these markets to reel in the Big Fish: you know the rich tourists who spend a week and $300 and per night on a hotel room. Bargain travellers, you know who they are: they look for deals on last minute flights, search online sites like Agoda religiously looking for the best hotel deal, and when they arrive at their destination tend to stay at cheaper hotels and hostels, sometimes working in reception, even washing dishes to subsidize their “rent”.

Tourism ministries haven’t been too keen to focus on these kinds of travelling “parasites” who try to live on dollars a day. Because, you  know, the Big Fish bring in more money –– or so it would seem. Our friends over at the Fauzi Azar Inn in Nazareth just sent us an illuminating article based on research that will surprise you about the economic impact of budget travellers.

According to a new book Tourism for Development by Regina Scheyvens, luxury-tourism actually relies on foreign rather than local products, foreign skills like language over local skills and knowledge. The overall effect is that budget travellers actually benefit more the local economies, and tend to interact with local services like public transportation. And contrary to the notion that luxury tourism will trickle down to the locals who need it, the income tends to stay focused in developed locations, and does not go “off the beaten path” as it were, writes Nicole, a regular guest at the Fauzi Azar Inn.

Nicole writes: “Instead of luxury tourism, countries might actually benefit more from budget tourism. As a consequence, many governments are turning to backpackers, budget travellers on an extended and/or work holiday, as an important engine of economic growth and pro-poor economic development. Although most of the research considering the economic benefits of backpacking and budget tourism is on Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and South Africa, the research also highlights some important facts for Israel.”

Plain and simple: budget and backpacking travellers tend to stay longer, and spend money taking care of their daily needs. They also tend to give back more to society by getting involved in volunteer programs.

As for tourism, the implications of this book could also be important for other Middle Eastern countries like Egypt trying to recover from the Arab Spring. It is more likely that the brave backpackers will venture back to seemingly dangerous tourist sites before the more skittish luxury travellers rush in.

In Scheyvens’ book she refers to an Australian survey which found that the average Aussie backpacker will spend $2,667 on a holiday compared to an average non-backpacking tourist. That’s twice as much money! And you thought budget travellers were not really giving back to the tourism industry.

This research, although dated, does need to be updated with current tourism expectations and models used by Levant and North African countries.

A third point summed up by Nicole is that those “cheap” budget travellers actually use less resources. They tread lighter on the planet. She writes: “For example, backpackers often swim in public beaches and take shorter water showers, while luxury tourist demand hot baths and large swimming pools within their hotel complex. The demands of luxury tourism can put significant strain on water resource management and cause other long-term environmental concerns. Budget tourism, by contrast, is much more likely to demand resources in ways that are sustainable.”

Read the full article here if you are in the tourism business. And if you are a luxury traveller, don’t snub those who’ll wash dishes for a night’s stay. These travellers not only tread lighter on the planet, they might just actually be having more fun.

I’ve often thought about the inverse relationship between the cost of a hotel/hostel versus my enjoyment level. The level of fun shoots up insanely high on the very low end of the cost axis. Some of the best travelling memories of my life were staying in the Arab market in the Old City of Jerusalem with my friend Cara. It cost us $3 a night to stay in one of the 50 beds on the roof. Okay, the bed bugs weren’t so much fun, but the friends and weirdos we met couldn’t be bought for $300 a night.

At the end of our stay there, Cara ended up with a Swedish boyfriend, and I a new country that would become my home for the better part of the year.

Image of cute backpacker from Shutterstock

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