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20 Oct, 2003

Vietnam, Thailand Top Popularity Charts for Backpackers

PATTAYA — Vietnam and Thailand are rapidly becoming two of the world’s most popular countries for backpackers, a survey of young travellers has revealed.

The survey showed that 75% of respondents who described themselves as backpackers had visited Thailand and 87.5% had visited Vietnam on their “last big trip”. India came in third with 66% and New Zealand was fourth with 65%.

The popularity of the three Asian countries eclipsed others like Australia (visited on their last big trip by 49.5% of the survey’s backpacker-category respondents), Canada (26.7%), UK (30.8%) and USA 22.8%.

The survey was released at the World Youth and Student Travel Congress in Pattaya last week. Because the survey was the first done after several years, there was no comparative data to show trends.

It was conducted by the International Student Travel Confederation and the Association for Tourism and Leisure Education. Responses were drawn from 2,300 young people and students from Canada, the Czech Republic, Hong Kong, Mexico, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden and the UK.

Not only did Thailand rate very well in many aspects of the survey, it indicated that the country is capturing the hearts and minds of a growing number of increasingly educated, knowledge-seeking young travellers as they seek to satisfy a thirst for “experiences” and social contact.

It also indicated a guaranteed flow of thousands of future travellers; many of the survey respondents cited a clear desire for repeat travel as well as a high level of world-of-mouth recommendations to other travellers to visit the same destinations.

While the survey confirmed the well-known fact that back-packers and young travellers are generally low-spenders, that is totally sidelined by the fact that although they leave behind little material wealth in a country, they leave it with a high level of cultural understanding, a huge gain that cannot be statistically ‘quantified’ but clearly has a massive wider value.

They survey also strengthened the vast impact of places like Khao San road, the local hangout for young people, as a point of contact. Respondents who have visited Thailand scored ‘associating with other travellers’ considerably higher as a motivation for travel than for those visiting any other destination.

Said the survey, “These enclaves have led to a greater concentration of travellers in close proximity and hence there are more like-minded travellers to associate and with whom to exchange information and stories.

“There was a strong relationship between certain ‘communal’ aspects of the youth and student traveller experience. Those who stated that ‘building close friendships’ was a very important motivation for their trip and that associating with other travellers was also very important, were much more likely to use fellow travellers as an information source.

“This supports the idea that these more fashionable ‘enclaves’ are no longer just functional intersections or resting places for independent travellers, but instead they have taken on the function of an attraction themselves.”

The survey showed up some other interesting trends in young people travel:

== The number of female backpackers is on the rise. There were more female respondents (67% ) than male (33% ). This is contrary to the response usually gathered from email contact surveys, which tend to be mostly males. It is also different from the image of backpackers who are usually assumed to be predominantly male.

== Young travellers are highly educated — 34% had already gained a higher education degree and a further 25% were still studying for one. Another 5% also had a post-graduate degree.

== Half of the total respondents had an income of US$ 5,000 or less. However, most have saved intensively or even borrowed the money from their parents or the banks in order to travel.

== They are increasingly using the Internet for travel information. Unlike previous surveys of traveller information sources, the Internet is the main form of pre-trip information gathering (71% ), followed by family and friends (70%). However, the analysis said that could be partly because the survey was conducted by email; a recent non-email survey of backpackers in Australia indicated that 44% had used the Internet to gather information prior to arrival.

== Basic motivations for travel among the respondents are a mixture of exploration (83%), excitement (74%) and increasing knowledge (69%).

== They are frequent travellers. On average, respondents had six trips outside their region of residence over their entire travel carrier. The number of trips increases with age, with 5.9 trips for those under 26 and eight for those over 26. Respondents from Sweden (7.4 previous trips) and UK (6.5 previous trips) were on average the most experienced of the respondents, while those from the South Africa (four previous trips) and Hong Kong 4.4 previous trips) were the least experienced.

== The more experienced they become, the more the number of countries they visit per trip. The number of countries was also higher for those under 26 than those over 26, suggesting a slightly wider level of mobility of younger travellers.

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