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24 Mar, 2008

Youth Travel Trends Identified in 2007 Survey

Millions of young people taking to the road each year say that travel is impacting on their values and attitudes, and making them think about wider issues like social justice, poverty and international relations, according to a survey of global youth travel.

The survey report, Youth Travel Matters: Understanding the Global Phenomenon of Youth Travel and Tourism, found that in 2007, just over 80% of the estimated 160 million young travellers felt that their trip had changed their overall lifestyle in some way.

“The majority of young travellers feel that they have broadened their horizons and become more open-minded, flexible, confident and tolerant as a result of their travel experience,” reports the survey conducted by World Youth Student Exchange Travel Confederation and the UN World Tourism Organization and publicly released at the ITB Berlin earlier this month.

An update of a previous study conducted in 2002, the report estimates that youth travel accounts for over 20% of international tourist arrivals and is worth an estimated US$ 136 billion a year, or around 18% of worldwide international tourism receipts;

The survey said that with global volume growth of 3-5% a year and spend increasing by 8% a year, the youth market is growing faster than most other travel segments.

“The average number of trips taken over the past five years by young people increased from 6.2 in 2002 to 7.3 in 2007. The total average travel expenditure by young people increased by 39% between 2002 and 2007.

“Due to longer average trip duration, a typical youth traveller spends more than the average tourist during his/her trip — US$ 2,600 per trip, of which US$ 1,550 is spent in the destination.”

However, the survey stressed that the importance of youth travel lies in looking at much more than just the numbers.

It said, “Once young people start travelling, they find it difficult to stop, underlining the importance of attracting backpackers early in their ‘travel careers’ as they are likely to remain avid travellers.

“Apart from a desire to travel more, a trip is likely to awaken an interest in learning about other cultures and generate more understanding and appreciation of cultural differences.”

It added, “Travel also has an important impact on the values and attitudes of young people. In 2007, over 80% of travellers said that their trip had changed their overall lifestyle in some way. And nearly three quarters indicated that they had re-evaluated their career goals and options as a result of their trip.”

The survey said that 81% of respondents said their travel experiences abroad have changed their overall lifestyle; 73.7% said it had changed how they think about career options, professional goals, etc; and 69.6% said it had made them travel in a more responsible manner (i.e. more respect other cultures and the environment).

A solid 66.2% said it had made them think about issues of social justice, poverty, international relations, etc, 60.5% said it had strengthened their personal values and ethics and 40.2% said it had increased understanding of and respect for other cultures.

An analysis of the responses noted that “contacts with other people and cultures stimulate them to want to learn more and to develop themselves still further. Travel is now an experience which young people feel is changing their lifestyles, and in fact is becoming a lifestyle in itself for many.”

It said travel is clearly becoming an opportunity to reinforce positive values. “Young travellers return from their trips feeling more connected to the global community – the proportion seeing themselves as ‘global citizens’ almost doubled after their trip.”

They also become more trusting as a result of travel – the proportion agreeing with the statement “most people can be trusted”, rose from 58% before the trip to 68% after the trip.

The survey also reported some interesting findings about travel behaviour and booking patterns.

It said, “In terms of events and problems which might prevent people from travelling, such as war or natural disasters, young people reveal themselves to be relatively fearless travellers. Only about 3% of travellers indicated that they had delayed their trip abroad because of terrorism, crime, political instability or other problems.

“The main reason for young travellers to avoid visiting certain destinations was crime, which is often more of a structural issue in the areas visited than is terrorism or war. Even then, perceived levels of crime were more likely to produce a feeling of anxiety rather than an actual change in travel plans.”

The survey noted the impact of the Internet which is now used by more than 80% of young travellers to search for information before their trip, and the proportion of Internet searches converted into bookings has grown four-fold over the past five years.

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