What do Australian travellers want?
Beer and sunshine ... is that all Australian backpackers are looking for? Photo: Getty Images
It's a question I've been asked a few times lately: what do Australian travellers want?
Colombian tourism people want to know; Canadian tourism people want to know. It's an important question for them, because Australians like to travel, and we like to spend money while we're doing it. It makes sense that destinations would need to have something that appeals to us.
So what do Australian travellers want? It's a tough question, and I'm not sure I've been coming up with good answers. There's been a bit of um-ing and ah-ing, some fumbling for something interesting to say.
So if I'm going to wind up as the proxy spokesperson for all you wanderers out there, I thought I'd better at least do a little "research". Because even after having had some time to think about a decent answer, I'm probably way off.
The trouble is there are so many Australians travelling that you can't possibly slap a label on them all – like, say, "luxury spa adventurers" – and hope that that will represent the general population's travelling tastes. It's impossible.
However, if you stick with just backpackers, you've at least got a chance. So that's what I'll do.
If you were being glib you'd say that what Australian backpackers want on their travels is cheap beer and some sunshine. If you were being a bit more serious you'd probably say that what Australian backpackers want on their travels is... well, OK, cheap beer and some sunshine.
That's essentially what a lot of popular backpacking destinations can be boiled down to. Think about Indonesia or Thailand or Laos. Or the groups on bus tours through Europe. Or the long-term travellers in South America.
For a destination to be attractive to Australian backpackers it has to be fun and affordable. You have to be able to let loose there, to meet locals or fellow travellers in an environment that's conducive to getting hammered for not much.
And if all that is done under a bright sun, all the better.
Of course, that's not the only thing – in my opinion at least – that appeals to us. But it is pretty high up on the list.
Also up there is what I'd call "Facebook appeal". That is, when you update your status on Facebook to say, "Having a great time in....", or stick up a photo of yourself living it up on holidays somewhere, you want all of your friends to be either impressed or insanely jealous.
So that means the classic, famous destinations like Rome and Paris will always be popular, but it also adds to the appeal of going off the beaten track. Why make people jealous of your Bali adventure when you could be teasing them with a bit of Nusa Tenggara action? Why go to Fiji when you could go to Burma?
You just have to look at European tour companies for evidence of this. Ten years ago the tours took passengers through the usual suspects: France, Italy, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands. And that was pretty much it. Flip through a brochure now, however, and you'll still see all of those stalwarts, but you'll also see the Czech Republic, Croatia, Hungary, Turkey.
Young travellers don't just want to go to the places their parents went to; they want to find something new.
At a more grassroots level, I'd say what appeals to Australian backpackers is participation over observation. Most people I've met want to get involved while they travel, to feel like they're not just one of the meandering crowd. That might just manifest itself in trying to meet locals in a dodgy bar; but it could also mean doing voluntourism work, or getting a job and staying for a while.
Open-topped bus tours aren't going to appeal to Australian backpackers. Museums and historical monuments aren't high on the list either. They want living culture and unique experiences – something cool to write home about.
At least, that's my view. There has to be something in between all that cheap beer and sunshine. Right?
What do you think Australian backpackers want? What appeals to them in a travel destination?