An analysis of the ways in which the contemporary trend for young people to partake in extended travel, often independently and referred to as backpacking, differs or is similar to the way tourism has been accessed by young people in the past.
Key Words: Young People, Backpacking, Grand Tour, Access.
The term 'young people' offers an unclear definition of specific ages it relates to. It has become increasingly difficult to distinguish between 'young' and 'old' as the world's demographics change. In many of the generating regions for tourism the birth rate has slowed, childbirth has been delayed and a decline of traditional family patterns means there are declining numbers of young. (United Nations 2001)
There has been a dramatic increase of youth tourists now compared to the time of the Grand Tour, with a fifth of all international tourists between the ages of 18-30 - it has been suggested that the changes to the collective life has allowed for this, for example, later marriage, increased levels of education and the changing role of women. (WTO 2008)
One of the earliest forms of significant youth travel occurred with the Grand Tour and was in keeping with the early philosophy of travel for reasons of pilgrimage as it sought to further the education of the aristocracy in the 17th and 18th centuries. (Cohen 2001, Brodsky-Porges 1981) It became fashionable for the rich parents of young males to send their eligible sons across Europe to acquire 'tastes essential for life.'
Characteristics of Grand Tour have been recreated by the contemporary trend for backpacking - extended travel often for between one and two years and independently or in small groups, spending time in different locations depending upon their perceived significance. Many authors agree that the typical backpacker is young, aged 18-35, educated and price conscious. (Allon 2004, Loker-Murphy 1997, Bell 2002, Adler 1985, White & White 2004) It can be assumed that a lack of an education may lead to diminished access if the majority of those tourists who have or are taking part in backpacking are educated.
The way travelling has been accepted as a part of young people's lives suggests that it is viewed as some form of a rite of passage. Van Gennep (1960) defines a this as a transition period between more stable periods, and as 'junctures in life.' (White & White 2004) These definitions offer suggestions as to why young people travel at the age they do, as the stable periods may have been represented by their formal education and then their career or marriage, facilitating access to travelling between being the juncture.
There remain some limits of access to tourism, for example, like the Grand Tour which was dominated by the aristocracy of Europe, young people from New Zealand taking part in their overseas experience are often middle class and white. Such restrictions suggest that there are still limits to access for the young people of certain countries as the Maori and Pacific Islanders are much less likely to take an 'OE'. (Bell 2002) It is also dominated by people of a western origin and culture. Other countries are growing in their number of youth travellers such as Japan and Israel. The rise in the number of different cultures taking part in youth travel illustrates the heterogeneous nature of backpacking. (Uriely et al 2002)
The Grand Tour saw the wealthier youth travelling Europe however the contemporary backpacking traveller is more conscious of price and much more likely to stick to a budget. (Murphy 2000, Loker-Murphy 1997, Allon 2004) This demonstrates the way in which tourism is much more accessible now than previously as even lower income people are able to take part. Accessibility to tourism by women has also improved as increasing numbers of young travellers are female, in contrast to the predominantly male participants of the Grand Tour (Sorabella 2010, Rosenberg 2010, Bell 2002)
Destinations have recognised the importance of the young traveller's expenditure, as 'young people spend more than any other group on international travel.' (WTO 2008) The supporting industry has grown massively and the rise in the number of youth hostels and trips aimed at this market is further evidence of how destinations are providing improved access for young people to their tourism product.
Young people have taken part in extended travel for centuries, from the Grand Tour of the 17th and 18th centuries to the contemporary backpacker, it has almost come full circle. Where access was once governed by social class and financial constraints, the development of tourism has opened access to many through advancements in technology and competitive pricing.
The cultural acceptance of such travel increases its accessibility, as does it being viewed as a rite of passage. Previous restrictions to access have been removed and allowed the current generation of young people greater access than has been previously held by young people all of which is evident in the increasing number of participants and the share of the market they hold and the lengths the tourism industry is going to, to cater to their needs and attract their business.
Bell, C. (2002) The Big 'OE' Young New Zealand Travellers as Secular Pilgrims, Tourist Studies, 2 (2) 143-158
Sorabella, J. (2010) The Grand Tour, Available from: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/grtr/hd_grtr.htm [Accessed April 12th 2010]
World Tourism Organisation (2008) Youth Travel Matters: Understanding the Global Phenomenon of Youth Travel, Available from: http://pub.unwto.org/WebRoot/Store/Shops/Infoshop/482C/09E7/89D4/2506/AA82/C0A8/0164/F5B4/080514_youth_travel_matters_excerpt.pdf [Accessed April 12th 2010]