Backpacker tourism can be beneficial for Sri Lanka | Sunday Observer

Backpacker tourism can be beneficial for Sri Lanka

6 September, 2020

Tapping the rapidly growing backpacker tourism segment will be beneficial to Sri Lanka tourism which is again looking at getting back on its feet after nearly eight months of lull to bring in the much needed foreign exchange to the country, said a tourism sector expert.

Backpacking is a form of low-cost, independent travel, often staying in inexpensive lodgings and carrying all necessary possessions in a backpack. Sri Lanka hosts numerous homestay accommodations, beautiful guesthouses and small and medium sized family hotels which are spread throughout the island. These guesthouses and small hotels greatly depend on FIT’s or Free Independent Travellers who travel to Sri Lanka mainly by identifying suitable accommodation offers through major online platforms, such as Booking.com, Agoda and Hostel World.

“Times, when travellers frequented street offices of international tour operators in expensive town locations overseas seem to be over, with the demise of one of the biggest tour operators, Thomas Cook, which left thousands of employees in the lurch,” he said, adding that backpacking -   once a marginal form of travel undertaken only through necessity, has since become a mainstream form of tourism. 

While backpacker tourism is generally a form of youth travel, primarily undertaken by young people during gap years, it is also undertaken by others during a career break or retirement. Backpackers are from Europe, the English-speaking world and Asia. 

Backpacking gives you the opportunity to travel and see a lot of the world on a budget. You might need to lower your usual living standards a little with eating street food and sharing a dorm and bathroom with other people. But it is a great way to see different environments at a low cost.

For many low-income communities in the developing world, the economic benefits of hosting backpackers outweigh the negative impacts.

Since backpackers tend to consume local products, stay in small guest houses, and use locally owned ground transport, more of their expenditure is retained in the country than in conventional mass tourism.

Businesses that cater to backpackers are usually locally owned and profits are retained within the country rather than flow overseas to international hotel groups.Despite the problems of the backpackers’ negative social impact, there are significant, positive economic impacts. There is a growing body of research showing that, for many low-income communities in the developing world, the economic benefits of hosting backpackers outweigh their negative (often social) impact.

This local economic development aspect is also now being recognised by some governments such as Malaysia and South Africa, which are actively encouraging backpackers and supporting locally owned businesses and ‘homestays’.

Research in Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia since the mid-1990s shows that as backpackers consume local products (food, coffee, beer and cigarettes), stay in small guest houses, and use locally owned ground transport, more of their expenditure is retained in the country than in conventional mass tourism.Economic leaks from backpacker tourism are also significantly less than for conventional (foreign-owned) tourism, since backpacker businesses are usually locally owned and profits are retained within the developing country rather than flowing overseas to international hotel groups.

Local people have often been very positive about how having their own backpacker business has changed their lives for the better. In Yogyakarta, Indonesia, one guest house owner spoke with great pride of how she could now afford to send her children to school as a result of her backpacker business.

Hosting backpacker tourism is not the silver bullet for poor communities, but it can play an important part in international tourism in the global south.

“All CEOs of the top listed FANG blue chips in the world, such as Facebook, Amazon, Alibaba, Netflix and Google, enjoyed being backpackers in their youth.

Looking to the future and not looking down on low-budget travellers might be the wise way forward,” he said.

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