The world may have been mired in recession for five years but nobody appears to have told younger travellers who are keener than ever to get out there and explore.
“The truth is that when the going gets tough, the young keep on travelling,” said Laura Daly, of the World Youth Student and Educational Travel confederation (WYSE), the body responsible for compiling the research.
“They are exploring further afield and travelling more frequently. They are also spending a lot more than they used to: rather than simply being seen as a leisure activity, travel is now increasingly viewed as a way of having experiences that help to enhance a CV – and to explore new cultures.”
More than 34,000 people from 137 countries were involved in the WYSE survey – New Horizons III – the results of which were presented at a conference in Sydney. It is by far the most extensive survey of its kind ever undertaken. The age of those questioned ranged from 18 to 35 and respondents were divided almost equally between travellers from the West and those from emerging countries such as China and Latin America.
Among the key findings were:
Young travellers last year spent £138 billion – some 20 per cent of the total £692 billion spent on tourism worldwide.
The increase in spending by young travellers of 9 per cent a year since 2007 is far more than the 3 per cent increase recorded by all age groups.
The average duration of time spent abroad by young travellers has risen from 52 days in 2007 to 58 days in 2012.
Young travellers on average made six short trips abroad and five longer ones (of more than seven days) in the past five years: an average of at least two a year.
Younger travellers spend less on average on accommodation and more proportionally in destinations themselves.
More and more younger travellers want to share their experinces with friends and families through social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
With such a huge sample of people questioned, the survey threw light on a number of differences in the way people travel from different parts of the world – and how they describe themselves.
From the West, fewer young travellers fell into the traditional “backpacker” category, with a growing number seeking to engage in activities such as volunteering work and learning languages during longer periods abroad – seeing themselves more as “cultural” or “creative” travellers. There has been a marked increase in people well into their thirties who still see themselves as young travellers – many falling into the “flashpacker” category, people who are working, have more to spend (an average of £625 a week) and who travel with a number of digital appliances.
Travellers from emerging countries had no problems being termed “tourists”, but many saw travel as a means of pursuing careers and actively sought work in the countries they visited.
While travellers from the West have been heading to more distant locations such as China and Latin America – and within countries visited heading for more remote rural areas – the favoured destination for those from emerging countries is the United States.
The survey did, however, show that some things don’t change. When it came to financing trips abroad, the “bank of mum and dad” is still crucial with some 44 per cent of trips being made by under 20-year-olds receiving parental financial support.
When it comes to young travellers themselves, moreover, while fewer may these days say they are looking to “find themselves”, it’s not all about hard work and CV-enhancing activities, with “visiting cafes and restaurants” still being listed as one of the favoured activities while abroad.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that travel really can fuel the desire to travel more.
“One of the main benefits young people get from travel is the thirst to discover even more,” said Ms Daly.