Countries must see younger travellers as an investment despite new obstacles to growing this market sector, experts have urged.
A WTM London audience heard how younger travellers were the first to return after Covid and collectively had the most disposable income.
Sally Cope, Tourism Australia’s regional general manager, UK & Northern Europe, said Australia had long seen the value of younger travellers, backpackers and those taking a working holiday: “It gives people their first taste of travel, it’s an investment.”
She said pre-Covid, 250,000 jobs were filled in Australia under the working visa scheme and that only 40,000 of these workers had remained when borders closed. “Our industry noticed that.”
Long-stay visitor spend often exceeded that of luxury travellers, she said, with the average at around AUS $10,000. Recognising this, Australia has extended its working visa scheme to those aged up to 35 and for three years. The requirement to do farm work in the second year has been removed.
“That opens up a whole new audience of digital nomads and those with a mid-career gap.”
Steve Lowy, chair of the British Educational Travel Association (BETA), said there were other benefits to communities from youth travel. More than other types, youths ended to stay in more suburban locations and buy locally, spreading the benefits, he said.
There were more spin-offs: “I have 1,000 students in London. I would say 40% of their parents have come and visited them. There is no marketing needed.”
Andrew Brown, the World Travel & Tourism Council’s New Zealand-born director of commercial and membership, said his country’s attitude to backpackers was not as positive as Australia’s. “They are seen as low value travellers, but they are not, because they spread awareness.” This meant parents often visited after their children had shown them what there was to see.
The panel advised countries to offer ‘landing packages’ which sorted out initial accommodation, banking and safety worries for young visitors. This was an issue now parents were in constant touch on social media. “Smooth that out and you will go for gold,” said Brown.
He praised Portugal’s traveller employment scheme. “Portugal looked at the gap in the market that they didn’t have yet.” He added Canada was also proactive, with 35 job schemes for overseas youth, while the UK had six.