Young, foreign backpackers and campervanners are often regarded as low value visitors, who contribute little economically, and who make a mess of the environment. This perception is unfair and largely wrong. Instead, they should be welcomed, well looked-after and encouraged to return.
Although he has been partly misquoted, the Minister for Tourism, the Hon Stuart Nash MP, has been reported as saying that New Zealand should discourage campervanners and backpackers, and focus instead on trying to attract super-wealthy visitors. Nonetheless, it is evident that many in New Zealand would be pleased to see the campervanners and backpackers disappear.
However, the generation of visitors who often come to New Zealand as campervanners and backpackers spend about as much on their stay as visitors overall. The first graph below (which uses data from the International Visitor Survey like the other graphs), shows that the average visitor spend for those in the 20-24 years and 25-29 years age groups was in the range $3,000-$3,500 in each of the past five years – the same as the average spend for visitors of all ages. In fact, the 20-24 year olds spent more than the overall average in both 2016 and 2017, while the 25-29 year olds spent more than the overall average in 2016.
One of the main differences between visitors in the 20-24 and 25-29 age groups and visitors of all ages is that the younger visitors tend to spend significantly less per night than other visitors. The data underlying the next graph imply that, over the past five years, visitors in the 20-24 age group have spent an average of $110 per night, visitors in the 25-29 age group have spent an average of $145 per night, and visitors of all ages have spent an average of $190 per night.
Younger visitors often bring economic benefits to areas that are generally less visited
Younger visitors tend to spend less per night than older visitors because they are more likely to travel in campervans or stay in backpackers. This means that younger visitors are able to explore remoter parts of the country that older visitors often don’t see because there is a lack of motel and hotel accommodation. In this respect, younger visitors often bring economic benefits to areas that are generally less visited.
And because younger visitors spend less per night on roughly the same budget as visitors overall, they are able to stay in New Zealand longer. The next graph implies that the five year average stay for visitors in the 20-24 age group has been 29, days, compared to 22 days for visitors in the 25-29 age group, and 17 days for visitors overall. Again, this is likely to mean that younger visitors are more able than older visitors to spread their spending more widely across the country.
It is clear from this that, although the young campervanners and backpackers who come to New Zealand might not be as economically valuable as the super-wealthy visitors the Minister of Tourism has alluded to, individually they are more-or-less as valuable as visitors in other age groups. They are generally academic high performers who are likely to go on to carve out high-earning careers and develop valuable skills in their home countries. Making it difficult for young people to visit New Zealand would be tantamount to discouraging future exports because today’s campervanners and backpackers have the potential to become tomorrow’s high value tourists. Moreover, they have the potential to become tomorrow’s highly-skilled migrants.
Granted, some campervanners and backpackers have caused environmental nuisance by careless disposal of rubbish and travelling in vehicles that do not have integrated toilet facilities, but draconian measures are not needed to deal with these problems. The Minister has spoken about introducing regulations to require campervans to be self-contained, and this seems reasonable. Approved rubbish disposal and washroom facilities need not be prohibitively costly to develop, and there are funds from the Tourism Levy to fund these, in any case. These facilities could be signposted on a simple app, of the sort that young independent travellers are adept at using already to find freedom camping sites.
New Zealand has fewer international visitors than other developed countries with a similar population to our own, and most of these countries have a far smaller land area
And lastly, lest anyone should argue that we can do without young visitors because New Zealand has too many tourists, this is simply not true. New Zealand has fewer international visitors than other developed countries with a similar population to our own, and most of these countries have a far smaller land area than New Zealand. We have problems because we haven’t invested enough as a nation to cater for the number of visitors we could welcome.