Who are our backpackers?
As part of a joint research project, the City of Cape Town, Backpacking South Africa and the South African Youth Travel Confederation have produced a document that delves into who the average backpacker is, how they get around and how to shape an action plan that will promote, facilitate and develop this growing niche market.
What they’ve found is that the socio-demographic profile of backpackers is changing. Bucking stereotypes, the majority of backpackers nowadays are young professionals in their late 20s. They’re educated (50.4% of those surveyed have an undergraduate degree and 27.3% have a postgraduate degree), come from middle-class backgrounds and routinely choose to travel solo.
According to the study, the main motivation for backpacking is to explore other cultures and to meet new people. In terms of travel patterns, 69.3% of backpackers surveyed were on holiday, 11.4% were visiting friends or relatives and 10.2% of respondents cited voluntourism as their purpose of visit.
The top five source markets for backpackers mirrored those of the travel market to South Africa as a whole, with the UK, Germany, South Africa, USA and the Netherlands leading the pack. Deciding factors when selecting an accommodation establishment were price and location. The majority of backpackers stayed in hostels (88.6%), followed by those visiting friends and relatives (8%) and those who chose to stay in hotels (5.7%). The main form of transportation of those surveyed was rental vehicle (73.9%), followed by exploration on foot (44.3%) and public transport (31.8%).
The average length of stay for backpackers in South Africa was found to be 42 days, and the most popular activities were visiting museums and natural and historical sites, game viewing, nightclubbing and township tours.
When asked how they heard about Cape Town, 68.1% of respondents stated that they already knew about the city. Word of mouth was still a prominent driver (37.5%), followed by books, guides and the internet.
Research indicated that concerns regarding safety and security in South Africa were high. When measuring backpackers’ perceptions of Cape Town prior to their visit against their satisfaction with the destination, however, satisfaction always exceeded preconceptions.
Key perceived challenges in Cape Town were visa regulations, concerns over safety and security, and a shortage of budget accommodation and an industry that self-regulates.
Similar to insights garnered at the recent E-Tourism Africa Summit, research findings revealed that the internet is a key planning tool for backpackers, and the rise of new markets and peer-driven online reviews (on sites like TripAdvisor) has contributed significantly to improved quality and professionalism in the youth travel accommodation sector.