Backpackers are tourism's backbone

RISING INTEREST: Backpacker tourism accounts for a third of all visitors to New Zealand. Joe Whittaker, of Britain, Cas Kleverlaan, Holland, and Leo Carneiro, Brazil are checking in.
RISING INTEREST: Backpacker tourism accounts for a third of all visitors to New Zealand. Joe Whittaker, of Britain, Cas Kleverlaan, Holland, and Leo Carneiro, Brazil are checking in.

The New Zealand economy has a lot to thank young backpackers and travellers for.

The 15-29 age group is not only growing, but outperforming the rest of our visitor market.

A market prioritisation study by Tourism New Zealand two years ago identified youth as a key segment. It found that while young people made up a quarter of visitors to New Zealand, they accounted for a third of total international tourism expenditure. Of the total tourism spend of $5.6 billion in the year to June, $1.8b came from the younger set.

Tourism NZ wants to keep it that way and will shortly launch the next step of a global campaign it kicked off a year ago.

The prospects are tantalising.

While younger visitors may not spend as much per day as other visitors, they stay much longer and so spend more per trip.

The latest visitor survey and international travel and migration data shows young tourists spend an average $2877 each trip compared with the average spend of all tourists of $2360.

Younger travellers stayed in New Zealand for an average 25.3 days, much longer than other holidaymakers who stayed an average 16.1 days.

The youth segment was important in a number of other ways, Tourism NZ spokesman Justin Watson, explained.

“It's a sizeable market and it's also a really attractive market.

“They tend to trip around the country a lot more, so they help spread tourism business around the whole country.”

As a consequence these travellers are also more likely to return in later life, possibly for education, a holiday or family trip.

“They also help to fill seasonal employment through the working holiday scheme.”

Two years ago the picture wasn't so rosy. The shine was coming off New Zealand as a tourist destination, said Watson.

“Our youth numbers were in decline prior to the campaign launch and now the market will end 5 per cent up, which is about in line with our total arrivals.”

Closer scrutiny reveals the country's key youth markets - Australia, Germany and Britain - have grown ahead of the total arrivals figures.

Young travellers out of Australia for the year to June are up 9 per cent against that market's overall 5.8 per cent rise.

The young German market is up 3 per cent compared with a drop of 3.4 per cent in German visitors overall.

The youth market out of Britain is down 1 per cent but still ahead of total visitor arrivals from there which are down 2.5 per cent.

Tourism NZ said its campaign, called Stories Beat Stuff, is working. In October it moves into its third and final phase.

Launched a year ago, it worked off the premise that nothing beats an experience of a lifetime.

It challenged entrants to give up a prized possession for a chance to win six “lifetime experiences” for small groups.

It received 350 entries and 4500 votes from the main target markets of Germany, Britain, the United States, Australia and Canada.


Of the 2.62 million visitor arrivals to New Zealand in the year to June, 607,300 were young people. This important segment accounts for a third of the international tourism spend here. They stay longer than other visitors and spend more too.

Leo Carneiro, from Brazil, is staying at Base Backpackers in downtown Auckland. He is learning English and chose New Zealand as it was accessible.

“It's a beautiful country too.”

He is here for two months and will also visit Christchurch.

Cas Kleverlaan from Holland has been here six weeks and will likely stay another two months. He plans to go to Wellington and Queenstown.

Briton Joe Whittaker will spend four months working here. “I wanted to come to a beautiful country [and] because of Lord of the Rings,” he said.

He will visit Tongariro and the South Island.