Let’s beef up our backpacker crowd

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The Queenstown chair of a new backpacker and adventure tourism lobby group is warning of a youth traveler downturn. 

AJ Hackett Bungy boss Michelle Trapski, who heads the newly formed New Zealand Backpacker, Youth and Adventure Tourism Association, is also urging more support for the group from local operators. 

Fresh from the association’s inaugural conference in Rotorua last week, Trapski says: “Over the winter particularly we’re seeing our international markets declining rapidly – the United Kingdom market is down as much as 20 per cent,” Trapski says. 

The UK market had previous been hailed as the sector’s “saving grace” six months ago, she says. 

“And if you talk to anyone in Australia, they don’t see anyone from Ireland any more. I believe that Queens­­­­town really needs to start working better together. 

“What we saw during the first phase of the recession was the youth traveller was still coming. They were kind of heralded as a saviour to NZ tourism last year which really con-cerned me because you knew the youth traveller of today is maybe not going to be the youth traveller of tomorrow.” 

The 55-member association’s vice-chairman, website designer Dan Roberts, is also a Queenstowner, but Trapski says only a few other local operators are members. 

“I think membership is an opportunity for them to be a bit more involved in how they get their customers.” 

Set up last July, it sprang from a backpacker marketing network. 

“What we were trying to do is make people understand this was not just a whole bunch of kids roaming around the country staying in backpackers and having a cool time – that it’s actually a clearly identified part of the tourist industry.” 

The Trapski-led association is a sub-association of the Tourism Industry Association. Tourism NZ supplies a board member. It could help operators meet standards demanded by the Government’s recently-released adventure tourism safety review, Trapski says. 

“I can do this in a more neutral position with my chair hat on, but also be able to put AJ Hackett Bungy’s experience to the fore. 

“They key thing is we’re unified and we’re sustainable – when you start up an association they can fall over really quickly because they’re bloody hard work and it’s all volunteer-based,” she says. 

“The motivation is I don’t want to see the youth sector erode.”