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Backpackers may finally be getting some respect – at least from an economic standpoint.

Young people are traveling more, staying away for longer periods of time and spending more money, a new report indicates.

Globe In 2012, $217 billion of the $1.088 trillion tourism “spend” worldwide came from young travelers, an increase that vastly outstripped that of other international travelers, according to a new study of youth and student travel released by Amsterdam-based World Youth Student and Educational Travel Confederation. Young travelers now represent 20 per cent of international tourism, making the group an important economic force.

The WYSE Travel Confederation called the report “the largest and most comprehensive survey ever undertaken for the youth travel sector.” The study, released in September, updated research initially conducted in 2002 and later in 2007, and looked at why, how and where young people travel and included survey responses from more than 34,000 young travelers from 137 countries.

“Our research shows that the nature of youth travel has changed enormously in the past decade,” said David Chapman, director general for the WYSE Travel Confederation. “Young travelers today want, more than ever, to enrich themselves with cultural experiences, to meet local people and to improve their employability when they return home.”

“With young people traveling further, staying away for longer, spending more, keeping in touch more and integrating with overseas communities on a scale not seen before, the industry is becoming far broader than ever before,” he added.

Highlights from the report:

  • At a time of rising youth unemployment and global economic austerity, more young people than ever before are traveling to gain work, educational and cultural experiences, while those traveling purely for leisure has fallen from over 75 percent in 2007 to just 47 percent.
  • More young travelers are “shunning the traditional sun, sea and sand holidays” to improve their resumes. According to the report, 22 percent of young travelers want to learn a language, 15 percent want to gain work experience, and 15 percent travel to study – all significantly up from 2007.
  • Student spending has increased by 40 percent since 2007 despite the global economic climate, with young travelers requesting more varied services.
  • The age demographic of people identifying themselves as youth travelers has broadened.
  • Young travelers are spending longer periods of time abroad; the number of trips more than 60 days has increased over the last five years.
  • Youth travel is not all about budget accommodation; there has been a significant rise in travelers identifying themselves as more up-scale ‘flashpackers,’ backpackers who travel with lap tops, smart phones and other high tech gear and who tend to have heftier budgets than traditional backpackers.
  • Hostels have overtaken hotels as the most popular form of accommodation; they are adapting to meet the demands of modern youth travelers and increasing the variety of services they offer.
  • The places that young people are traveling to are changing; they are spending less time in major gateway cities and are exploring more remote destinations than previously.
  • More young people are living abroad.
  • More young travelers now aim to ‘live like a local’ when they travel abroad by immersing themselves in local cultures.
  • Crime, identified as the main barrier to travel by survey respondents, has sharply increased from 14 percent in 2007 to 24 percent.

“The change in motivation behind traveling is one of the starkest shifts in trends the youth travel sector has seen in the last five years,” Mr. Chapman of WYSE said. “It’s fascinating to see from the research how people now see travel as an integral part of their future with such uncertainty surrounding jobs and with so much uncertainty in the economic climate.”