Analysing Characteristics and Behaviour of Backpackers in Latin America

It is often the case that high-end and luxurious tourism is more preferred by national governments, while it is said that it brings a lot of revenue to the destination. However, the biggest share of that revenue ends up outside the incoming country in the form of economic leakage. This prevents local economies and communities from gaining benefits from tourism in their own countries, despite the high frequency of tourists. On the other hand, backpacker tourism is said to create a low level of leakage and a high level of linkage, resulting in contribution to the local economy and development. Backpackers have been travelling through Latin America for decades, but so far, no country in the region has recognized or integrated this form of tourism into their strategies. Both quantitative and qualitative data on backpackers in Latin America and their contribution to local economies are lacking among academic literature and official statistics. This research will fill some of these gaps and, for the first time, provide concrete numbers and information regarding the segment in the region.

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Analysing Characteristics and Behaviour of Backpackers in Latin America.

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Carlos' Opinion
Backpacker Tourism.

Understanding the impacts of a backpacker at a micro-level is easy, since as backpacker, I was usually thrived to live the adventure, and explore new places, people, cultures and customs.

As a backpacker and Google Local Guide, I was thrilled to search for small local places at the different cities I visited.

Backpackers might be thought to have low impact on economies, but as one measures the amount of backpackers that are around the world, the sum of every backpacker would add to their impact.

Listening europeans having backpacking experiences was pretty common. And it seems all of them have the goal of getting to know the local places, languages, food and cultures.

It was also surprising for me the number of Germans speaking spanish, and most of them had already traveling experiences in Latin America. 

One of the first persons that I met at Hochschule Heilbronn was Radivoje. 

Personal traits that I could say about Radivoje are that he is hard-working, adventurous and bright, same brightness that surprised me when he started talking to me in perfect spanish the first time I met him. 

Radivoje studied the master at the same time as me, but he studied Master in International Tourism Management

Currently, Radivoje is developing his e-commerce skills at Ebam, and has helped me as freelancer on further improving my website. 

Radivoje and I shared the similar experiences of being backpackers. He traveled in Latinamerica and I traveled in Europe. 

Such interest on Traveling and Latin America, let Radivoje to do the following master thesis research that he shares at my website. 


Creating Foundation for Backpacker Tourism in Latin America as An Instrument for Socio-Economic Development.

The expansion of low-cost airlines has allowed alternative forms of tourism to become a big part of tourist activity in some destinations.

The number of young people, who travelled in 2012, was more than 200 million and generated a revenue of US$ 183 billion (Martins and Costa, 2017).

Among them are also backpackers, who are sometimes ignored or even discouraged by governments worldwide (Hampton, 1998).

Backpackers can be characterized by it’s awareness in controlling their costs (Sheyvens, 2002), travelling longer distances in search of experiences and unusual places, looking for authenticity and contact with local people (Eadington and Smith, 1993), and can survive with less than US$ 15 per day, using local transportation, carrying their belongings in their backpacks, bargaining for products and services, away from crowds and discovering new places (Hampton and Hamzah, 2010).

Conventional and mass tourism is said to cause high economic leakages in developing countries.

On the other hand, some alternative forms of tourism, like backpacker tourism, result in minimal leakage, as well as high linkage (Rodenburg, 1981; Dayour et al, 2016).

The benefits of backpacker tourism can be observed from both demand and supply perspective.

Backpackers tend to consume local products and services, stay in local types of accommodation and spend the same or bigger amount of money than conventional tourists due to the longer duration of their travel (Sheyvens, 2002). Additionally, they are more likely to be widely spread across the destination (Dayour et al, 2016).

Furthermore, businesses catering to backpackers are described as locally owned, with strong participation of local communities and they require minimal infrastructure for managing (Rogerson, 2001; Visser, 2004).

Latin America, together with the Caribbean, is a region consisting of 52 countries and around 7.000 islands, that covers the area from Patagonia, in Chile and Argentina, until Mexico.

Generally, Latin America covers all countries, which were once colonized by Spanish, Portuguese and French and whose languages derive from Latin (Netto & Trigo, 2015).

However, for the purpose of this research the term Latin America will cover all the territory south of the United States of America, including the English-spoken countries like Belize and Jamaica.

The Gini Index, which contains the information about the income of 129 world countries, shows that 9 out of 20 lowest income countries are Latin American (UNDP, 2015). World Bank (2013) reports that the richest 10 % in each country control between 30 % and 48 % of the total national wealth.

Respectively, this leads to the first research relevance within this thesis:

It is mentioned that backpacker tourism, despite the lower spending of backpackers, injects more income into local economies than mass tourism (Ashley, 2006), and therefore, has a significant economic impact on them (Mitchell and Ashley, 2009).

However, little research has been done on backpackers and their impact on the economy. Some authors claim that the topic lacks empirical and quantitative data (Richards and Wilson, 2004; Pearce et al, 2009).

So far, only a few studies have dealt with this phenomenon, mostly by measuring backpackers’ expenditure (Visser, 2004; Pearce et al., 2009; Hampton, 2013), but there seems to be a lack of research on this topic for regions South and Central America.

Therefore, the second research relevance was recorded:

Defining Backpacker Tourism.

A Brief History of Backpackers.

Westerhausen (2002) mentions that backpacking has evolved from hitchhiking in Europe in the 1950s, when mainly students were traveling around on low budget.

In the 1960s the ‘hippy trail’ became famous and it was a route from Europe to South Asia, and sometimes from Australasia.

Later, youth travel in Europe moved to Greek islands and North Africa, and further to Middle East.

The youth from the US, specifically from the West Coast, went down to Baja California, Mexico, and later to the rest of Latin America, while the East Coast youth was traveling to Europe or directly to South Asia (Hampton, 2013).

The highest flow of backpackers was seen from Europe to South Asia, which was called ‘Road to Katmandu’ (Marnham, 1971, cited by Hampton, 2013, p. 8).

In the 1970s more and more backpackers were traveling by hitchhiking, train and local and overland buses.

However, their number is still not familiar.

In the 1980s backpackers had troubles reaching South Asia through land because of Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

At the same time, air tickets had fallen and made air travel more affordable.

This period was considered as era of modern backpackers, who differed themselves very much from previous hippies. In the same period first guidebooks for backpackers have appeared.

The routes worldwide were already well-established. Among them was the route in Latin America, so-called ‘Gringo Trail’ (Hampton, 2013).

Today’s backpackers are rather called ‘flashpackers’ because of the comfortable way they travel.

They tend to have shorter trip durations, they are often employed and traveling during their holidays or sabbaticals, have slightly higher budget and prefer to stay in more comfortable accommodation (Hannam and Diekmann, 2010).

Flashpackers will be described further within the thesis.

Backpackers in Academic Literature.

In academic research Cohen (1973) was the first one to observe backpackers.

Cohen’s typology of tourist behaviour as institutionalized and non-institutionalized forms of tourists was one of the first to mention the concept of backpackers, which he labelled as ‘drifters’, noticing that they differ significantly from mass tourists.

Later, Riley (1988) assigned them as ‘budget travelers’ and described them as educated, belonging to the European middle class, single and travelling alone on a tight budget, while obtaining the best ‘bargains’.

The tight budget many backpackers are associated with is related to the longer duration of their travels (Sheyvens, 2002).

Pearce et al. (2009) describe backpackers as being under 40 years old, flexible with itineraries and willing to be involved in social and participatory activities.

It is possible that Pearce is the first to use the term ’backpacker’ in the academic world (Hampton, 2013).

Recently, many authors started referring to them as tourists traveling with backpacks, with a reduced budget (Hampton and Hamzah, 2010), mostly young, preferring to stay in economic accommodation and undertaking informal and flexible routes (Ooi and Laing, 2010).

However, backpackers are not necessarily travelers that travel with backpacks.

Sorensen (2003) states that backpackers are rather heterogenous group.

Even though there hasn’t been any consolidated definition of backpackers, this segment can be characterized by its awareness in controlling their costs (Sheyvens, 2002) and travelling longer distances in search of experiences and unusual places, looking for authenticity and contact with local people (Eadington and Smith, 1993), and can survive with less than US$ 15 per day, using local transportation, carrying their belongings on their backpacks, bargaining for products and services, away from crowds and discovering new places (Hampton and Hamzah, 2010).

However, Sorensen (2003) went further with proposing the term ’Short-term backpacker’, referring to those with less time availability, in accordance to the concept of ’flashpacker’, naming the backpackers that are travelling with latest technologies, more reduced time and bigger budget.

Tourism Research Australia (2009, cited by Martins and Costa, 2017, p. 138) defines backpacker tourist as a person who stays one or more nights in backpacker accommodation or hostel.

Backpackers’ Profile.

According to Richard and Wilson (2004) the biggest group of backpackers is between 25 and 35 years old with 26-36 % of all backpackers in 2003 being students.

However, some authors mention that the backpackers who travelled as backpackers in 1960s and ‘70s continued to backpack until today, including the ones over 60 years old (Mintel, 2003, cited by Vaals, 2013, p. 7).

Regarding their origin, backpackers are said to be from Western countries like Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand, however in recent years Asian backpackers have been noticed (Muzaini & Hamzah, 2006; Teo and Long, 2006).

Backpackers have relatively high educational level (Vaals, 2013). Maoz and Bekerman (2010) say that backpackers are often found in some transitional phase of life like graduation, marrying/divorcing or ‘gap year’ and are in search of authenticity and culture, unlike mass tourists.

Welk (2004, cited by Vaals, 2013, p. 8) gives 4 elements of the backpacker ideology:

When it comes to backpackers’ motivation, some authors claim that they are in search of
‘authenticity’, while others claim they are always in search of consuming experiences or
‘experimental’ (Richards and Wilson, 2004).

Motivational factors that drive backpackers are usually allocentric and self-actualization.

Hannam and Ateljevic (2007) mention escaping from daily life as one of the main motivations to travel, while Richards and Wilson (2004) say those are exploring other cultures, experiencing excitement and increasing knowledge.

The most recent studies, in Australia, recognize the existence of sub-segments of backpackers (Tourism Victoria 2009, cited by Martins and Costa, 207, p. 138-139):

Figure 1: Backpacker typology (Source: Martins and Costa, 2017)

In their research done for the Australian backpacking market, Pearce et al. (2009) have included some supplementary groups and placed them under the umbrella of backpackers.

They consider that those who come on ‘Working Holiday’, who volunteer for causes and international students, as part
of the same group.

Backpackers’ Behaviour.

Food and drinks became a very important part of the whole backpacker experience, unlike in the time of hippie culture.

There is a demand for ‘authentic’, ‘exotic’ and local food at food markets and cafes
from backpackers’ side.

However, caterers also started to offer international dishes to backpackers
(Visser, 2004).

The accommodation that they use are mainly hostels, guest houses and homes of friends and relatives, or sometimes campsites. Hotels are said to be used less by backpackers (Hampton, 2013).

The activities they normally undertake include: cultural sightseeing, walking, staying at cafes, observing wildlife and nature, extreme sports and passive activities like hanging out (ATLAS Backpacker Research Group, 2002; cited by Vaals, 2013, p. 8).

The length of stay for backpackers is generally longer than other tourists. Across all the world regions, backpackers were reported to have an average trip of 73 days, but the length depends on their occupation, income and travel style (Richards and Wilson, 2004).

Backpackers tend to travel longer periods than conventional tourists. Hampton (2003) discovered that backpackers in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, had an average stay of 3.8 nights, while all other international tourists stayed 1.6 night.

The study of Malaysian Ministry of Tourism (2007, cited by Hampton, 2013, p. 52) discovered that the average length of stay in the country was 27.9 nights, and for other tourists 8.6 nights.

Hampton (2013) also found that in Vietnam and Thailand backpackers stay over 30 nights and that the length of stay for backpackers traveling within Asia is around 90 days.

The average daily expenditure for backpackers in 2002 was calculated to be around US$ 18 (Richards and Wilson, 2004), which is lower than average spending calculated for Europeans traveling to other international destinations of US$ 110 per night (Conrady and Buck, 2008).

Ministry of Tourism Malaysia (2007, cited by Hampton 2013, p.53) has done a study on backpackers in South-Asian region and found out that backpackers had an expenditure between US$ 15 and US$ 28 per day among all five countries. 50 % of that budget was spent on accommodation and food.

Table 3: Weekly expenditure for South-Asian countries by categories (Source: Hampton, 2013) And

And for South Africa, Rogerson (2007b) found an average daily expenditure of US$ 47 for backpackers.

Backpackers’ Route and Destinations.

According to Lue, Crompton and Fesenmaier (1993) backpackers use one of the four travel patterns while traveling:

The most popular destinations for backpackers are South-East Asia, Australia, New Zealand and South America (Vaals, 2013).

The most visited countries are Vietnam, Thailand, India, New Zealand, Australia, Turkey, France, the United Kingdom, Canada and the US (Richardson and Wilson, 2004).

The distribution of backpackers worldwide is quite dispersed.

In Africa, South Africa seems to be the most popular among backpackers, as well as Kenya and Tanzania.

Backpacker lodges are also seen in Ghana, Malawi, Namibia, Zambia, Lesotho and Uganda (Hampton, 2013).

Generally, most of the African continent is inaccessible to international tourists due to insecurity reasons and lack of infrastructure.

Latin America has been attractive to independent travelers since 1960s.

The travel pattern through Latin America is popularly called ’Gringo-Trail’ and it ranges from Mexico, through Guatemala and the rest of Central America, then further to Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, all the way to Patagonia in Chile and Argentina.

The Caribbean area is more concentrated on mass and luxury tourism and it is
less welcoming for backpackers (Hampton, 2013).

South Asia hosts big number of backpackers. The backpackers are mostly concentrated in South-East Asia, with Thailand being the major destination and connecting hub for other destinations and surrounding countries.

The access was enabled due to affordable Low-Cost Airlines. Besides Thailand, other famous backpacker destinations are Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam (Hampton,

According to one recent study (Luo et al 2012), youth hostels in China have appeared, with predominantly Western backpackers staying at the destination.

Regarding the Pacific region, backpackers are mostly found in Fiji and Samoa islands.

Recently, backpackers were recorded arriving with Low Costs from Australia. Jarvis (2012, cited by Hampton, 2013, p. 117) observes that this is due to the backpacker tourism in Australia and their Working Holiday system. Additionally, the South Pacific Tourism Organisation has started to embrace alternative travels to the region (SPTO, 2012, cited by Hampton, 2013, p. 117).

Around 70 % of backpackers used guidebooks as their main source of information (Richards and Wilson, 2004), which is significantly higher compared to other tourists (Conrady and Buck, 2008).


The new generation of backpackers is named flashpackers.

‘Flash’ refers to style, so it can be defined as travelling in style (Hannam and Diekmann, 2010).

Those are, basically, backpackers who travel more comfortably and with improved conditions. They are often guided by electronics.

In terms of demographics the change is seen in an increased age average or marital status. Flashpackers have larger travel budget but less time (Hannam and Diekmann, 2010).

Swart (2006) states that the most flashpackers were backpackers before, but now they require more comfort and privacy.

Flashpackers fit the age between 25 and 40 years old.

Their origin is mostly the UK, Scandinavia, Australia, the US, Canada, Germany and Ireland.

They are also described as flexible and independent and engage with the mainstream backpack culture (Hannam and Diekmann, 2010).

Avoiding other tourists and more contact with local people is also one of the main priorities (Reishonger, 2010, cited by Vaals, 2013, p.12).

Blogging, broadcasting high quality photos and videos and frequent usage of social media is associated with flashpackers.

They also tend to take more comfortable accommodation and mode of transport and therefore have higher spending than traditional backpackers (Swart, 2006).

Flashpackers also undertake more organized activities such as sightseeing tours, however they prefer informal and participatory activities (Hannam and Diekmann, 2010).

Deconstructing and Diversifying Backpackers.

Backpackers are often presented with negative generalization in the media instead of being increasingly diverse demographic group.

There might be some backpackers whose primary motivation to travel is self-gratification, but there are also others who show general interest in learningabout other peoples and environments (Sheyvens, 2002).

According to some authors, other types of alternative travelers like volunteers, gap year and exchange students, as well as language learners, are related to backpackers, mostly because of their mutual motivational factors for traveling.

Volunteer tourism is often referred to as ’justice’ or ’goodwill’ tourism. The main idea of this type of
tourism is that it brings positive impacts on people and host-destinations.

Most of the volunteer tourists would rather describe their activities as ’international service-learning’ where they focus on their personal development through meeting the community needs.

Volunteer tourism destinations mostly include home stays with locals, where the participants perform the activities for and with locals
(Sin, 2009).

Altruism is often associated with volunteer tourism. Broad (2003) mentions that altruism, as travel motivation for volunteer tourists, is often related to other motivational factors like recreation and self-development.

This means that volunteer tourism is not so different from conventional tourism. In his study about volunteer tourism and motivation Sin (2009) reveals that in some cases some travelersengage in volunteer tourism because it can be a cheap way to travel and experience.

Volunteer tourism is also called ’voluntourism’.

It is practiced by students and early professionals from developed countries, who travel to less developed countries to work as volunteers through nonprofit organisations and participate in projects.

There are various reasons why they undertake such travel: affordable way to travel for a longer period, required field experience for later careers, taking a break in between career or study choices and simply being useful during holidays.

There is also another group of voluntourists, ’lifestyle voluntoursts’, who find volunteer work in tourism industry rather than charity (Hampton and Daldeniz, 2010).

It is not familiar how high is the frequency of volunteer travelers, but in 2009 six million hits were recorded on internet search for ’volunteer projects abroad’ (Tomazos and Butloer, 2008).

In their research in Nicaragua and Malaysia, Hampton and Daldeniz (2010) have discovered that, for volunteers, altruistic motives were not their principal motives. The desire to travel and explore the world were more dominant factors for undertaking voluntourism, which the authors associate with backpacking.

Hampton (2013) believes that backpackers and gap year travelers share same motivation and activities for traveling.

He also mentions that travelers, who are involved in volunteering in developing countries, travel around as backpackers.

In the UK in 2003 around 50.000 people have taken the gap year, according to (Hampton and Daldeniz, 2010).

Simpson (2004) criticizes unskilled volunteering in developing countries and places it into gap year industry.

International students are also considered an important source of backpackers. A study from Australia (Pearce et al., 2009) provided the number of 543.898 enrolments of international students, paying the complete educational fee, which include Higher Education, Vocational Education, English Language Courses and School Exchange Programs.

Additionally, Lonely Planet Travelers Pulse Data (2008, cited by Pearce et al, 2009, p.17) have provided the sources for backpacking market in Australia and confirmed following types: Gap Year, Working holiday, Volunteer, Study abroad and Career break.

Backpackers and Socio-Economic Development.

Literature on Backpackers’ Contribution to Local Development and Poverty Alleviation.

The economic impact, as defined by Watson et al. (2007, cited by Martins and Costa, 2017, p.139), is “the net changes in new economic activity associated with an industry, event, or policy in an existing regional economy”.

Tourism is considered as one of the economic activities that allows the injection of currency into local, regional and national economy with direct and secondary impacts (Klijs et al., 2012).

According to Mitchell and Ashley (2009) there are 3 ways that tourism impacts the local economies:

direct employment in tourism, indirect earning from the non-tourism sectors and long-term changes in the economy, including environmental changes.

Hampton (1998) gives 3 arguments why backpackers are adequate segment for local development: facilities are mostly made of local material, little investment capital is needed and spread of economic benefits within communities is greater.

Rogerson (2001) also gives a few reasons why alternative tourism is better in comparison with mass tourism.

Firstly, it is a small-scale tourism often located in and organized by villages and communities, where the interaction between tourists and locals is more likely to occur with less social and cultural disruption.

Secondly, the ownership is carried out by local, small-scale businesses rather than foreign ones. And thirdly, he emphasizes local multiplier and community participation as one of its results.

Visser (2004) acknowledges that minimal infrastructure is required to service backpackers and the examples of their contribution can be seen in Goa, where ‘beach shacks’ were set up to sell food and drink to backpackers, in Bali families are renting out rooms, or homestays in Cape Town townships and villages.

He also mentions that women are more likely to operate informal tourism enterprises and that catering to backpackers doesn’t require formal qualifications, rather certain skills.

Furthermore, backpackers don’t feel the need for ‘Western goods’, unlike mass international tourists, and therefore the leakage with backpackers is lower than with other tourists.

Backpackers represent the segment of tourists that has a positive economic impact on local economies, because they spend the money through a wider area (Dayour et al., 2016), they rarely purchase luxury goods and spend more on local goods and services (Gibson and Connel, 2003, cited by Martins and Costa, 2017, p.140) and they are less likely to be a part of capital leakage (Dayour et al, 2016).

Additionally, the business activity around the youth tourism is mostly focused on small and medium enterprises (Hampton, 2013).

Some package tours are said to limit the contact with local people, while backpackers embrace spending locally. Sheyvens (2002) provides concrete situations on this issue.

Tourists that stay in higher class seaside resorts are likely to have private beach, that is often closed and protects the guest from locals. Another example is package traveling in India, where the guests are delivered to the hotel, while backpackers arrive at bus or train stations where local sellers can sell them goods (Goodwin 1999, cited by Sheyvens, 2002, p. 152).

However, not all the package tours are necessarily characterized as locally unfriendly. There has been an increase in tour operators, specifically in Germany, that emphasize partnership exclusively with local stakeholders and provide more contact with local people and communities (Aventoura, 2018).

Backpackers are spread in the remote and economically depressed regions of the country, where other tourists most of the time don’t access, so the distribution of their expenditure is more dispersed at the same time (Sheyvens, 2002).

Sheyvens (2002) mentions that backpackers are also likely to support certain economic enterprises developed by local communities. In New Zealand, some backpackers attend a one-day workshop in which they learn from Maori artisans the skill of bone carving.

The UNWTO & WYSE Travel Confederation (2010, cited by Martins and Costa, 2017, p.145) states that backpackers are characterized as loyal to destination, meaning that there is a higher probability to visit it again.

They mention that young people are described to be more resilient and not being subject to the market volatility and recovering more quickly of eventual crises.

Similar was stated by Rogerson (2010), who says that backpackers are the last to abandon a destination in situation of crises, while Peel & Steen (2007) claim they are the first to return when conditions improve.

When it comes to behaviour while traveling, there are some authors that label backpackers as unethical (Bradt, 1995: Jamieson, 1996; Noronha, 1999, cited by Sheyvens, 2002, p.147), mostly because of common belief that backpackers are careless in respecting other peoples’ values and traditions, being loud and inappropriate, as well as frequently using drugs.

This occurs due to the homogenous perception of backpackers and often identification with their predecessors, hippies.

On the other side, backpackers are said to be more ethical than the average tourists, because they intend to maintain traditional lifestyles (Richards and Wilson, 2004).

Backpacker Expenditure and Economic Impact.

Travel expenditure for backpackers is relatively unknown, while the figures often refer to all international visitors.

However, some authors believe that backpacker tourism has a higher multiplier than the conventional one, which is significant for local development.

As a matter of fact, some have
managed to prove that small- and medium-sized accommodation and lower-end tourism, in general, is good for local economies and communities (Erawan, 1994; Nuryanti, 2005, cited by Hampton, 2013, p. 52).

Little is known of how much of backpacker expenditure goes into the local communities.

Ashley’s study in Laos (2006) reports that around 30 % of backpackers’ expenditure goes directly and indirectly to the poor, and only 17 % of total expenditure of luxury tourists.

Another study revealed the expenditure of independent and group trekkers in the Annapurna Conservation Area Project in Nepal.

It turned out that group trekkers spent US$ 31 and independent ones only US$ 6.50.

However, independent trekkers were found to contribute much more to the local economy because they stayed in local lodges, consumed local food and were buying local goods (Sheyvens, 2002).

Something similar was noticed in Komodo National Park in Indonesia.

The tourists from cruise ships spent very little money in Komodo, while they had a lot of goods and services provided on their boats.

But budget tourists, used the government ferry and stayed at least one night on Komodo’s main island, so they spent two to three times more money than other tourists (Goodwin et al, 1998).

Ashley and Roe (1998) provide an example of backpackers contributing to local development in Namibia, where fuelwood and vegetables are sold to the campers.
Some argue that backpacker tourism is rather ‘low power’ among developing countries (Kayat, 2002).

There are studies in New Zealand and Australia that contradict these statements with an argument that they spend significant amount of money on the destinations, because they tend to spend longer time travelling, and therefore spend more money than any other category of tourist.

The research in Australia reveals an average expenditure of US$ 2.667, compared to an average for all tourists of US$ 1.272 (Haigh, 1995, cited by Sheyvens, 2002, p.151).

Holiday backpackers are said to be important in agriculture in Australia, because they participate in work activities and therefore the economic, social and environmental sustainability is reinforced (Iaquinto, 2015).

Backpacker Tourism and Economic Leakage and Linkage.

When local resources and skills are used in tourism, there can be important multiplier effects.

This is also linked to minimal leakage because of low overhead costs (Cater, 1996).

Hampton (2013) defines economic leakage in tourism as the loss of tourism earnings that ends up out of the country.

Mitchell and Ashley (2009) give two forms of leakages: the one as ‘share of tourist
that accrues overseas’ and ‘share of direct and indirect tourism activity that accrues overseas’.

It has been argued that conventional type of tourism creates high level of economic leakages, which can be especially noticed in the accommodation sector.

On the other hand, small-scale tourism like backpacking is said to create a small level of leakage, because it requires less foreign exchange involvement (Rodenburg 1981; Hampton, 2013).

The examples are locally owned places, where local people converted their homes for receiving tourists.

They only use local suppliers and materials when managing their business and they don’t depend on imported goods (Hampton, 1998).

Additionally, Pearce et al (2009) claim that the return of investment for backpacker accommodation is higher than other accommodation types.

Although there seems to be a high proportion of local ownership in backpacker sector, the examples of foreign owners and investors even in this sector have been observed in Mexico and South-East Asia (Schauber, 1995, cited by Hampton, 2013, p.60).

This usually occurs when destinations develop over time and foreign investors see the opportunity for business (Hampton, 2013).

The term economic linkage is also related to backpacker tourism and local development (Hampton, 2013). Mitchell and Ashley, (2009) define it as a way ‘to measure how tourism activity affects nontourism sectors’.

The example of the economic linkage can be the local home stay in Ecuador of the author of this paper, where many non-tourism related activities have been consumed on daily basis like shopping for groceries and medicine at corner shops and pharmacies or going to a hair salon.

However, in tourism it is often observed that the origin of some products is not local than rather imported.

Cohen (1982) was one of the first to mention that, noticing that food consumed in Thailand wasn’t local.

Backpackers and Sustainability.

Adventure and Backpacker Industry Conference, that hosted many backpacker stakeholders, have discussed on the future of backpacking market.

As a result, the following perspective and findings have been highlighted (Pearce et al, 2009):

Observing backpacking through sustainability factors (UNEP & UNWTO, 2005) – economic, social and environmental sustainability – it can be noted that this segment is beneficial for the economic development, because of its linkage and multiplier effects, low leakage and interacting and participation of local communities (Rodenburg 1981; Rogerson, 2001; Dayour et al, 2016).

Social sustainability among backpackers divides authors into the ones who believe that their interests for local culture is greater than the mass tourists, and those, who report their inappropriate and unethical behaviour, along with negative social impact for local communities (Bradt, 1995: Jamieson, 1996; Noronha, 1999, cited by Sheyvens, 2002, p.147).

The topic of backpackers and environmental sustainability has been seldom researched.

The implications are mostly that backpackers are more environmentally friendly than mass tourists (Hampton, 2013).

Backpacker Tourism and National Governments and Policies.

Why is Backpacker Tourism Not Welcomed?

It is well known that the Third World governments prefer high consuming tourists in their country (Sheyvens, 2002).

But they often seem to neglect that luxury tourism leads to country’s dependence on imported products, foreign investment and expatriate skills (Baskin 1995, cited by Sheyvens, 2002, p. 145).

In most of the less developing countries tourism planners are not showing any interest in developing backpacker tourism.

The sector is usually not mentioned in tourism strategies.

Some East Asian governments even tried to limit backpackers by shortening visa periods or raise their prices, while others have completely ignored it (Pearce et al, 2009).

One of the main reasons why backpackers are not welcomed or wanted by national governments is that they don’t bring a lot of revenue to the destination (Sheyvens, 2002).

However, there have been studies in New Zealand and Australia that contradict these statements with an argument that they spend significant amount of money on the destinations, because they tend to spend longer time travelling, and therefore spend more money than any other category of tourist.

The research in Australia reveals an average expenditure of US$ 2.667, compared to an average for all tourists of US$ 1.272 (Haigh, 1995, cited by Sheyvens, 2002, p.151).

Governments in the Third World countries have neglected that backpacker tourism can bring many local economic benefits to small-scale businesses and local communities.

By focusing only on highend tourism and tourists they often fail to include locals.

The tourism industry in many countries is dominated by foreign ownership and capital.

Investing in homestay accommodation and removing restrictive boundaries, for example, can embrace local development (Sheyvens, 2002).

Hampton (2003) stresses out that with tourist destination development foreign investments are more present, and some other types of tourists are wanted by governments.

Visser (2004) mentions that government planners target more conventional mass foreign tourists, because it is the best strategy to achieve economic and social development, and consequently, backpacker tourism is intentionally ignored.

Another issue is that backpacker tourism is a ‘bottom-top’ approach in tourism planning and development, which means that the power lies within local people and communities (Hall, 2008).

However, in many governments of developing world the ‘top-down’ approach is mostly used in tourism and planning, which gives the opportunity for allowing the large-scale, foreign tourism investment (Hampton, 2013).

It appears that some governments have slowly started to recognize the backpacker market and the benefits they bring. The Tourism Authority of Thailand has been welcoming backpackers in the last few years, because they seem to create local-level jobs. And the Australian Department of Tourism has invested US$ 3 million for developing backpacker market between 1993-1997 (Sheyvens, 2002).

Australian government has recognized backpackers as an important segment long time ago. Today, they represent around 20 % of the total international tourism income (Peel & Steen, 2007).

The change in attitude of South African authorities toward backpackers was noticed since 2006 (Rogerson, 2007a, 2007b), as it was with the Malaysian authorities in 2008 where 10% of international tourists are backpackers (Musa & Thirumoorthi, 2011).

Unlike Thailand, where backpackers are completely ignored by authorities, despite their numerous presence in the country, Malaysia has made a progress regarding the inclusion of backpacker sector.

In 2006, the Ministry of Tourism in Malaysia had conducted a study and reported the first data on backpackers, where it was mentioned that they were a potentially lucrative market.

In Malaysia the topic of backpackers wasn’t received well with state officials. However, as the tourism is planned on three levels in Malaysia, national, state and local level, backpackers found the support within national level, which encouraged home stays  (Hampton, 2013).

Up until today, no government in Latin America has recognized backpackers in their tourism strategies, while they mostly give priority to luxury tourism. There has been a lot of improvement with other alternative forms of tourism like ecotourism (Hampton, 2013).

Backpacker tourism, as any other form of tourism, requires planning and managing.

Some authors propose that non-governmental organizations can take over and monitor positive and negative impacts of backpacking tourism (Joppe 1996, cited by Sheyvens 2002, p. 159).

Tourism in Latin America.

Latin America has been attracting travellers since decades ago, but tourism is still not satisfactory on macro-level because of the poor public management, poverty and lack of education within society.

The tourism potential of Latin America is enormous due to its natural and cultural resources and diversity.

Amazon and the Andes are spread through most of South American region.

There are 36 natural and 91 cultural World Heritage sites and countries like Brazil, Costa Rica and Ecuador are considered as the most bio-diverse world regions.

Ancient ruins are spread all over Latin America, among the most famous ones are Machu Picchu in Peru and Pyramids in Mexico. Medical, religious and business tourism are also showing growth in the region.

The Caribbean islands are mostly attracting sun and sea tourists (UNESCO, 2013, cited by Netto & Trigo, 2015, p. 32).

Santana (2001) claims that South America is probably the least efficient world region when it comes to use of tourist resources.

Some other authors characterize it as the region with economic instability, high unemployment, income and social inequality, lack of safety and proper health conditions and political uncertainty (Strizzi & Meis, 2001).

Air transport has been described as poor for many countries in Latin America, with airport infrastructure being deficient (WEF, 2013).

Ground transport was also evaluated as poor, with many natural attractions that are inaccessible due to non-existent or bad conditions of roads.

The accommodation is diverse, from regular hotels, posadas, resorts, hostels and cruise ships, but the international hotel chains have appeared in many major Latin American cities (Netto & Trigo, 2015).

And more than half of international tourists in the Caribbean region are cruise visitors.

International chains and cruises have caused many issues on destinations like hostility, violence and social segregation (Boxill, 2004).

Locally owned companies are mostly found in gastronomy, ground operators, retail and some other tourism supporting services.

Some alternative forms of tourism like community-based tourism or eco-tourism have started to operate (Netto & Trigo, 2015).

Costa Rica is currently the leader of these types of activities.

The Americas region is the third most visited region in the world with 199 million arrivals in 2016.

Within the region, North America takes the first place with 131 million of international visits, followed by 33 million in South America, 25 million in the Caribbean region and about 11 million in Central America.

However, UNWTO (2017) places Mexico in the North American region, which accounts around 35 million of international visitors.

For this research it is relevant to integrate Mexico within the region of Latin America. This would then account the total of around 104 million international arrivals for Latin America in 2016.

The most visited countries are Mexico, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Chile and Argentina (UNWTO Highlights, 2017).

Figure 2: International tourism arrivals in Latin America from 1990 to 2016 (Source: Statista, 2017)

Regarding tourism expenditure in Latin America, the whole region has achieved the total of around US$ 90 billion for the international tourism receipts in 2016, comparing to the US$ 63 billion in the year 2010.

South America had the total of US$ 27 billion, Central America US$ 12 billion, the Caribbean achieved the most with US$ 30 billion and just Mexico accounted US$ 20 billion in 2016 (UNWTO Highlights, 2017).

Mexico, Brazil and Dominican Republic report the highest gain from tourism within Latin America.

Most of the international tourists (78 %) in Latin America are from the Americas region. Around 16 % is the European market (Netto & Trigo, 2015).

The average share of tourism in total exports for Caribbean islands, without Trinidad and Tobago, Puerto Rico and Cuba, is 43 %. In Central American region tourism share ranges from 8 % to 15.4 %. Belize, Costa Rica, Panama are the countries where tourism share is the highest and Honduras and Nicaragua the lowest.

Tourism takes relatively small part of total exports in South America with average ratio of 3.4 %. Suriname and Uruguay have the highest share of tourism, while Venezuela is at the bottom.

Mexico also reports the share of 3.4 % (World Bank, 2012).

Regarding the share of tourism income for the total GDP, tourism accounts 3.8 % of GDP in whole Latin America. In the Caribbean islands tourism achieves 4.5 % of GDP, while in Central America it accounts 4.4 %.

Only tourism in Mexico makes 5.7 % of the GDP. South American tourism income has the lowest share of 3.1 % of GDP.

Market misrepresentations and economic leakages may reduce the rate of conversion of tourism receipts into real income (Netto & Trigo, 2015).

Additionally, Central America and Caribbean show high level of imports dependence. The average ration between expenditure and imports is more than 50 % for these regions. In Mexico it is 34 % and South American countries have the lowest dependency rate, with less than 25 % (Netto & Trigo, 2015).

The UNWTO (2017) forecast is that by 2030 South America will have 30 % of increase of tourism market share, Central America about 50 %, while Caribbean is predicted to lose the share by 20 %.

Backpacker Tourism as Instrument for Socio-Economic Development in Latin America.

As this research paper deals with local development and poverty alleviation, it is important to mention
that today’s status of many countries throughout the continent was caused by the Latin American upper classes, who maintained their power with local military, with the support of the US.

That, of course, had a significant negative affect on economies and cultures and gave the privilege only to a
few social classes (Netto and Trigo, 2015).

Among all sectors, the effect was also reflected on tourism industry.

Netto and Trigo (2015) provide
the most common issues for tourism in Latin America that are relevant for this research:

According to the UNWTO, the main challenges to pose Latin American region and tourism are: development and improvement of infrastructure, travel facilitation, the improvement of air connectivity, safety and security, planning and development of new products and multi-destination tourism to meet the demands today’s tourists and emerging markets, the need for research and training, public-private partnerships to ensure a better coordination among stakeholders and to stimulate the development of destinations, and the implementation of sustainable principles and practices such as the inclusion of local and indigenous communities, empowerment of women and the protection of natural resources and heritage (UNWTO 2011b, 2013b, cited by Jafari, 2002, p. 34).

Backpackers represent the segment of tourists that has a positive economic impact on local economies, because they spend the money through a wider area (Dayour et al., 2016), they rarely purchase luxury goods and spend more on local goods and services (Gibson and Connel, 2003, cited by Martins and Costa, 2017, p.140) and they are less likely to be a part of capital leakage (Dayour et al, 2016).

The official definition of sustainable tourism given by the UNWTO (2005) is following:

“Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities”

Respectively to this definition and the reasons given on backpacker tourism and economic development, it appears that backpacker tourism fits most of the indicators of sustainable tourism.

This segment is beneficial for the economic development, because of its linkage and interacting with local communities (Rodenburg 1981; Rogerson, 2001; Dayour et al, 2016). 

And in terms of social sustainability the interest in local culture is said to be greater than the mass tourists’ (Bradt, 1995: Jamieson, 1996; Noronha, 1999, cited by Sheyvens, 2002, p.147).

Unfortunately, environmental effects from backpacker tourism haven’t been discussed or measured frequently in academic research (Hampton, 2013).

This research paper will deal with economic and social indicators of backpacker tourism in Latin America with strong belief that this type of tourism can solve issues and meet the needs of local economies and communities throughout the region.

However, the question if the backpacker segment is positively influencing local economies and alleviating poverty won’t be answered in this research paper, as a larger scope of work and variables would be necessary to do that.

As indicated before, its purpose is to fill in the gaps in academic research related to this topic and contribute to future studies that will hopefully give the final answer to this question.


To achieve a better comprehension and overview on today’s backpacker segment, other types of
travellers needed to be included in this research group.

According to the most recent studies on backpackers (Pearce et al., 2009; Sin 2009; Hampton and Daldeniz, 2010), volunteers, international and gap-year students are also considered to be backpackers, because they share the same travel motivation.

Within this research, a larger sample was obtained through creating categories and subcategories, which involved classical backpackers, as well as volunteers, exchange and language students and interns.

The goal was to label all the sub-categories as backpackers by observing their travel motivation.

The motivation was examined through assessing backpackers’ motivational factors to travel (altruistic, self-development and explorative).

By comparing classical backpackers, on the
one hand, and other categories, on the other hand, it can be noticed that both categories share the
same motivations (Figure 6.).

Therefore, the primary motivational factors for both categories are to explore, to experience and sightseeing.

The qualitative data also reveals the overlap of travel
motivations, where the motivation for classical backpacking activities intersect with the other ones.

Having said that, the goal of this variable was achieved and different sub-segments of backpackers in Latin America – classical backpackers, volunteers and international students – were confirmed.

Inaddition, altruism appeared to be the least important motivation for volunteer backpackers, which supports other authors on the concept of ‘voluntourists’ (Hampton and Daldeniz, 2010).

Regarding demographics, backpackers are said to come from Western, developed countries (Muzaini & Hamzah, 2006; Teo and Long, 2006).

Most of the backpackers in Latin America (80 %) are from developed countries, with the majority coming from Western Europe and North America.

German and the US nationality appear as the most common ones among them. The rest (20 %) come from developing countries and they mostly originate from Latin America.

Female backpackers represent the biggest group (67 %) in comparison to males (33 %), which is similar to Pearce’s (2009) finding of backpackers in Australia and slightly different from Visser’s study in South Africa (2004).

Backpackers are said to be young people, usually between 25 and 35 years old, with 26-36 % being students (Richard and Wilson, 2004).

This findings in this study show that backpackers in Latin America are mostly young people (88 %), aged between 18-34 years old, with almost half of them being students (49 %).

However, there is also a considerable number of employed backpackers (34%), which is an indicator of a segment change in recent years. Furthermore, backpackers are also described as highly educated (Vaals, 2013).

This research confirms this aspect also for backpackers in Latin America, where more than 80 % of backpackers have reported university education.

Finally, most of the respondents (78 %) reported earnings of less than US$ 1000 whereas the rest (22 %) declared to be earning more than US$ 1000 per month.

However, this aspect might have been biased due to a potential issue of non-disclosure.

Backpackers could also have another source for their travel budget apart from their earnings, but the origin of the travel budget wasn’t examined in this research as it goes beyond its scope.

Travel patterns discovered among backpackers in Latin America can be divided into ‘base camp pattern’, ‘regional tour pattern’ and ‘trip chaining pattern’ (Lue, Crompton and Fesenmaier. 1993).

Volunteer and students fit the base camp pattern. That means that they keep one destination as their base and travel to surrounding destinations (Figure 11 and 12).

Within this pattern the most popular bases are Costa Rica and Mexico. The rest of backpackers (classical backpackers) use the combination of the regional tour pattern and the trip chaining pattern.

Some of them follow a certain trail within Central or South America (Figure 13 and 14), while the others choose the combination of countries of both regions (Figure 15).

The ‘Gringo-trail’ (Figure 16) is the only travel pattern in Latin America mentioned in the academic literature (Hampton, 2013), which is undertaken only by a small number of backpackers in this research.

The most common among classical backpackers is the regional tour pattern in South America. Additionally, some backpackers in Latin America can spontaneously switch their routes when meeting and interacting with other backpackers.

In that case, they don’t seem to follow any logical pattern. Lastly, the most popular destinations for backpackers to visit in Latin America are Peru, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Ecuador.

Richards and Wilson (2004) estimate the length of stay of 10.4 weeks for backpackers across all the world regions.

Hampton (2013) reported 12.8 weeks for backpackers traveling within Asia, as well as the average stay for Vietnam (4.3 weeks) and Malaysia (3.9 weeks). In South Africa, backpackers stay more than 4.3 weeks, on average (Visser, 2004), and in Australia 26 weeks (Pearce et al., 2009).

This drastic difference between figures in Australia and other destinations is a result of the lack of backpacker diversification in other regions and studies.

Australia registered a big number of Working Holiday backpackers, as well as other types of international students and volunteers in its data collection, which increases the length of stay for the whole segment.

This was also done within this research and the average stay accounted for backpackers in Latin America was 15.7 weeks.

Classical backpackers would normally travel less time (12.5 weeks), while volunteers and international students – exchange students, language students and interns – more (20.8 weeks).

Correlation analysis showed that those who are employed tend to travel less time and those who are students or unemployed more.

It also showed that Latin American backpackers tend to travel less time, while North Americans more.

The average daily expenditure for backpackers in 2002 was calculated to be around US$ 18 (Richards and Wilson, 2004).

The Malaysian Ministry of Tourism (2007, cited by Hampton 2013, p.53) reports that the backpacker expenditure in South-Asian region is between US$ 15 and US$ 28 per day among all five countries.

In South Africa the expenditure is calculated to be approximately US$50 (Visser, 2004, Rogerson 2007b).

And whereas in Australia the average daily expenditure is between US$ 35 and US$ 74 (Pearce et al, 2009).

For this study, travel expenditure in Latin America was then measured considering all the aspects of travel consumption except air transportation and travel insurance.

Findings show that backpackers spend on average US$ 198 per week while traveling in Latin America, specifically US$ 28 on daily basis. Assessing backpacker sub-segments,

classical backpackers would normally spend around US$ 31 while volunteers, language and exchange students and interns US$ 25 per day.

Age and income are features of backpackers that are correlated to their travel expenditure. This means backpackers are more likely to spend more if they are older and have a bigger income.

The majority of those who reported a higher income are employed and normally travel less time but spend more.

This behaviour can be related to the newlycoined group of flashpackers, backpackers who are said to be older, have a higher budget, less time and prefer to travel more comfortably (Hannam and Diekmann, 2010).

Volunteers and international students report smaller expenditure since some travel aspects are provided by their hosts or they had certain benefits as students.

Comparing figures between backpackers in different world regions doesn’t provide valid conclusions, due to many factors like different living costs and standards within single regions or countries.

However, the higher backpacker expenditure in developed countries like Australia over lower ones in Latin America or South Asia is plausible.

The quantitative data for different aspects of travels (accommodation, food and beverage, transportation and other goods) was not examined within thisresearch, but estimations provided by qualitative data show that backpackers in Latin America are rather a heterogenous group when it comes to expenditure.

Some of the aspects like local tours were reaching up to US$ 200, which is what the conventional tourist would also spend within his programme (Aventoura, 2018).

Backpackers tend to travel more widely than other tourists, therefore their distribution is more disperse, which also means that their money is spent in more remote areas (Dayour et al., 2016).

Backpackers in Latin America do prefer to travel more widely and alternatively, while looking for interaction with locals and avoiding crowded tourist places.

It was also mentioned for backpackers that they are more resilient, not being subject to the market volatility and recovering even more quickly of eventual crises (The UNWTO & WYSE Travel Confederation, 2010, cited by Martins and Costa, 2017, p.145), as well as being more likely to repeat their visitation in the future (Peel and Steel, 2007).

All of that is confirmed by respondents of this research, with the majority of them reporting visiting the region at least 2 times already and being willing to do it again even after a crisis at a certain destination.

Regarding their social impact, some suggest that backpackers do not care about local customs and acceptable behaviour, and instead showing blatant disregard for social norms (Bradt, 1995: Jamieson, 1996; Noronha, 1999, cited by Sheyvens, 2002, p.147).

Two types of conflicts appeared from interviews with backpackers. One type of conflict is described as a typical misunderstandings or conflicting situations among all types of tourists, so in this case they cannot only be labelled to backpackers.

What is common among backpackers and considered inappropriate is partying and drinking, being loud in open spaces like backpacker enclaves and around hostels.

Apart from that, backpackers of this study reported frequent interaction and contacts with locals during their travel in Latin America.

This concludes the first set of information, provided on backpackers in Latin America, which also answers RQ 1: What is the profile, travel pattern and behaviour of backpackers in Latin America?

Backpackers represent a segment of tourists, who has a positive economic impact on local economies, because they spend the money in a wider area (Dayour et al., 2016), they rarely purchaseluxury goods and spend more on local goods and services (Gibson and Connel, 2003, cited by Martins and Costa, 2017, p.140) and less likely to be a part of capital leakage (Dayour et al, 2016).

Backpackers of this research stated that they were frequently consuming locally while traveling.

Specifically, accommodation, transportation and food and beverage were purchased frequently, while other goods (e.g. souvenirs, clothes, equipment) occasionally.

Apart from that, backpackers reported that they consider local consumption important while they are traveling.

When it comes to leakage, small-scale tourism like backpacking is said to create a small level of leakage, because it requires less foreign exchange involvement (Rodenburg 1981; Hampton, 2013).

In this research, the leakage can be observed through 2 phases of traveling. In the organizational phase the leakage was observed through the usage of intermediaries.

The majority of backpackers didn’t use any intermediary to prepare their travel, while self-organising it individually.

Out of those who used it, only volunteer backpackers represent a potential leakage by using the services of volunteer organisations, which could pose a threat or limit local consumption for some travel aspects like accommodation and trips.

In the ‘at the destination’ phase the leakage was observed through local consumption of previously mentioned aspects.

The types of accommodation used by backpackers were hostels, Airbnb, Couchsurfing, lodges, host families and private accommodation.

Those were all reported as locally owned or managed, which means there was a direct influx of income to local providers.

In one occasion, the foreign ownership issue appeared for Costa Rica.

Food and beverage was rated as the most frequently consumed local travel aspect.

The following places appear as the places for food consumption: local restaurants, street markets, street vendors, local farmer markets, as well as cooking by themselves. Local bars and clubs were mentioned as entertainment choices.

The consumption at international food chains and franchises was not practiced.

There were also backpackers who were intentionally avoiding these places, which is another indicator of direct influx of currency for food and entertainment providers. Excluding flights, backpackers mentioned using inland buses, city transportation, taxis and bike rentals.

Transportation companies usually operate as local and public, so the contribution to the local economy is unquestionable. In addition to this, some means of transportation like public buses were rarely used by conventional tourists in Latin America, so the backpackers might be their only additional income source.

As for the other goods, these were consumed occasionally due to the high mobility and lack of luggage capacity of backpackers.

By other goods is meant souvenirs, clothes and gifts. Another interesting aspect observed with backpackers in Latin America were the tours taken with local tour operators.

Almost all interviewed backpackers had purchased a local tour at least one time. Informal tours by locals were also mentioned.

This is another contribution of backpackers’ expenditure to local businesses and communities and represents a recent phenomenon among backpackers, which is closer to the description of flashpackers, a group said to undertake more organized activities such as sightseeing tours and prefer informal and participatory activities (Hannam and Diekmann, 2010).

Furthermore, all backpackers stated that they didn´t have the need to purchase luxury goods during their stay and that they were satisfied only with local products. The activity of bargaining was also associated with backpackers (Riley, 1988).

This was examined within qualitative interviews and it can be concluded that backpackers don’t lower the value of products and services.

They are initially offered a higher price than the actual value and expected to bargain by vendors.

The above-mentioned discussed results provided answers for RQ 2 of this research: What is backpackers’ behaviour and perception when it comes to local consumption in Latin America?

Hampton (2013) distinguishes 2 types of backpacker enclaves according to their location: urban backpacker enclaves and coastal resort enclaves.

The assumption for RQ 3 was that backpacker enclaves are located in urban areas of Latin America. Backpackers confirmed this assumption, stating that most of the backpackers they encountered were in cities.

However, coastal enclaves were also mentioned as gathering places. That is not surprising, because most of the famous backpacker trails worldwide include beach destinations where backpackers create their ‘establishment’.

A smaller backpacker community was also mentioned in the rural areas, where mostly volunteers are present.

Hostels and bars are the typical places where backpackers interact, but also home parties and gatherings at locals’, and vice versa, locals joining ‘gringo’ circles.

When it comes to social impacts, some authors mention that backpackers are selective, and that desire to interact with locals doesn’t correspond to their actions (Westerhausen, 2002; Visser, 2004; Hampton, 2013), others claim that they stay within their establishments (Cohen, 1973).

This doesn’t apply to respondents of this study, as they report high level of interaction with locals and to be mostly activities outside of their accommodation.

For backpackers who are on the road for a longer period, less interaction and more passive activities within the accommodation was mentioned.

According to the results of this study, backpackers in Latin America are staying 15.7 weeks on average and spend approximately US$ 198 per week, then their total travel expenditure, without air travel costs and travel insurance, accounts US$ 3.109 for the whole stay.

The average revenue generated per tourist in Latin America is around US$ 1.175 (Statista, 2015). If the numbers of this study represent the tendency of the population of backpackers’, then it can be concluded that backpackers don´t seem to be the segment that lowers the average revenue per tourist, and therefore cannot be considered as ‘low power’ tourists (Kayat, 2002).

However, to withdraw more efficient conclusions about total expenditure of backpackers it is necessary to determine how much is their share in the total tourist expenditure in a region or a country, but unfortunately these statistics are still non-existing (Hampton, 2013).

Additionally, backpackers in Latin America tend to repeat their travel.

According to the qualitative data obtained, the biggest share of the amount spent by backpackers should result in a direct contribution to the local economy, due to the low leakage and high local consumption reported.

Quantitative data on expenditure per travel unit individually were not examined due to the limitations explained in the beginning of the thesis.

These and the positive results of qualitative data within this research, in combination with economic indicators from the supply side, could finally answer the question if backpackers indeed have a positive socio-economic impact and contribute to poverty alleviation in Latin America.


In the beginning of this Master’s Thesis the lack of academic literature on backpackers in Latin America was identified. Hence, the goal of this research was to obtain more information regarding backpackers’ profile, behaviour and travel pattern in this world region in order to contribute to the future research on backpackers and socio-economic development.

In accordance with the goal of the thesis and literature gaps, 3 research questions were created.

RQ 1 intended to confirm the existence of different types of backpackers, examine their demographic characteristics, travel patterns, as well as economic and social indicators.

RQ 2 examined backpackers’ behaviour and attitude when it comes to local consumption.

And lastly, RQ 3 provides information on backpacker enclaves in Latin America.

Regarding backpackers’ profile and features three types of backpackers have been identified in Latin America: classical backpackers – who travel within one or different destinations without being tied to any of them; volunteer backpackers and international students-who are situated in one base country from where they travel to other places.

Backpackers in Latin America are young, educated people, mostly students and coming from developed Western regions.

However, there is also a considerable number of employed backpackers, as well as those coming from developing countries in Latin America.

Classical backpackers spend less time traveling than volunteers and international students, but they spend slightly more money.

A part of them was discovered to possess attributes that were related to, what in academic literature is defined as flashpackers, usually within the type of classical

Flashpackers are rather associated with the change of the segment’s behaviour in
recent years than being a specific type of backpackers.

It is very possible that this behaviour is becoming, and will become even more in the future, a form of tourism massification.

Backpackers in Latin America in this research report sustainable behaviour when it comes to economic and social indicators.

They consume locally across all travel aspects and the leakage is shown to be low.

However, these conclusions require quantitative data support.

The way they travel, specifically their behaviour and patterns are also considered to have a positive socio-economic effect when compared to what it was written in the academic literature, but there seems to be a slight concern when it comes to their behaviour and partying within backpacker enclaves, which consequently affects local communities.

Backpacker enclaves were also located in Latin America. They are mostly situated in urban environments, but coastal and rural enclaves were also mentioned.

It appears that there is a great interaction between backpackers and locals within these enclaves and backpackers are not necessarily staying only inside of their accommodation.

There is an opportunity for tourism planners and local businesses to establish facilities in these places.

This thesis has successfully managed to answer all 3 research questions created in the beginning.

The topic of backpackers and their socio-economic impact hasn’t been widely researched among literature.

The lack of data is mostly seen in providing statistical characteristics of the backpacker segment. 

The data collected so far referred to the regions of South-East Asia, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

With more information on backpackers in Latin America this research has created a foundation for other, more focused research for the same segment and region and contributed to the final goal of proving whether backpackers have a positive impact on socio-economic development and poverty alleviation.

It is very important to keep investigating the backpacker segment, as this form of traveling is becoming more popular in tourism industry due to the absence of intermediary usage by young people.

Furthermore, the backpacker segment has changed significantly since its first appearance and nowadays it represents a more heterogenous group of travellers, with the noticeable change in demographics, spending, travel duration and behaviour.

It is especially important to emphasize the inclusion of backpackers in tourism planning and policies, because of its potential ability to make a positive impact on national economies and local communities in developing world.

In today’s globalized world, where the phenomenon of outsourcing has taken over the industries of developing countries worldwide, tourism might be the only solution for keeping national economies and local ownership alive.

Respectively to the official UNWTO definition of sustainable tourism, backpacker tourism should fit well the sustainable concept, because of its low leakage and high level of local consumption.

Nevertheless, a larger scope of research needs to be performed as a combination of already existing data and more quantitative and qualitative data on direct and indirect impact on economies and local communities, so the there is enough proof and motivation for undertaking concrete actions like implementing the segment into national, regional and local strategies.

Some References.

Brenner, Ludger; Fricke, Jörn (2007): The evolution of backpacker destinations. The case of Zipolite, Mexico. In International journal of tourism research 9 (3), pp. 217–230. DOI:

Dayour, Frederick; Adongo, Charles Atanga; Taale, Francis (2016): Determinants of
backpackers’ expenditure. In Tourism management perspectives
17, pp. 36–43. DOI: 10.1016/j.tmp.2015.11.003.

Graci, Sonya (2013): Collaboration and Partnership Development for Sustainable Tourism. In Tourism Geographies 15 (1), pp. 25–42. DOI: 10.1080/14616688.2012.675513.

Statista (2015): Revenue per capita generated by the tourism industry in selected countries in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2015. Available online at

statistics/736195/tourism-revenue-per-capita-latin-america-caribbean/, checked on 5/07/2018 

UNWTO (2017): UNWTO Tourism Highlights 2017 Edition. World Tourism Organization. Available online at



Highlights_2017.pdf, checked on 4/14/2018.

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