Pankaj Parwanda, Co-Founder, goSTOPS, writes about welcoming the backpacker culture in the post-pandemic travel sector.
‘You Only Live Once’ or YOLO, has become the driving mantra for millennials and GenZ’s. Especially as they look at an ever-evolving world through a completely different lens. Stirred by rapidly evolving technology and societal patterns, this has resulted in a generation with different beliefs, unique travel patterns and personal motivations.
Youth travel has, thus, become one of the fastest-growing sectors of the travel market globally. This, in turn, has led to a rise in demand for pocket-friendly shared spaces among young travellers in India.
The often-overlooked segment of youth travel is now the driving force behind the changing travel landscape, significant in both its social and economic value.
Youth, in their quest for unique experiences are bringing new and off-beat locations, thus aiding local businesses and bringing some much-needed economic development to these regions.
A larger benefit from the evolving travel preferences is the development of young minds and how they shape the travellers to be more tolerant and sustainable.
The effect of COVID-19 on travel
Until early 2020, businesses were thriving, markets were bustling and people were ticking off their bucket list of places to visit, and making the most out of their travel experiences. Unarguably, COVID-19 put a halt to travel – be it for business or leisure. Schools, colleges, hotels and entire countries even, took a pause.
The tourism and the hospitality industries took a major hit . In light of the pandemic, airports, destinations, hotel lobbies and corridors were all left rather empty, when the restrictions made bookings take a nosedive.
Revenge travel, solo trips and workcations
While the travel industry was affected drastically by the pandemic, the prolonged lockdown and quarantines had a deep impact on the youth of the nation. They were forced to adapt to new ways of working and creating their own version of the new normal.
The pent-up frustration of being confined at home for months on end gave rise to the phenomenon of ‘revenge travel,’ complemented by trends like workcations and staycations, especially to destinations such as Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
Solo travel also gained a lot of momentum, with individuals seeking to spend time by themselves, while being able to socialise and ‘vibe’ with other travellers. What is interesting is that the average duration of stay, spends on travel experiences and holiday frequency have also gone up, with a need for flexibility in options.
As we learn to live alongside a pandemic, travel is returning to its old form in some small ways. Short, periodic getaways are the new norm, at least until offices continue WFH or flexi-day formats. This renewed vigour to travel has lifted the spirits of the industry as a whole, especially backpacker hostels that are perfectly poised to meet the new travel demands.
The evolution of the ‘backpacking’ culture in India
Backpackers today are not driven by the limits of a checklist. The desire to explore and build life experiences are largely what influences their holiday and travel decisions. Enjoying an immersive stay and understanding new culture & lifestyles better in the local community takes precedence over following the typical tourist’s itinerary.
They are fast coming together to form their own tribes, driven by camaraderie and the benefits of a shared economy. Backpackers internationally have been aware of these benefits for a while, but an increasing number of Indians too, are today preferring youth/backpacker hostels over other options.
The rooms, shared dormitories and common areas of hostels are ideal for interacting freely and exchanging knowledge, information and creating lasting memories with exciting new friends, which strengthen the community as a whole.
Revive and thrive; adapting to changing demands
Today, digital-first services are given more priority, and safety protocols are strictly followed so that travellers have a ‘wholesome’ travel and community experience.
From daily temperature checks, staff covered in protective gear, frequent fumigation and sanitisation drives to switching to single-use biodegradable cutlery, backpacker hostels are going all out to up their game. They also actively promote responsible travel habits and practices, by offering effective ways to be more sustainable while travelling.
The travel industry has changed monumentally but from here on, it is only onwards and upwards! How we evolve and adapt to these changing times will decide the future of the industry. But backpacker hostels – with their emphasis on accessibility, affordability and community, are definitely a positive step towards a new horizon.