backpackers struggling with Australia’s high costs

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“There is literally nowhere available!” Michel von Düsterlho, a 26-year-old backpacker from Germany, says he looked for hostels.

Von Düsterlho, who arrived in Australia on a working holiday visa (WHM), follows a path trodden for decades by young travelers in search of sunnier climes, golden beaches and the chance to work casually in class. of road.

In 2019, the WHM scheme attracted over 300,000 travelers and was Australia’s second largest tourism market by spend after China.

Related: Planes, trains and automobiles: comparing the cost, speed and emissions of Sydney-Melbourne journeys

But as backpackers return from pandemic lockdowns, they face significantly higher prices for travel and accommodation as the country’s tourism industry rebounds from Covid.

Many accommodation providers have been closed during 2020 and 2021, especially those catering to backpackers, so there are fewer places for visitors.

“We have seen a reduction in capacity across the hostel market – in some areas more than half of the properties have disappeared,” said YHA Australia chief executive Paul McGrath. Across Australia, 19 of YHA’s properties have closed permanently, while Tourism Adventure Group, the owner of Nomads hostels, has closed or sold six of its 16 Australian properties during the pandemic. Now its prices have increased by almost 50%.

A far cry from the barefoot, self-paced lifestyle that attracts many travelers to Australia, backpackers are reporting housing stress and have rethought their plans. “It’s almost impossible to find a place to stay without booking in advance…it makes me quite anxious,” says Hannah Storm from the Netherlands. She now books at least two weeks in advance, to save money and find better rated accommodation. “I was thinking of a road trip but not sure if that’s doable with the need to pay for accommodation along the way and the price of fuel right now.”

Beth Stone learned the hard way about the dangers of booking at the last minute. “I paid £100 [$180] for one night in a dormitory of 100 people in Surfers Paradise! This was the second place I went to after arriving and didn’t pre-book – it was either that or somewhere with no reviews.

Surfers Paradise Beach on the Gold Coast. Photograph: Jason O’Brien/EPA

India Taylor, who works as a receptionist at a hostel in Byron Bay in exchange for accommodation, says her job is basically to turn people away because the hostel is full. “Conditions in some of the other hostels I’ve stayed at are horrible,” she says. “But owners can get away with it because they know they will get bookings anyway. There is no incentive to improve.

K’Dee Melfi started a world tour in January and spent the last month in Australia. She knew it would be more expensive than the other countries she had visited but she was still taken by surprise. Even places with bad reviews online “are unavailable because everyone is so desperate,” she says. “It was actually cheaper to book a serviced apartment [in Melbourne] and share it with three people than staying in an eight bed dorm.”

I joke with my guys that backpackers now come with Prada suitcases

Paul McGrath, YHA

Other backpackers report having to couch surf between bookings to avoid paying unaffordable prices. Many had to find work much sooner than they originally planned to cover the costs.

Thanks to a significant pent-up desire to travel, rising prices have not stopped visitors from coming to Australia. Airlines and accommodation providers are reporting strong demand over the Christmas and summer period. Searches for accommodation on the Kayak travel website rose 127% in September and October 2022 compared to the same period in 2019, while Australian domestic airfares hit highs not seen since 2004.

Related: Seeing the Stars: The Astronomical Rise of Australia’s Dark Sky Tourism

YHA, like many hostels, raises prices when demand increases, so prices may not have peaked yet. McGrath believes there will be an increase in arrivals over the next few months as airfares come down and international travel stabilizes.

There are still tens of thousands of travelers who have obtained WHM visas but have not yet entered Australia. McGrath suspects they are waiting for cheaper flights.

YHA is now focused on broadening its appeal to a clientele that won’t be put off by higher prices. They are testing coworking spaces within hostels. With the rise of the digital nomad, McGrath believes the traditional image of the backpacker is now outdated.

“I joke with my guys that backpackers are now arriving with Prada suitcases…the notion of the working holidaymaker is changing and we’ve changed to reflect that.”

Despite the costs, hardly anyone speaks with regret of their trip to Australia. As Von Düsterlho says: “It can be expensive but I’m still having a good time – it’s better than being stuck at home with Covid.”

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