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Some Controversial Observations About World Travelers

Updated on February 28, 2017

Travellers - a very homogenous group

Having travelled both in foreign countries and in my own, I can't help making some observations about the type of person who travels for fun/leisure - in particular, the stunning lack of diversity amongst your average tourist.

My sons and I travelled the South island of New Zealand recently (my own country) staying in Department of Conservation and private camp grounds, in a tent. Overwhelmingly our travelling companions were young, white, fit-looking Europeans, in the 18-25 yr old age group. I didn't see a single black or coloured person at a camp ground, nor any Asians, Maori or Pacific Islanders. Here is one blogger's hilarious take on the ups and downs of being a black American woman travelling in Europe.

I'd welcome comments and feedback on why this is the case. I have my own theories, but I'd be interested in others' views as well.

Your average tourist is:

* Aged between 18 and 30 (or 45-70, a second and demographically distinct group)

* White or Asian (overwhelmingly)

* Middle or upper class (belongs to, or parents with, wealthy professional background)

Does it all boil down to money? Those who have the money are the tourists, and those without do not?

I don't think it's that simple. I've not seen any African-American professionals travelling in Asia, for example. If it's only down to money, why are they not travelling?

I've not seen any disabled people (at least not in significant numbers). I have a mild walking disability, but it hasn't stopped me travelling on my own, as well as in groups.

Where are the indigenous travellers -the Maori, Pacific Islanders, native Hawaiians, Native Americans, and so on? Invisible.

Sub-group: The 20-something backpacker

This creature's natural habitat is Germany, France, or some other Central or North European country.

He or she has just finished school and is either living at home or has recently moved out and begun tertiary study. Often this is the first significant 'overseas experience'.

Dressed in smart-casual looking attire of chinos or cargo shorts (guys) and yoga pants/t-shirt or crop top for girls, rounded off with aviator glasses and an expensive looking camera, the "Gen Z Euro Backpacker', as we'll call him/her, craves exciting, adventurous experiences on a tight budget, so is drawn to adventure destinations like Australia, New Zealand and South-East Asia.

A typical trip for this tourist would last from 2 to 8 months, and involve buying up a converted 7-seater/campervan fitted out with mattresses and cooking gear, for a road trip in Australasia. He or she will try bungy-jumping, hiking, rafting and kayaking, zip-lining and various adventurous water-sports. Although this type's English is usually pretty good, s/he will tend to engage mainly with other young European backpackers en route, rather than seeking to really interact with the locals in a meaningful way.

Although I've seen plenty of Asian travellers in other demographic groups, I've not seen many at all in this 'backpacker' group. Why not? I'd be interested to hear.

Feel free to argue with me on this stereotype, but you'll need to provide proof to convince me otherwise!

Type 2: White middle class family with kids

The second common type of tourist is a white, middle class American, English or European family with two or three young kids. They'll be travelling in more style and comfort than the backpackers (typically in hotels offering babysitting services and kids clubs), and will plan activities that suit the kids, such as swimming, zoo visits and theme parks.

Again in this demographic I've seen a stunning lack of social and racial diversity -these families are overwhelmingly white and middle class, with well behaved, well educated children. They can best be described as 'nice and well-intentioned', and often will try to understand and engage with the culture of the places they're visiting, if only in a fairly limited, superficial way. They may feel some guilt about the differential between their position and experience of the world, and the relative poverty and need of the inhabitants of the countries they visit. They may try "voluntourism", or spend an extended period of time in homestays.

Their worst faults may be conspicuous consumption, and well meaning condescension towards locals and guides they interact with. I've sometimes seen this type of tourist poking a camera in a local child's face without consent -thus treating them like a kind of 'human zoo'.

Type 3: Retired couple

Again overwhelmingly white and middle class, the next type of world traveller is the sixty or 70 something, retired, baby-boomer generation couple, who have salted away a fair amount of money to enjoy a comfortable and experience-filled retirement, and plan to enjoy their twilight years travelling the world. Their kids have grown up and built their own families, and their parents may have died and left them a financial legacy that allowed them to become debt free, and travel.

They may buy a boat, or typically, a motorhome, to allow them to fulfill their dream. Like the families with kids, they'll tend to travel in comfort and style, and unlike the backpackers and families, will often prefer comfortable, first-world destinations, in preference to more adventurous ones. There are some exceptions to this -typically retired single or divorced women, who are often attracted to adventure travel and third world destinations, but the retired couples tend to be more conservative.

Again there seems no logic behind the lack of racial and social diversity in this demographic group. I could count on a single hand the number of older couples of colour I've seen travelling the world (apart from Chinese and other East Asians, who are enthusiastic tourists).

Type 4: Solo adventure traveller

The final type I've identified is the 'Solo Adventure Traveller'. Although primarily young, this group can actually range from 30-70. Many backpackers are young also, but I've classified them as a separate group, as more often than not they travel in couples or friend groups rather than solo.

This group mostly comprises men who seeking thrilling, dangerous or adrenalin-fueled experiences like mountain-climbing and cross country skiing or surfing. These are usually white, professional men, who are either single by choice or circumstance, or who've left their less adventurous spouse or partner at home while they indulge their passion.

Like the other traveler groups, this group is also very homogenous - tending to comprise mostly wealthy, white European, English, American or Australasian men, who have a large budget for travel and adventure. The typical member of this group is a company CEO or CFO, or medical specialist, who is slim, fit and healthy.

OK so what's the problem?

Is this is a solution without a problem, you might ask? Does it really matter if world travellers/tourists as a group do not reflect the wide social and racial diversity of the world at large (or even the first world -if you regard that as the 'pool' tourists are drawn from)?

Well maybe not. But if, like me, you love travel with a passion, and believe that the rest of the world is a delicious smorgasbord that should be available to be sampled by all who wish to do so, then you might wonder why certain groups (e.g. people of colour, those on lower incomes, those with disabilities) just don't seem to have been given a seat at the table.

Don't get me started on the demographics of travel bloggers....


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