August 21st 2006
Backpacking group gains traction
If "Flash packers" or "Settlers and conquerors" are terms you are familiar with then there is a good chance you are involved in the backpacking industry. They were some of the buzz words, Billabong Sanctuary and Bungalow Bay's, Bob Flemming, Chair of the recently formed Magnetic Island and Townsville Backpacking Association, used at an informal get-together for their members at Base Backpackers last Friday night.
Flash Packers refer to the emerging youth market, particularly Asia including Japan and Korea, but also North America. According to Bob, "This market will take ten years to reach full potential, but will be huge. Flash packers are very concerned about health and cleanliness and will pay a premium to ensure quality accommodation. They are looking for an educational experience. They are not party animals."
More in the party mood however were the Backpacking Association members who gathered at Base Backpackers for drinks, nibblies and banter. Unlike the party animals of some of their customer base, however, there were clear signs that some sophisticated strategies were being digested along with the beers.
Bob Flemming was actually paraphrasing a speech by Professor Phillip Pearce, Head of School of Tourism, JCU, whose paper, Trends in Backpacking, given earlier this month on the Island, identified many other species of visitor and how to cater for them in an industry which undergoes constant change to position itself for the budget tourist dollar.
Conquerors apparently wish to see as many places as possible and have a tick list of places to see and things to do. According to Professor Pearce, we are seeing a lot less of these. Settlers, on the other hand, do the opposite and stay in one place a longer length of time. They will, apparently select a limited number of places in Australia to visit based on the uniqueness of the destination.
In a party mood for business were: Johnno McMaster, Chris Morris,
Scott Renfree, Amanda Reid and Brett Flemming
The local Association is clearly upbeat about the future of their industry and the party atmosphere on Friday night underlined the mood. The optimism seems to have a number of underlying causes including increased visitor numbers last wet season and what it perceives as the sizeable gap to be filled between the two high visitor destinations of the Whitsudays to our south and the Cairns region to our north.
In February this year, Bob Flemming told the fledgling organisation, "There are 300,000 backpackers making their way between Airlie Beach and Cairns each year. With some smart marketing we can turn our region into the "must do" destination rather than a "stop over" for a few. This will not be a mega dollar exercise, we don't have to go to the UK and Europe, these potential customers are all outside our backdoor."
The push is clearly on, among the tourist trade-driven businesses to organise and take advantage of the group's collective focus and resources.
Committee member, Michelle Hood from Reef HQ reiterated the benefits of membership which focus on its website www.backpackingqueensland.com.au which is designed to funnel potential flash packers, conquerors and settlers our way.
Another speaker was Chris Morris from Sunferries who reported on the organisation's recent fundraising which included $800 for businesses affected by Cyclone Larry and, more recently, $3,500 raised at the MI Country Club for a backpacking brochure of which 30,000 will be printed.
Brett Flemming addresses the group
Brett Flemming from Bungalow Bay told the group just how much it had grown - tripling in size in under a year. "Anyone who makes backpacker dollars should join," he said.
With over thirty backpacker-related businesspeople attending the nibbles and drinks night on Friday and with promises from many more to hop on board, the organisation is clearly gaining traction.
For more information about the Magnetic Island and Townsville Backpaking Association contact Michelle Hood: M.Hood@gbrmpa.gov.au
Story & photos: George Hirst
Photo at top: Bungalow's Ali Angus and Jo Marks just wanted to have fun - and did!
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