A very interesting article in the Times recently on how India is rebranding as a luxury destination.
But one bit got my goat. Amitabh Kant, the “guru” responsible for the rebranding noted the following:
“All that I’m against is getting in too many backpackers,” Mr Kant said, adding that his dislike of budget tourists is nothing personal but based on financial pragmatism. “For a country with India’s overstretched infrastructure, backpackers do more damage than good to the economy. Particularly the British variety.”
Balderdash. Especially for tourist economies trying to get (back) on their feet, or trying to extend their market or push new areas of their country. Look at burgeoning tourism in eastern Europe through the 90s. Look at the Balkans over the last four years. Who were the front line after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Yugoslav troubles? Backpackers. Columbia is supposed to be one of the world’s most up-and-coming destinations. Who’s leading the charge? Backpackers. The Silk routes, Indonesia, swathes of Africa… same deal.
Ok, I agree that ethno-rahs swinging poi and getting shit-faced in Goa doesn’t really corroberate my point. But still… ignore the backpacker at your peril. When the Indian authorities decide that the stunning (but politically tumultuous) Kashmir region is ready to be pushed at tourists, it won’t be Ramada or Best Western who start the process. It will be backpackers. Consistently, they are the front line.
A few interesting follow-ups on the story: Paul Carvill on the tricky art of national rebranding, and Brave New Traveller on “A New and Improved India”