Contiki-style: are young Aussies really still doing group tours?

A new research report on the youth travel market underscores how we’ve ridden the strength of the Aussie dollar to become a nation of travellers.

Youth group travel packager Contiki’s 2011 research, the Style Miles Report, reveals that no fewer than 84 per cent of the 18-to-35s are planning a holiday, with travel far outstripping most other consumer purchases by value on the to-do list.

The report finds that three million under-35s plan overseas travel in the next three to four years, with 52 per cent of them planning more than one trip. That mirrors the exodus of the wider population, reckoned by Tourism Australia’s forecasters to be 7.8 million overseas-bound in 2011.

Wow! More than a third of Australia’s population will spend time overseas this year and, if you toss in the local number approaching 60 million domestic one-way air trips, we’re flying interstate on average about three times every two years as well.

In the Contiki report, Asia is the most popular region for young Australians with 52 per cent having visited it in the last three to four years. The most popular destination was Bangkok, with 48 per cent of travellers to Asia keen to visit the Thai capital.

Domestic travel also proved popular with 2.5 million in the same age group planning to make a domestic trip.

Food, music, art and fashion are the most important factors for young people when planning a trip. Food was most important, with 96 per cent saying that experiencing local food was an important element of travel. Music came second, with 77 per cent of travellers keen to experience the local music or visit a musical landmark.

Travellers became more interested in the arts when on holiday with 74 per cent of 18-35s taking in museums, galleries, theatres and dance during the trip, considerably more than the 59 per cent who took an interest when at home. Fashion was a priority for 57 per cent, with shopping increasingly popular with the recent strength of the Australian dollar.

Of course, you’d expect Contiki to be pushing its own barrow. It reckons escorted travel is the most popular method of travel, with 66 per cent of young Aussies preferring that type of trip, although with some tailor-made experiences included.

I’m having trouble buying that: two-thirds of young Australians are travelling on group tours?

“A once-popular mode of travel that is on the decline is a totally independent trip,” the Contiki report says. “31 per cent prefer to take on all the responsibility and planning for their trips – a number that has proven to be decreasing, according to Contiki Travel Trends research over the past five years. Perhaps they’ve realised that the time and money spent on arranging everything else is better spent shopping for the edgiest fashion on Melrose Avenue in LA or seeing Cirque du Soleil’s latest Beatles-themed show in Las Vegas”.

Sorry. That sounds to me like anti-internet propaganda pitched against the fact that so many more people are now able to do their own travel research right through to booking the trip, including all the different elements, online at home.

If I had to have a guess, I’d say that at least two-thirds of people now travel independently. But I’m not in Contiki’s target demographic. Maybe travelling in organised groups is winning out these days: after all, it’s a great way way to meet new people.

Are you planning a trip this year? Are you booking and planning it all yourself? Have you recently converted to the group tour way of going or have you always sworn by it? Are you an independent traveller who prefer to take chances and see what happens?