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Backpackers and empowered local communities: natural allies in the struggle for sustainability and local control?

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Drifter-style tourism world-wide has become a sanitized and institutionalized tourism alternative. Over the last thirty years it has developed its own tourism myth and spawned a mobile sub-culture of international backpackers. Utilizing an almost entirely separate tourism infrastructure, these travellers follow distinctive trails of their own. Dotted along these trails, like magnets in a stream of charged particles, lie sub-cultural meeting places. These traveller centres are more than simply infrastructure or scenery; their 'fame', their world status as 'must do' places, transcends their physical attributes as they develop, maintain and then frequently loose this mythical quality.

At the same time, the local inhabitants of those communities have frequently represented little more than pawns in a much larger game controlled by outsiders. However, while in the past this 'resort cycle' was accepted as inevitable, there have been a number of instances where local residents' resistance against the intended transformation of their community has resulted in attempts to slow down if not terminate this cycle altogether. This study of Byron Bay, Australia, suggests that backpackers may well represent natural allies as well as an alternative market for those communities engaged in the struggle for sustainability and local control.

Keywords: backpacker; community development; drifter tourism; resort cycle; tourism infrastructure

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2003-02-01

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