Wed, Sep 21, 2005 - Page 5 News List

`Champagne' backpackers bring change to Sydney

THE GUARDIAN , SYDNEY

With gold cards in the pockets of their designer jeans, a new breed of British tourists are dragging Australia's A$2.5 billion (US$1.9 billion) backpacker industry from the fringe to the mainstream.

Powered by the relative might of the Pound Sterling, travelers are abandoning the traditional backpacker haunts at Bondi and Coogee and moving en masse into exclusive harborside mansions.

A study by the University of Western Sydney and five Sydney councils is exploring how these so-called champagne backpackers are changing the face of Australia's biggest city.

Bondi's decades-old infrastructure is already struggling to meet the needs of the 21st-century backpacker.

Cash cow

Britons account for more than 25 percent of the backpackers in Australia, ahead of those from the US, Germany, New Zealand, Japan and Canada. Rich and well-educated, they are a "million-dollar cog in Sydney's economy," according to the chief researcher of the study, Fiona Allon.

But Allon says their move upmarket is having widespread consequences: beachside hostels, cafes and restaurants are struggling as their former patrons head for the suburbs; and the elderly residents of well-to-do eastern suburbs such as Woollahra, Bellevue Hill and Potts Point, and even west of the city at Pyrmont, are upset that neighborhood homes have become de facto backpacker lodgings.

Complaints

The complaints made to councils have increased by more than 10 percent during the past year. Woollahra council is investigating 10 reports of illegal backpacker accommodation in its area.

Allon said councils were reporting a growing phenomenon of backpackers leasing a large house then subletting to up to 20 others.

"They then use all the facilities in the luxury apartment blocks, such as gym and sauna," she said.

Councils are also picking up the tab for dumped cars, increased rubbish and vandalism. Last year Randwick council removed 1,800 dumped cars and blames most of them on travelers. Nathan Ryan, Sydney city council's senior environmental health officer, said research into the social tensions could lead to tougher planning policies.

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