Backpackers `only want sex and fast food'

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BACKPACKERS, far from being conscientious, culture-seeking explorers, are now little different to package holiday tourists, according to new research.

The caring, sharing, eco-friendly travellers of the Sixties who claimed the moral high ground have been replaced by cost-conscious youths in search of sun, sand, sex - and pizza.Many are merely low-budget holidaymakers in search of hedonistic pleasure rather than spiritual enlightenment.

The change in attitude has been traced by the magazine Tourism Concern, which has observed Western "ghettos" which backpackers have formed across several continents, alienating themselves from the countries they visit.

Dr Heba Aziz, who encountered such a community whilst studying the Bedouins in Egypt, said: "The `tourist bubble' is no longer a term that exclusively describes the environment in which package tourists like to live. It was evident that backpackers in Dahab were living in their own flying bubble."

Dr Aziz, of London's Roehampton Institute, said these travellers remained exclusively in beachside cafes which offered identical menus. "Egyptian food was nowhere to be found," she said. "Rather than being interested in the history and culture of the place, they could have been anywhere in the world. They have long been depicted as non-conformist travellers - the ones who want to mix with the local culture. But few of the backpackers in Dahab encounter local people in a non-commercial setting."

This generation relies on the well-charted routes from the Lonely Planet guidebooks, creating another form of "institutionalised tourism".

William Sutcliffe, who took a satirical look at backpackers in his book, Are You Experienced?, agreed. "The real difference is that it used to be an act of rebellion. Those who went to India were rejecting Western culture. Now it is an act of conformity."

In Goa - as in so many backpacker haunts - the government is now trying to distance itself from the low-budget tourists in favour of a more up- market variety. This is not necessarily for the best, says Tony Wheeler, founder of the Lonely Planet books, who believes many backpackers still do genuinely care about the local culture. "It brings money closer to ground level, unlike tourism through international tour operators where the money often goes back to the sending country."

But he has little sympathy for the superiority complex that some "travellers" assume over package holdiaymakers. "There isn't any difference. We're always tourists."