The Flash Pack: Budget accomodation
Young travellers are discovering quality digs that don't bust the budget, says Amy Winston
Sunday 13 August 2006
Since middle-aged professionals first began putting their careers on hold and charging round-the-world airline tickets to their Amex cards in the early 1980s, "flashpacking" has been regarded as the preserve of the more mature traveller.
Preferring lavish hotels to the backpacker's dormitory, flashpackers not only boast an adventurous spirit but enjoy the safety net of a healthy bank balance when the going gets tough.
But for those whose tender years mean a credit rating that may not yet match their boundless imagination, joining the flashpacker ranks is proving increasingly easy. In Thailand, for example, a perennial favourite for budget travellers, luxurious surroundings needn't mean breaking the bank. A night at one of the country's growing number of boutique hotels, for example, costs less than the £40 or so you'd pay to stay in a UK Travelodge. The result is a new breed of younger, hipper flashpackers, a group who are turning their backs on the fleapit dorms of Bangkok's Khao San Road.
"The twentysomething flashpacker accounts for around 20 per cent of our overall bookings," says Nikki Davies, marketing manager for Trailfinders, the backpacking specialist. "These are people who have already backpacked as students and now want to splash out on booking a nice hotel.
"They might not have the finances of a 30- or 40-year-old but in somewhere like Thailand, the jump between budget and mid-range hotels is not as big."
While rooms at a city budget hotel start at around £11 a night, push the boat out to £37 and you could spend the night in mid-range splendour.
According to Dan Linstead, editor of Wanderlust, the adventure travel magazine, the advent of the younger flashpacker is down to the blurring of distinctions between suitcase and backpacking holidays.
"Conventional backpacker territories have broken down," he says. "While travellers are still booking independent flights and exploring adventurous locations, they prefer to stay in upmarket hotels."
The reason for this, Linstead believes, is that today's travellers in their twenties are used to far higher standards of living than their predecessors on the original hippy trail. "A flashpacker pays in money rather than in time," says Linstead, "condensing what a backpacker spends in a year into a two- or three-week break". While a gap-year student might spend more than £5,000 during a year out, a committed flashpacker can get through at least £1,500 in a few weeks.
And the rise of the boutique hotel is giving them the opportunity to do it in comfort. "There are now so many new venues opening in Thailand that we find it difficult keeping track," says Abigail Silver, a spokesperson for the Tourism Authority of Thailand. Among the more well- known is Bangkok's Metropolitan hotel, which opened in 2003, or the city's recently opened Ibrik Resort. With only three rooms, prices start at as little as £40.
And it is not just the big cities that are meeting the demand for high-end, affordable accommodation. Thailand is desperate for visitor numbers to return to where they were before the 2004 tsunami, and budget quality accommodation is helping attract flashpackers back to areas like Phuket, a location once famed for run-down hostels. Silver is keen to stress that while backpackers remain an essential part of Thailand's tourist trade, an interesting development has been the repeat business from those who, having taken the budget path, are returning as flashpackers.
And it's not only the hotels that are helping young flashpackers challenge Thailand's budget stereotypes. Uber-trendy Club 87 is just one of a new breed of bars where Bangkok's movers and shakers can sip cocktails till late without melting their credit cards. Elsewhere, they watch al fresco sunsets from the Sirocco Bar, located on the 64th floor of a skyscraper. With both venues offering achingly hip - and affordable - alternatives to the neon strip bars and cheap eateries, the new breed of flashpacker means the Thai experience is a-changin'.
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