7 March 2001

The home countries of backpackers visiting Australia greatly influence the areas and experiences they seek while on holiday, according to a University of Queensland study.

For her PhD thesis with the School of Geography, Planning and Architecture, lecturer Dr Olivia Jenkins interviewed backpackers before, during and after their visits to Australia to explore whether the actual images of the country lived up to pre-trip expectations.

"Tourist destination images held by travellers before their trip were shown to have a remarkable impact on their behaviour while in Australia and these images derived from tourist information literature as well as their country of origin," she said.

Her study is believed to be the first in-depth look at the structure, evolution and influence of tourist destination images on backpacker behaviour and drew on literature from a wide range of disciplines including anthropology, geography, sociology, planning, marketing and psychology.

"It informs marketing agencies such as the Australian Tourist Commission of the significance of particular visual icons that are central to the image of Australia," Dr Jenkins said.

Two major images or icons regarded highly by all three groups of backpackers interviewed for the first phase of the study-Canadians, Dutch and Japanese-were the image of Uluru and the Sydney Opera House. Surprisingly (considering its symbolic importance to Australian people), the Sydney Harbour Bridge was not nearly as well-known as the Opera House as a quintessential Australian tourism icon among international backpacker tourists.

"Differences were that the Dutch-emanating from a small, densely populated country- sought wide, open spaces and desert locations, common backdrops to television programs such as ?The Flying Doctors' while in Australia; and the Canadians-more used to wide open spaces at home-sought a beach culture and activities such as learn-to-surf classes," Dr Jenkins said.

"The Japanese backpackers were keen to learn the English language so as to secure better jobs when they returned home, to experience a Western society and to view Australia's unusual wildlife."

In the second part of her study, Dr Jenkins interviewed Canadian backpackers on their return from holidays in Australia and found that the stereotypical pre-travel images that they held of Australia, such as the palm-fringed, yellow sand surf beaches had actually been strengthened by their experiences here.

"The study shows the importance of protecting our tourism icons and suggests more visual impact studies need to be carried out when development is proposed near them. For example, the so-called ?toaster' development near the Sydney Opera House may have downgraded the scenic impact of the harbour-side area for tourists," she said.

A seasoned traveller herself, having backpacked through Asia, Africa, Europe and Canada, Dr Jenkins also gave a group of backpackers cameras and found many of the photographs they took in Sydney were almost identical both in subject and composition.

"These people were from different countries and were not travelling together yet took replica photographs of icons such as Manly Beach and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. This shows their efforts to replicate the images they have visualised before their trips and to produce proof to friends and family back home that they have visited internationally well-known sites," she said.

Dr Jenkins recently returned from six months assisting the Nepal Tourist Board to produce a national tourism research plan. She was one of 90 young ambassadors developing community projects throughout the Asia-Pacific.

The Federal Government's $10 million Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development Program identifies and places skilled young Australians aged 18-30 on development assignments throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

For information on the Youth Ambassador Program please see

For more information, contact Dr Olivia Jenkins (telephone 02 9552 6129), Shirley Glaister at UQ Communications (telephone 07 3365 2339) or email communications@mailbox.uq.edu.au.