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November 30, 2021

Backpackers bypassing Byron

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Byron Shire Council has committed to finding places for vanpackers to stay legally. Photo greynomads.com.au
Backpackers spent 300,000 fewer nights on the north coast in the year to June 2016, according to the latest International Visitor Survey. Photo greynomads.com.au

Chris Dobney

North Coast Destination Network chairman Cameron Arnold says that more work needs to be done to lure backpackers back to the NSW north coast after recent International Visitor Survey (IVS) figures revealed some 4,000 fewer visited the region in the year to June, spending almost 300,000 fewer nights.

The organisation Willing Workers On Organic Farms (WWOOF) says it has seen numbers drop by half since volunteering was excluded as a way of earning a second year working holiday visa last year.

Mr Arnold said the new figures do not even take into account the impact of the controversial ‘backpacker tax’, which has been put on hold pending an inquiry.

‘The NSW Business Chamber Tourism Advisory Committee, of which I’m a member, is working on that particular issue and I’m hopeful we can get some change in approach,’ he told Echonetdaily.

Mr Arnold also believes Australia has to take up the challenge posed by an increasing number of South East Asian countries which have ‘specifically targeted fantastic adventure tourism at very competitive prices.’

He said that a reasonable number of people were still visiting the region but the plummet in visitor nights in particular needed to be addressed.

‘We need a new campaign promoting Australia as one of the world’s safest destinations.’

Asked if he thought some Byron locals would be pleased to see fewer backpackers in the town, Mr Arnold said, ‘I’ve never heard that comment.’

‘I think backpackers are quintessentially part of Byron. Such a major part of what makes Byron different [to other country towns] is the many different nationalities travelling through,’ he said.

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  1. Personally I think it would be a refreshing change to see less backpackers and more families – remember the good ol’ days when families went on holidays to the seaside? Well they still do, but I think they by-pass Byron because there are too many – you guessed it – backpackers. (And it’s too expensive in general).

    I am sure all the alcohol outlets would have dozens of reasons why I am wrong.

    One just has to look at the contents of the Woolies trolley wending their way down Ewingsdale Road to see what backpackers are into – there are slabs of it.

    What WOULD be interesting is to survey backpackers to find out how many of their “tourist” dollars are spent on food and clothes and candles and artwork and souvenirs and all the wonderful things that Byron has to offer – and how much is spent on getting pissed.

    Ask backpackers how many of them come to explore the incredible Arakwal culture?

    The question I think needs to be asked is do we want quality dollars or quantity dollars?

    Do the other businesses in town want a cut of the alcohol pie?

    • Eve,
      In the Good Old Days we had a religious movement called the Roman Catholics and they on average had up to about six children because they did not believe in birth control. The average family contained about three children so to get to that average you can imagine how many Catholics there were. And State Aid.
      The average family now contains about 1.6 children and reducing so there has to be an abstaining of sex in marriage as we are approaching the Chinese “one child” family of “1” as the number of children further reduces.
      That means there is not ‘The Family” like there once was. We are not producing children to replace the parents. We need to get busy to stop Australia disappearing. As our former Treasurer Peter Costello said “One for Mum, one for Dad and one for the country”

  2. Byron Bay lost its alternative credentials when paid parking was introduced in December 2015. Locals stopped visiting and cultural diversity was wiped out overnight. It is now a much more uptight place and far more amendable to Gold Coast type tourism. Which seemed to be the plan.

    If you a backpacker looking for a booze up Byron Bay is still the go to destination in New South Wales. But many backpackers (along other types of tourists) visit Byron to witness an alternative culture. Paid parking has knocked all that on the head. Is it any wonder that the number of young overseas tourists visiting Byron Bay has dropped?

  3. Mark Arnold can hear it from me that the drop in backpackers, particularly those who illegally park in residential streets and leave their urine, faeces and waste, particularly empty beer bottles, is a very welcome development. Perhaps Mr Arnold should coax them into staying in his glam tents rather than camping on our streets.

  4. Byron was always a wonderful location, world famous for its casual, alternate lifestyle and local craft shops, buskers and street musicians, but look what the council has done to it now with its new “improvements”…

    Virtually all the alternate culture has been driven out by the ridiculously overbearing police force who are utterly disrespectful to any and all they meet (who are not wearing a suit or driving a bmw). No more sunset drum circles on the beach – a decades long byron tradition and huge tourist attraction that was enjoyed by all. Paid one hour only parking to snatch up every penny possible from anyone who sets foot in town for any reason at all. All the nice shops replace with the same ones you find everywhere else so the town has lost all its previous character and charm (Councils do seem to love turning everywhere into everywhere else) All of the old friendly nightlife has been replaced by the councils wish for late night ibiza type night clubs and the inevitable street violence that goes with it. How charming and welcoming for everyone 🙂 There is a traffic jam to get into town that adds an extra 30 minutes to a 2 minute drive from the highway. A new suburb that nobody wanted is being built that will add another 2000 cars to that congestion everyday… And of course, when you get into town there is an armed goon squad always wandering the streets making sure everyone is walking between the lines and all times and terrorizing them if they do not, and then you can buy some overpriced food which HAS to be overpriced so the poor vendors can make the ultra exorbitant rents they are forced to pay for their shops… and even the local amenities block has been replaced with a steel tardis with disturbing digital tones playing that makes you want to run traumatized and screaming, to another location as soon as the door slides open to let you enter.

    Byron Bay was truly, truly great… World famously so…. now its homogenized, now its the same as every other fake, cheesy tourist town in any country on earth with a beach. Can you supply even one good reason anyone traveling the country would really want to visit Byron Bay now? …

    Great job Byron council. Well done with your “improvements”

    oh yes… the beach is ok…. but there are many, many others…

  5. I agree about the paid parking. How can you relax and enjoy a place if you have to move your car every hour or two?

    Byron us in grave danger of losing its spirit from all kinds of different angles.

    Greed of property owners charging exorbitant rent ( because they can) is pushing the creative, nature loving types who generally earn less money out, and encouraging more affluent city visitors, shop owners and residents who can afford the rent.

    This is changing the delicate dynamic that has made Byron Bay the unique place it is known for.

    Councillors, investors and key decision makers may quickly learn that all the encouragement and grants, acknowledgements in the world will not help keep the artists, musicians, environment warriors, therapists and healers and indigenous custodians in Byron if the new laws and existing regulations aren’t adjusted accordingly to make it enticing and affordable to stay in the area.

  6. Eve,

    Paid parking has ended ordinary North Coast families visiting Byron Bay beaches.

    Also, there is no getting away from the fact that 300,000 nights represents an enormous drop in tourism revenue. It can only have been caused by paid parking. Many backpackers travel by road.

    Furthermore, not all backpackers are drunkards. Far from it. For example, most young Italian, French and Greeks view excessive alcohol consumption as shameful.

    In addition to the loss of revenue from backpackers, the loss of local day trippers has also hurt the town.

    I hope people will not vote for council members that facilitated paid parking. They were not elected to cut town revenue and drive small businesses to the wall. Goodness knows what they may do next.

  7. Actually, I travel a LOT and I take that last bit back because sitting back and thinking about it, Byron bay is actually in fact, very likely the most uninspiring beachside town I can think of, anywhere in the world now… There is no no relaxed, kick back, fun feeling there now (apart from designated council approved fun) and thus no real reason to want to go there anymore… and those facts spread fast on the backpacker grape vine.


  8. Its more likely the unrelenting drug tests & the invasive sniffer dogs that turn young people off. As well as the overpriced camping charges. Maybe Byron has got too greedy, more likely that than the paid parking…

  9. I agree with PB, overseas and other tourists are turned of Byron by the intensive policing of paid parking, the clamp down on caravans and campers generally, and the high levels of violence in the town at weekends. The inability of the local government to eradicate the prowling shark menace is another turn-off that shouldn’t be dismissed.

  10. What an interesting article. So apparently 4,000 fewer backpackers visited the region in the year to June, spending almost 300,000 fewer nights. Somehow that figure doesn’t really add up, unless backpackers spend 75 nights in Byron! Considering that the average stay in Australia for all international backpackers is 80 mights, then that would mean that the ones that come to Byron are supposedly spending all bar 5 nights here in Byron and nowhere else? No, this actually can’t even possibly be right. When you consider that there were 582,000 international overnight backpacker visitors travelled to Australia in the year ending June 2014, accounting for 46.8 million nights in any accommodation, this works out to an average of 80 nights each, so Cameron Arnold’s figure has to be wrong! The question was posed in this article whether some Byron locals would be pleased to see fewer backpackers in the town, to which Cameron Arnold answered, ‘I’ve never heard that comment’… well, maybe he just never asked the right people! He also said ‘I think backpackers are quintessentially part of Byron. Such a major part of what makes Byron different [to other country towns] is the many different nationalities travelling through’… He also says that the plummet in visitor nights in particular needed to be addressed…. hmmmmm… I remember a time not that long ago when Byron had visitors who actually had money to spend, maybe they are the ones we should be encouraging back here, the ones that bring their families, the older retired travellers, the ones who can afford more than just Woolies 2 min noodles and raiding the op-shops for clothes and bedding for their wicked vans… in fact, maybe it’s these wicked vans that have seen the decline in backpacker ‘overnight’ stays in actual paid-for accommodation in Byron. Well, maybe it could also be that the backpackers also think this place is way too expensive for them? Anyway… ill thought-out and obviously incorrect information in this article… In my opinion, let the backpackers bypass Byron! The place would be better off without them.

  11. My experience of overseas back packers is that mostly they are gracious and expect Byron Shire to be an oasis of environmentalism. So they are very surprised and disappointed when they discover that Byron Bay has vastly less solar on commercial properties then you would find in even poor countries like Turkey and Spain as well as it containing a particularly ugly and highly commercial CBD full of shops that you will find in Brisbane Sydney Melbourne and even their own countries.
    They also discover it’s become a favourite for yobbo daytrippers from Brisbane and the Gold Coast looking for a swim and beer and sex and if they don’t get it perhaps fight each other.
    This may be true of Australian backpackers in hostels. I wouldn’t know because I don’t meet them. But I regularly meet the yobs from out of town.
    Whatever happened to the brilliant campaign to promote all of Byron Shire by our Councils Tourism Advisory Committee on which I served diligently for at least four years.
    A highly disappointing experience and time wasting experience.
    Jim Beatson
    Byron Bay

  12. Yes June was 30% down on last years June, but July and August have been 40% up on last year. (I manage a backpackers). I wouldn’t stress always happens in an Olympic year about a month before the event. Byron is still most backpackers number one destination in OZ!

  13. Unfortunately greed has killed the golden goose. I loved Byron Shire and lived there for most of my life. Too many saw it as an investment opportunity and not their home. I knew the day I got stuck behind some overgrown selfish SUV that was double parked on Lawson St because some selfish person was picking up take away coffees before dropping the kids to school that the place was gone. Too much money and not enough common decency. The Bay still owns my heart, but the golden egg has been sold off.

  14. Expensive paid parking everywhere… no wonder Byron is losing out, I am a local and now I will drive right through Byron to Mullumbimby or Brunswick Heads for lunch rather than pay extortionate parking fee’s. I also find the parking meters that insist on us entering our License plate numbers creepy.

  15. I too believe the trend in Byron to make it a mini gold coast experience offering exclusive hospitality and accomodation the rich and yuppie schoolies and daytrippers driven to getting drunk and seeking sex because there’s nothing else to do. The culture seekers, families and backpackers have been wiped from all businesses in the area as they dont bring the money. As has the alternative Byron culture, unique in its diversity of performers, festivities and morals. This evidence is clear as no local events and performers are supported anymore, locals, indigenous people and musicians have been driven out by the cost of living and expensive accommodation. The Byron “scene” is no more… instead Byron is now a conservative capital driven enterprise. What backpackers would travel there to experience elite accommodation and nothing unique or of cultural value, true they might as well seek Australian culture elsewhere rather than deal with drunk schoolies or party goers…or people who won’t smile at you in the street?

  16. I do not spend a lot of time in Byron, but my experience from watching trendy places is: young people go to where it is cheap and affordable until their frequenting a place makes it popular, then it becomes expensive and finally ‘out of reach’ and they find a new place. Thinking of Paddington in Sydney in the 70s, when it got to expensive Balmain was the place… the wrong side of the Bridge ( I rented one of the waterfront units near East Balmain Wharf for $40 a week, 2 bedrooms. And a year later bought a house for $9500, yes, no 0000s missing here. The place was bussing with young people and artists and then it got expensive. Newtown was next I think… Yes I see Byron enduring this trend as well.

  17. It’s not just paid parking keeping backpackers away – but also Council’s tough/rough enforcement of the no street camping policy and the extortionate price of the caravan parks hasn’t helped either. The persistence of Local Area Commander’s War on Drugs and everpresent road blocks and sniffer dogs has certainly made Byron feel more like a police state that a hippy paradise. These govt policy actively discourage festival goers and young backpackers who afterall are the target “criminal” group.

    So we’re getting more upmarket yuppies in search of the green alternative lifestyle, buying up big. The average family can no longer afford byron’s overpriced accommodation and more discerning tourists notice the underlying grunge and decay – the carparks and toilet blocks – and wonder what they are paying for.

    Byron has been loved to death and the policing policies are just the last nails in the coffin for young backpackers.

  18. Wait a minute – how many backpackers arrive by bus & the bus-that-pretends-to-replace-the rail ? These people aren’t affected by paid parking one jot. (And if they are Europeans they are totally used to paid parking.)

    Perhaps years of knocking down cute wooden house and replacing them with 3-storey brick/glass buildings has played a role.

    Perhaps the high costs of everything, made worse by the exchange rate, mean that Byron really has little special to offer.

  19. My husband and I are property owners in the Byron Shire. Currently we are travelling around Australia in a caravan with the faithful 14yr old dog. Before we left Byron approx. April 2014, paid parking was just starting and it was obvious then, that it was strictly a revenue raiser. I have the advantage of being kept in touch with what is happening back home because of the echo being available to me on-line. When I first came to Byron in 1991 with my then young teenage daughter, it was a place of wonder for me with a vibe that was fabulous and relaxed. Now after all those years have passed, so has my love of Byron. For a Council who insisted on NO MULTI-NATIONALS coming into town, what a joke that has been, as now, we have soooo many of the clothing and food chains that are MULTI-NATIONALS. Sure they have prevented Maccas and KFC so far, but for how much longer?
    The footpaths are uneven and the place is dirty, the roads are shocking, along with the so called INFRASTRUCTURE. Where pray-tell is there a Mothers baby-change room in Town? And so much for the new toilet block Whoppee. It is quite understandable that Families don’t want to come and stay, the cost is astronomical, Byron is now a place for the Young. No sense of road rules from the many overseas English language students is enough to drive you nuts. They just go into a state of being brain dead. If they did what they do on the roads in Byron, when, in their own country, they would not live long, I’m sure.

    We are looking for another place to live. The land rates that have paid for so many court cases over the years since we came to town, has contributed to no real infrastructure to improve or appeal to new visitors and residents to town. Mind you this is over a period of 25yrs.
    During our time away we have seen many small towns that Shine, with their approach to pride of their town and encouragement to visitors to linger longer. They haven’t had the advantage of constant increasing land rates for so little in return. They are what is called a Community which no longer exists in Byron. Very Sad but true.
    Geographically, Byron is a beautiful place to visit for a brief time, but is now being Used and Abused and left with no Soul. Again such a shame for the local residents that have to withstand the aftermath of the invasion of more and more backpackers. So, if the strange figures of less Backpackers visiting for 1mth is down Boo-Hoo.
    I hope Mr Arnold reads just some of the comments made by locals, as we are one couple that will be looking for somewhere-else to live. Sad that you are forced to leave what was once a Magnificent Slice of Heaven to enjoy and live in.
    We have met people on the road who have said that will not visit Byron any more because of the paid parking.They also are complaining of the changes and NOT GOOD CHANGES happening in Byron.
    It will be very sad to say Good-bye to such a place, as was Byron of old. Growth is something we cannot change but does it have to come with such a price.


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