Research Proposal
By Eric Kaufman

Research Question
How is increasing access to internet technology and portable wifi devices changing the way backpackers gather travel information from locals while traveling in Thailand?


As technology grows and changes, and access to it increases, the way travelers make use of it alters their previous travel behavior. My study intends to look at the growing use of internet technology in Thailand in two parts. The first part will investigate how widespread the implementation of wifi among guest-houses and hostels is. What I am looking at here is whether wireless internet access is offered, and when this offering began. This will also allow me to measure its growth rate.

The second part will investigate which wifi capable devices backpackers are bringing with them, and the increasing rate at which they’ve begun doing so. These devices may include laptops, netbooks, tablets, and smart phones. Although some of these devices may be capable of other types of data connection, for this study my interest is only with devices used for their wifi connection to the internet rather than through roaming mobile data plans.

My hypothesis is that backpackers, who make a lot of travel decisions from the road, are relying more on information gathering through internet technology rather than through direct communication with locals, such as those operating guest-houses who have first-hand knowledge of the area. The type of information gathering I will focus on is travel information for the immediate area, such as directions and suggestions regarding restaurants, activities, and guest-houses.

I aim to show how increased use of the internet to provide this type of information may be resulting in decreased verbal communication between people of differing cultures, leading to a growing larger scale breakdown in compassion and understanding for differing cultures. Through my research study, I aim to promote further backpacker research around social and cultural issues.

The most essential concept to unpick here is that of the backpacker. Because behavior and motivation are so crucial to this study, it is necessary to understand the modern backpacker. In the following section I reference previous studies that have contributed to an understanding of the modern-day backpacker.

In Context

The primary focus of my initial literary review is to use existing research to help define the modern backpacker. Contextualizing my study requires a look into previous backpacker research, definitions, and conceptions. I will investigate how various definitions of “backpacker” affect ideas of travel. After satisfactorily identifying the backpacker demographic, I will move on to investigating wireless internet technology as a variable and then Thailand as an environmental variable.

The Association of Tourism and Leisure Education (ATLAS), established in 1991, promotes transnational research and education and has members in over 70 countries. In 2000, members of ATLAS formed the Backpackers Research Group (BRG). The motivation for setting up the BRG came from the feeling, among ATLAS members, that “backpacking was becoming an important social, cultural, and economic phenomenon around the globe. In spite of this, there was felt to be a lack of research dealing with transnational or transcultural issues” (Richards and Wilson, 2004, p.6). The BRG set out to review previous research on backpacker tourism and identify gaps in research. The Global Nomad Research Programme was then set up to compile related backpacker research.

The question of defining “backpacker” comes up as a consistent thread in many studies. As described by Richards and Wilson, the backpacker represents “an idealized form of travel as liberation from the constraints of modern society” (Richards and Wilson, 2004, p.5). They go on to describe Binder and Welk’s identification of one of the key points of differentiation, “the ability to decide one’s own itinerary, to change travel plans at will and not to be weighed down by cultural or physical baggage” (Richards and Wilson, 2004, p.5).

As a key element of my study, this practice of changing travel plans spontaneously is an essential identifying characteristic of the backpacker. This practice is what requires the backpacker to gather information in the field, and forces him to gather it by whatever means available. The question that I will try to answer is whether backpackers now find it easier, faster, and more reliable to use internet information gathering rather than speaking to locals.

The modern backpacker has emerged possessing elements of the ordinary tourist, and maintaining certain ideals traditional to drifters, but with certain motivations akin to neither. Some of the key debates surrounding backpackers relate to how they have evolved from these other types of travelers. Understanding who the modern backpackers are and their travel motivation is important when understanding their current behavior and future trends. In order to do so, I take a closer look into what they evolved from.

“Contemporary backpackers tend to embrace the ideology of drifting and imitate the style or form of travel characteristic of the drifter” (Richards and Wilson, 2004, p.46; see also Elsrud, 2001). For my purposes, it is important to clarify the differences and similarities between backpackers and other kinds of tourists. Backpackers have been compared to drifters, and to understand the comparison we need to look at how drifters have been defined.

Early thoughts on drifters were decidedly unfavorable. “Their mobility was conceived as a social problem, and their motivation explained in individual, psychological terms as wanderlust” (Richards and Wilson, 2004, 64; see also Adler, 1985).

In 1973 Erik Cohen associates drifting as the result of social alienation among youth, and sites the Vietnam War as an example of a political contributor (Cohen, 1973). Later, in 1988, Riley argues against Cohen’s “earlier definitions that today’s typical youthful traveler is not accurately described as a ‘hippie’, a ‘bum’, or an adherent to ‘counter-culture’. Western society has undergone some major changes and the contemporary long-term traveler reflects them” (Richards and Wilson, 2004, 64).

An ideal that the modern backpacker has retained from the drifter is the importance of the authentic experience.
“The drifter would strive more than the ordinary tourist to reach places and people that are ‘really’ authentic, and would display considerable tourist angst that places or events that appear authentic are in fact staged” (Wilson and Richards, 2004, p. 46). Like the drifter in this characterization, the modern backpacker also seeks that which is genuine and avoids anything prepared with the tourist in mind.

In their evolution, backpackers have become more like traditional tourists in some respects and less like drifters, yet still maintaining some of the ideals of the drifter. Many resemble other types of tourists interested in entertainment or recreational experiences (Uriely, 2002).

The review of backpacker literature by Irena Ateljevic and Stephen Doorne reveals how backpacker definitions changed in the 1980s. “During the 1980’s, there emerged a raft of studies articulating a shift of backpacking interest from a demarketing to a marketing concept. The dominance of global markets and consumerism changed the guise of the ‘hippie’ drifter in favor of budget-oriented independent travelers seeking lifestyle enhancement and travel as an agent of personal growth” (Richards and Wilson, 2004, p.74).

It is this modern backpacker, who is interested in personal growth that seeks out the unfamiliar in order to enhance his understanding of the world. In the recent past this backpacker may have embraced intercultural connectedness by direct engagement with locals. With the rapid growth in technology, and the convenience that it provides, my study looks into the possibility that the personal growth that the modern backpacker seeks is being reduced. Because the use of the internet as a source of information has become so rapidly adopted, younger generations of backpackers may not be aware of the shift in social behavior that is at its roots.

The importance for studying contemporary backpacker behavior for marketing purposes has also evolved. What once was considered an unimportant demographic due to an extremely low-budget travel style, is now being reconsidered. The present-day backpackers will likely return with a bigger budget and “their backpacking experience will have an important influence on the destinations they choose to visit later in life, possibly with their families and friends” (Richards and Wilson, 2004, p.8).

Also, backpackers set travel trends for higher budget travelers and open up new destinations to new and growing travel markets, particularly in developing areas (Hampton, 1998).

The evolution of the backpacker follows two parallel lines. There is the modern backpacker we have been studying, that evolves and renews with every generation, and there is the backpacker that ages and evolves into something else. A newly emerged term for this aging backpacker is appearing in travel advertising as “flashpacker.” The flashpacker, still seeks the authentic experience but has outgrown much of the tolerance to rough it. The flashpacker has a slightly higher budget and willingness to afford a slightly higher level of comfort.

Although flashpackers haven’t been fully researched or defined, we can consider them possessing characteristics of modern backpackers as we are growing to understand them. For this study, the important connection is the likelihood to travel with modern technology.

Due to growing interest in backpacker culture for marketing reasons, there is a growing need to compile research in this field. Hopefully this resurgence of interest will help to produce more culturally relevant studies such as mine.

Related studies address effects that backpackers have on local cultures. I have found studies that measure the growth of various technologies in these areas, but in order to gather fresh data on wifi technology usage I will base my evaluations on independent data collection, (See methodology). I think my focus investigates a new avenue in backpacker research focusing on interactive affects related to a specific technology growth –wifi, and would be of benefit to the existing collection of work already done on this subject.

The methodology for gathering data will be comprised of two parts, and lead toward a separate follow-up research project.

Stage 1 will gather data to answer broad questions regarding technology:
Is there a growth of internet technology implementation in Thailand? Where? How fast? Since when? (See implementation for Stage 1)

Stage 2 will gather data to answer broad questions regarding behavior:
If the answers to Stage 1 show the hypothesized increase, then can the following behaviors be traced?
Is there a growth in usage of internet technology among backpackers in Thailand?
Is there a coinciding decrease in verbal travel-information gathering between backpackers and locals?

By the end of Stage 2 I will have the answer to the following question: Are backpackers becoming more independent and less reliant on Thai locals for travel-information gathering while traveling? (See Implementation for Stage 2)

The answers to Stage 2 will lead to assessing the need for a completely separate research project to uncover the potential long term social affects that this change might be having on the cultures involved.

Implementation for Stage 1
In order to answer the questions for Stage 1, I will gather statistical data directly from internet service providers serving Thailand. First I will compile a list of ISPs currently serving Thailand, beginning with the leaders – Maxnet, True, and KSC.
From that list I will track when each company began serving Thailand, dating back to 1995. I will ask for the following information directly from the current ISPs:
-Aggregate data showing numbers of subscribers by cities from 1995 (or start of company if more recent) to 2010.
Evaluation of this data should show growth trends for internet subscribers across Thailand.

Implementation for Stage 2
In order to answer the questions for stage 2, I will gather data from questionnaires given to backpackers and guest-house owners. (See Appendix 2 for examples)

To begin implementation of stage 2, I will write two sets of semi-structured questionnaires. The first set will be targeting backpackers who travel in Thailand. Its purpose will be to find out from them:
- Whether they bring wifi technology with them
- Specifically which devices
- At what point they started bringing wifi devices with them
- If and how their travel habits have changed
The second set of questionnaires will be targeting hostel and guest-house owners or managers. Its purpose will be to find out from them:
- The guest-house name and location
- Whether they offer wifi
- When they began offering it
- Whether their customers request it
- Whether their guests ask for information about Thailand
- Whether they are talking to their guests
- Whether they give travel information to their guests, and in which forms
- Whether they give as much travel information as they did before wifi

The questionnaires targeting backpackers will be placed into web forums on internet sites that contain a strong backpacker community presence, such as:

The questionnaires for the Thai guest house owners will be implemented through a casual interview process managed by backpackers in the field. Backpackers currently traveling or planning to travel will be commissioned to implement questionnaires to guest-house owners. Backpackers will be selected who are members of backpacker internet communities and regular contributors to the growing knowledge-base.

In order to avoid data corruption from unmotivated backpacking data collectors, only those with a proven history of dedication to the backpacker community will be selected. When the questionnaires are ready, a debriefing meeting will be held with the field team to explain the study in greater detail and to clarify best field practices. This meeting will be conducted over the internet using a simple voice-over-IP chat room to accommodate remote attendees.

In order to keep guest-house owners from giving false information in an attempt to promote their business, it will be important to impress upon them that their answers will be kept anonymous and not linked to their business. To incentivize them to participate I will offer to add them to the list of businesses that graciously participated in this study and place it online.

The backpacker, equipped with the questionnaire will conduct brief casual interviews with guest-house and hostel managers as they come in contact with them through their travels. The backpacker will be able to clarify or note any questions the guest-house manager may have. The backpacker will record the answers provided and submit them electronically at his convenience. The data can be quickly and conveniently submitted from the field through the internet.

I will prepare a blog and give account access to the assisting data collectors. This way they can easily post their findings and noteworthy experiences so everyone involved can track the findings and begin analyzing it as it comes in. This will also help to time-stamp data. The blog will also help contribute to the sense of backpacker community and motivate further research.

As the data from the web forums and the field interviews comes in, I will monitor and manage it by compiling and sorting it for later evaluation.

My Evaluation process will involve taking data collected from three primary sources – ISP statistics, backpacker behavior questionnaires, and guest-house questionnaires/interviews. I will put these data sources in triangulation with each other to check for patterns, trends, or any other unforeseen information that may lead to understanding what kinds of behavioral change may be occurring between backpackers and the Thai people.

I will have to compare dates connected to ISP growth with dates connected to wifi implementation in guest-houses. I will need to evaluate whether the hard data (dates and quantities) has a relationship with the softer data (reports of behavioral change).

Based on the results, I will evaluate the need for development of an additional research project to look further into the social effects related to behavioral changes noted in this study. I will include this assessment and notes on the direction of the supplemental study in my output report.



Output from my research will take the form of an academic report that could be included with a collection of other backpacker related studies as found in The Global Nomad (Richards and Wilson, 2004).

Additional outputs might include a critical commentary on the state of social change using information from the study as a backbone. Such a piece of writing might be suitable for publication as a social interest piece either as a print feature or radio piece. Shows like NPR’s Human Kind or Morning Edition would be appropriate outlets that would suit a study of this nature.

The results from this study could be transformed into an interview presentation format, either recorded for audio or video. It could also be used as the basis for a piece of fiction, where the underlying message repeats the results from this study.


Adler, J. (1985) Youth On the Road: Reflection on the History of Tramping. Annals of Tourism Research 12, 335-354.

Elsrud, T. (2001) Risk Creation in Traveling: Backpacker Adventure Narration. Annals of Tourism Research 28 (3), 597-617.

Cohen, E. (1973) Nomads From Affluence: Notes on the Phenomenon of Drifter Tourism. International Journal of Comparative Sociology 14 (1-2), 89-103.

Hampton, M.P. (1998) Backpacker Tourism and Economic Development. Annals of Tourisma Research 25 (3), 639-660.

Richards, G. and Wilson, J. (2004) The Global Nomad: Backpacker Travel in Theory and Practice. Clevedon: Channel View.

Riley, P.J. (1988) Road Culture of International Long-term Budget Travelers. Annals of Tourism Research.15 (2), 313-328.

Uriely, N., Yonay, Y., and Simchai, D. (2002) BackpackingExperiences: AType and Form Analysis. Annals of Tourism Research 29 (2), 520-538.

Other References

Cohen, E. (2006) Pai — A Backpacker Enclave in Transition. Tourism Recreation Research, 31, 3, pp. 11-27.

COHEN, E. (2008) Southeast Asian Ethnic Tourism in a Changing World. Asian Anthropology (Chinese University Press), 7, pp. 25-56.

Howard, R.W. (2005) Khaosan Road: An Evolving Backpacker Tourist Enclave Being Partially Reclaimed by the Locals. International Journal of Tourism Research, 7, 6, pp. 357-374.

Huxley, L. (2004) Western Backpackers and the Global Experience: An Exploration of Young People's Interaction with Local Cultures. Tourism Culture & Communication, Vol. 5, Iss: 1, pp. 37-44(8).

Kontogeorgopoulos, N. (1998) Roughing it in Phuket, But the Jones’ Haven’t Been There (Yet): Reconceptualizing Tourism and Community Development in Southern Thailand. University of British Columbia.

Malam, L. (2008) Geographic Imaginations: Exploring Divergent Notions of Identity, Power, and Place Meaning on Pha-ngan Island, Southern Thailand. Asia Pacific Viewpoint, 49, 3, pp. 331-343.

Maoz,D. (2007) Backpackers’ Motivations: The Role of Culture and Nationality. Annals of Tourism Research 34 (1), 122-140.

Palasri, S., Huter, S. and Wenzel, Z. (1999) The History of the Internet in Thailand. University of Oregon.

Sahadev, S. and Islam, N. (2005) Why hotels adopt ICTs: a study on the ICT adoption propensity of hotels in Thailand. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, Vol. 17 Iss: 5, pp.391 – 401.

Thammo, T. (2009) The Internet in Thailand: An Alternative Means of Communication. Knowledge, Technology & Policy, 22, 2, pp. 125-131.

Trends in Traveler Technology: Social Media and Mobile (2010) Phocuswright Innovation Edition, pp. 1-43.

Xavier, P. (2008) Fostering competition in Thailand's telecommunications sector, info, Vol. 10 Iss: 1, pp.79 – 96.

WiMAX Trial for Alcatel-Lucent in Thailand 2008, Microwave Journal, 51, 7, p. 69.


Backpacker’s Research Group (BRG) Found At:

Association of Tourism and Leisure Education (ATLAS) Found At:

Appendix 1 -- Review of 3 Key Texts

Richards, G. and Wilson, J. (2004) The Global Nomad: Backpacker Travel in Theory and Practice. Clevedon: Channel View.

The Global Nomad aims to fill in the transnational and transcultural gaps in research identified by the Association of Tourism and Leisure Education (ATLAS). They formed the Backpackers Research Group (BRG) to research backpacker behavior relating to social, cultural and economic effects. The Global Nomad examines backpacker attitudes and motivations, and maps backpacker growth as a demographic. The studies mostly focus on Asia and Australasia. The body of work helps to identify who backpackers are in relation to other types of travelers.

The combined research studies of 2300 travelers in eight countries were analyzed in terms of the “behavior, motivations and profile of backpackers across destinations worldwide” (Richards and Wilson 2004). Many different methodologies were used to gather data for many different studies in this research collection. Significant quantitative data was collected and graphical output tables were created. They gathered data on Origin/Destination, visa category, trip planning lead times, pre-booked components, length of stay, activities, daily spending, modes of transport, and many more.

Relevance to My Study
Much of the data was collected via interviews and surveys. Also, statistical data was gathered from travel bureaus. My research methods will very similarly match this format. I will be using the same combination of statistical data gathering (ISP Data) and survey data (questionnaires). Following the collection methods used in many of The Global Nomad’s studies, I will aim to compile a balance between hard and soft data for evaluation.

Huxley, L. (2004) Western Backpackers and the Global Experience: An Exploration of Young People's Interaction with Local Cultures. Tourism Culture & Communication, Vol. 5, Iss: 1, pp. 37-44(8).

This study investigates how backpackers are engaging with other cultures. It looks at backpacker motivations for doing so, and difficulties surrounding achieving their goals. The search for authentic experiences rather than one prefabricated for tourists is isolated as a chief obstruction in the backpacker search. Huxley investigates the relationship between Western travelers and foreign hosts.

Semi-structured interviews were employed with Western backpackers to determine the degree to which they engaged with the locals and how deeply they immersed themselves into the local culture.

Relevance to My Study
I will be using this method of data collection during my second stage concerning hostel and guest-house information. The field assistants will be conducting semi-structured interviews that will collect answers from specific questions as well as questions that may result in some explanation. The field assistants will guide the interviews and manage the focus of the interviewee.

Thammo, T. (2009) The Internet in Thailand: An Alternative Means of Communication. Knowledge, Technology & Policy, 22, 2, pp. 125-131.

This study investigates the changing use of the internet in Thailand. As an alternative means of communication, the internet is being used to replace other traditional technologies. This is a look at how people are using it to avoid restrictions of information and governmental controls over other media and communications.

The study was conducted using surveys and in-depth interviews. They used a bulletin board web site called to gather data. This site, with approximately 100,000 daily visitors, is a forum for voicing concerns around social issues. In a short closed-end questionnaire, the following questions were asked:

– How do people compare the Internet and mainstream media?
– What is the advantage of the Internet in the context of Thailand?
– What are their main reasons for using the Internet?
– How and in what ways do they use the Internet?
– What is a drawback of the Internet?

They also chose ten internet users to interview. They picked users who frequented the site regularly as information gatherers.

Relevance to My Study
This study points out several possible reasons for the adoption and greater use of internet technology. It also provides some insight into cultural issues that the Thai people face relating to mass communication. Some of these issues could relate to inter-cultural communications and be motivators for various forms of expression. Primarily, this study focuses on Thai social and political concerns regarding restrictions of voice, and strategies that they’ve employed to alleviate their limitations. The data collection methods used here are my primary influence for gathering data from backpackers. I will be resourcing online backpacker communities in the same way.

Appendix 2 -- Example Questionnaires

Stage 2 Questionnaires

For Backpackers
  1. Do you travel with internet technology? (yes/no) List devices ________
  2. When did you start traveling with it? ________
  3. Do you talk to locals for
( information / to be friendly / to practice language / I don’t talk to locals )
  1. Would you say that your interaction with locals has changed since traveling with technology?
( yes, less / yes, more / no change )
  1. If yes, how did your travel habits change? ________

For Hostels and Guest-houses
  1. Guest-house name and location ________
  2. Do you offer wifi?
  3. When did you add it?
  4. Do your customers request wifi?
( none / few / most / nearly all )
  1. Do your guests ask for information about Thailand?
  2. Do you like to talk to your guests?
  3. Do you give travel information to your guests? In what forms?
  4. Would you say that you give as much travel information to your guests since adding wifi?
( less/same/more )
  1. Additional notes or comments of interest ________