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American 'Begpackers' Are Taking Over the Streets of Asia
Described by the French newspaper Le Monde as “the latest in shameless tourism,” American tourists have descended on Asian countries preparing to “begpack.” A hybrid term combining “begging” and “backpackers,” begpacking is a new phenomenon where Western travelers flock to other nations to intentionally beg as a way to fund their travels.
While some people don’t have any issue with needy Americans, many Asian citizens are over the privileged antics. Many Western visitors have more travel access than others and citizens feel that it’s unfair to beg in places where locals are struggling financially, according to Toute la Thailande.
As reported by Relaxnews, Many Asian countries are currently ridden in poverty according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The continent is home to two-thirds of the world’s poor. More than 1 billion people in Asia live on less than 2 dollars a day. Following the pandemic, more than 75 million people in Asia were pushed below the poverty line according to the Asian Development Bank.
With many Asian citizens enduring impoverished conditions, locals are disgusted with the begpacking antics of desperate American travelers.
Although some travelers aren’t shy to panhandle openly and freely, other Western begpackers attempt to soften the blow of their begging by offering goods in exchange for money from passersby. Stephen Pratt, the department chair of the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida, talked to CNN about his time studying begpacking while in Hong Kong.
Pratt went undercover in the city, begpacking his way around to see how locals responded to his behavior. From his study, Pratt concluded that American begpackers fall into three categories: performance-based begging, those who sell goods, and the rest who beg with nothing to exchange.
Panhandling is illegal in most Asian begpacking hotspots like Thailand, Indonesia, and India. However, that doesn’t stop Westerners from risking a hefty fine to finance their travels. Despite offending locals with this behavior, Pratt believes the begpacking annoyances are the catalyst for a bigger conversation about travel accessibility.
“(This shaming) does raise the point of, ‘is international travel only for a certain class of people or people over a certain amount of income?’” Pratt said. “I think tourists themselves are being held more accountable now than in the past.”
While Pratt may make a valid point, others argue that Western begpackers take advantage of Asian locals and are only able to do so because of their “passport privilege.”