Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Story of the Gap Year

5 travel execs sit in a boardroom, brainstorming, seeking an idea for a new niche market. The green glow from the screens reflecting in their spectacle lens and the hum of the grey Olivetti PC's around them breaking the silence.

"We need a market that has lots of disposable income and lots of time to spend it"
"And it would be best if they didn't analyse the cost-value of their spending"
"We should find a market with more spare time"
"As we are a student-orientated agency shouldn't we target students? They have spare time... but never enough, and they have money.... but never, ever enough... hang on, why are we in this market?"
"What about students before they are students? We could encourage them to defer studying for a year..... a whole year of profit...."
"Plus it would be a last chance to get them when they still have mummy and daddy's money to spend, then they really won't care what they spend it on"
"We can market as a life-changing experience, without which further education would be useless wasted"
"Yes, let's go for the 'something to put on the CV' route, insinuating that the costs will be dwarfed by higher salaries a few years down the line!"
"Er, hang on guys, legions of teenage, public school brats with no life experience and no concept of respect for other cultures.... won't that destroy the reputation of the normal British backpackers? The very market that has got us where we are, the market that we have built our entire firm upon?" the fifth, and until now silent, member states.
The rest give him a wearied, withered grimace, a 'What's your point?' look. Why didn't he get it?

And so the Gap Year was born.

Nobody could have predicted what a runaway success such a cynical marketing plan could be. Overland tour companies saw their dwindling profits boost phenomenally - after years of 'doing it for themselves' the kids wanted to be looked after again, ironically at the same time putting another barrier between them and the life experience their parents thought they were getting. A whole host of spin-off start-ups were spawned in the wake of the Gap wave. Not in the least were the 'very-much-for-profit volunteer organisations that charged an arm and a leg to send kids to volunteer in places they really were not needed (teaching in capital cities for example), and did any money trickle down to these communities? Don't be silly. What a great idea, instead of paying people to work you charge them for it, and through the nose at that and you keep all the money.

Once they have 'dome their bit' of course the brats can move on to dreadlocks and banana pancakes on the Khao Sanh road, to collapsing under a full moon on Ko-Phan-Ngan and on to the annual 'Australia East Coast Brit-Brat Shagathon'.

All this from one stuffy board meeting. If only they could have seen the future.

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