The Future of Tourism with G Adventures

Date Posted: 29/03/2012

Keen to learn more about a company with a serious commitment to sustainable tourism, Rebekah Tailor caught up with founder of G Adventures, Bruce Poon Tip who was in London for a Future of Tourism event. Bruce’s interesting ideas and views on cultural heritage preservation made for a fascinating conversation. But being responsible doesn't mean being dull; this is a company with some very exciting group holidays.

The Future of Tourism event, held at The Royal Institution, Mayfair in March, saw an evening of discussion and debate which aimed to raise awareness of the issues surrounding sustainable tourism. Featuring presentations from travel and tourism visionaries from the UK and abroad, the Future of Tourism event - founded in 2011 - will visit five cities across the globe this year; Toronto, London, Melbourne, Calgary and Vancouver.

Future of Tourism was hosted by adventure travel operator, G Adventures. Founded by Bruce Poon Tip 22 years ago, the company promises an intimate, authentic and sustainable approach to group travel. Indeed, Bruce’s dedication to sustainable tourism and community development initiatives has been recognised by numerous awards in addition to the establishment of the non-profit Planeterra Foundation in 2003.

G Adventures specialises in small group tours, safaris and expeditions, and now offers 1,000 plus tours on all seven continents. Continuing its commitment to offering groups eye-opening experiences which explore incredible destinations alongside cultural exchanges, the operator launched its Local Living programme last year. An increasingly popular option for private parties, these experiences expose group travellers to another culture by living locally within a community.

European highlights of the Local Living programme range from Italy’s Amalfi Coast, staying at a 16th century monastery home base; northern Tuscany, featuring countryside accommodation where groups can taste local specialties and learn to prepare local cuisine; and the Dolomites Local Living & Trekking tour, with nights spent in a local agriturismo. Group travel organisers planning a holiday further afield, could consider Guatemala Local Living, promising cultural immersion into Mayan life on Lake Atitlán, learning about day-to-day agricultural and artisan trades; or Patagonia Local Living, with accommodation at an organic local farm, participating in daily farm chores, learning about sustainable farming, and helping to prepare local delicacies.

Keen to learn more about G Adventures’ commitment to sustainable tourism, and to find out what benefits the company offers group travellers, I caught up with Bruce Poon Tip following the Future of Tourism event. Bruce’s interesting ideas and views on cultural heritage preservation made for a fascinating conversation. Read on to find out what the founder of G Adventures had to say...

You’re in the UK following the Future of Tourism event in London. Could you tell me a little about the event and its key aims?

For the first time the travel industry’s being held accountable for issues of climate change and cultural impact, and it’s put heavily on the tour operator to change that - like it’s always the tour operator’s fault. When truly, the future of tourism is about the consumer. It’s about the consumer being more educated and understanding where their money’s going, as opposed to looking for the cheapest price.

Right now there’s this pattern for companies to try and green wash businesses, but really they don’t actually build community locally, create local employment, or have money staying in the country. These big holding companies are trying to go green because the consumer’s changing - there’s a tipping point where the consumers are suddenly saying, where’s my money going? So to me, the future of tourism is in the hands of the consumer.

So now for a really general question; just how important is sustainable tourism?

Sustainability in general is a global issue, but tourism is a major factor in that because we have to create cultural preservation for future generations. It’s whether you care about that or not I guess. There’s two sides to sustainability; there’s the issue of the planet and climate change, but there’s another side of it which is about cultural heritage preservation - some of our most precious sites being regulated in some way to make sure that they’re around for future generations.

And that’s a key value of G Adventures isn’t it? So tell me a little about what initially sparked your interest in this particular area?

It was in our model from the very beginning. We started in 1990 and saw a space between people backpacking, and the only other thing available - cruises, coaching and resorts. We were trying to bridge that gap between those two styles of travel, and with that came a certain sense of responsibility, because it was more about culturally focused experiences.

At the Future of Tourism event I talked about an Amazon tribe that we work with - that we’ve been working with for 20 years. The relationship started 20 years ago and it’s a continuation of where I spoke to the elders of the community, and really created a mutually beneficial relationship. I hate using the word ‘authentic’ - it’s one of the worst and most over-abused words in travel - but you want to create an experience for people that’s real.

So how do you find these opportunities in order to create such experiences for travellers?

I do consulting; you know, speaking for the World Bank, United Nations, UNESCO, and I’ve travelled all over the world to speak with them and at various conferences. So it’s much easier to create relationships with elders in communities because they know who we are and they know what our track record is.

We’re doing some work in Columbia at the moment where there are indigenous regions that have actually requested us - or me - to come and create the dialogues. They want tourism there, but they want to make sure their story is preserved, that their history is preserved, and that there are benefits for them. Locally they want a company like ours to bridge that relationship.

What kinds of experiences can groups enjoy on a tour with G Adventures? 

We have over 1,000 different tours now, and there’s everything from home-stay programmes and learning components in our discovery adventures; to family trips and active trips - we have hiking, biking and rafting trips all over the world. And our Local Living programme is one of the most innovative styles of travelling we’ve come up with in a long time.

Yes, the Local Living programme was launched last year wasn’t it? What does it involve?

It involves going to local villages, staying in one place for a week, but just living locally - still doing central-based excursions, but coming back and staying in the local area. Local Living has been very successful because of the invasion that’s behind it - it could be wineries in Chile, farm stays in Italy, staying in little French towns. Maybe people don’t want to hike everyday on an active holiday, but it’s just living locally for a week and resting. You’re just being exposed to another culture.

What part can group travellers play in terms of doing their bit towards sustainable tourism?

Well group travellers have to ask the questions of those they’re booking with, that’s the big thing. Where’s their money going? Who owns the companies? It’s about money going back into the country. The UK has these massive holding companies that have bought all these small companies, so you think you’re booking with a tiny little operator but they’re really owned by a company that’s promoting all-inclusive compounds. So travellers have to be careful where they spend their money, and be responsible in making decisions - not just going after the best price.

But a lot of the time it does come down to the price doesn’t it? Surely that’s most people’s key concern?

Yes, and I totally understand. People shouldn’t pay double the price - you know operators like ourselves have to stay competitive in the market. However the consumer is driving those patterns. What consumers can do is understand the power they have. Just ask a few questions to get educated on the ownership and where their money’s going - that’s the biggest thing you can do.

What progress do you feel has been made by the travel industry in contributing to sustainable tourism?

There is a kinder heart amongst people towards giving in general. So people feel that for the first time - in whatever they do, whether it’s on your holiday through sustainable tourism - there’s a trend towards giving. That’s why there’s this tipping point; we’re living sustainably at home - you know low-watt light bulbs, recycling - then the next thing we’re off on a cruise that’s going on to small ports, with 2,000 people getting off every Tuesday and Thursday, spending $100,000 in eight hours, and kids are no longer going to school. That’s not sustainable.

How would you like to see progress continue?

I’ve always thought it was an uphill battle, but lately more and more people are coming to speak to us to learn more about it, and it’s easier because people have an open mind to it. In 1990 when we first started and we were talking about these things, it was considered a joke - we were considered these hippie kids. Now if you look at all the literature that comes out, everyone’s trying to say their companies are green, but they’re running coach tours across Europe, and selling them as authentic experiences - really? So I mean the consumer has to see through that, the consumer has to make the decision. So much has been put on the operator for so many years, but operators only create products that the consumer demands. So the consumer has to get educated and start making those decisions. It’s a circle right? It’s the circle of life!

G Adventures offers a host of options for groups of eight or more people. Group organisers have the freedom to design their own itinerary, choose departure dates, and benefit from free transfers, all-inclusive pricing, and discounts on insurance. Tours are accompanied by a G Adventure leader throughout, and a personalised web page ensures the entire group receives up-to-date details of the departure.

Useful contact:
G Adventures:
0844-272 2060
www.gadventures.com

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