Bruce Poon Tip is the founder of tour company G Adventures. Here he talks to Globetrender about his new partnership with National Geographic, why social enterprise wins, and his travel predictions for 2016.
On December 15, G Adventures launched a partnership with National Geographic magazine to offer a collection of 70 journeys across 50 countries, in addition to the 700 or so tours the company already lists.
With departures from January 15, 2016, people will be able to book “experiential” trips that include the likes of going to a family home in Jaipur; sharing a meal with a local storytellers in Botswana; and drinking limoncello with a farmer at his lemon grove in Italy.
According to National Geographic, the tours are “designed for travellers who appreciate the freedom to roam, but seek the structure and security that comes with travelling in a group”. Led by expert local guides, each party will be of no more than 16 people.
Bruce says: “We are partnering with a company that shares our values about changing the world, about having a positive impact on local communities and changing the way people travel. We are working with governments to change the way they attract tourists to promote more natural and authentic travel.”
What part does social enterprise play in G Adventures’ business model?
G Adventures tours often include visits to projects sponsored by the company’s Planeterra Foundation, which is a nonprofit set up in 2003 that is dedicated to supporting local communities by setting up social enterprises, in places that are often remote and with close to zero employment.
Bruce says: “With our ‘Oodles of Noodles‘ tour in Hoi An, Vietnam – we worked with street kids. We set up a state-of-the-art kitchen training facility and all of our groups go there now to spend a day doing a cooking class. The street kids take them out to the market to buy the fresh ingredients and they come back and learn how to make the noodles fresh for lunch.”
Bruce says that one of his most successful projects is “New Hope Cambodia“. “We are working with an NGO that is helping women who were rescued from the sex trade. We built a kitchen/training facility, there is a school so the kids get free schooling and a medical centre for free medical care. The women rotate working at the restaurant every six months and we bring 20,000 people there for lunch every year as part of our tour.” (You can learn more here.)
“We have also done work with Haiti, Botswana and, at the moment we are working with Colombia. We also do consulting on sustainable tourism, as well as fundraising. When the earthquake in Nepal happened we raised US$270,000 in about five days through traveller donations.”
Bruce says he is aiming to raise US$5 million for his next 50 social enterprise projects. “Our goal is to get more people off cruise ships and compound resorts – we are very excited about changing the world through travel.”
He adds: “With these all-inclusive resorts, their goal is to make sure you never leave. That is what is happening in the Caribbean. They make it complicated for you to leave. Our guests would never stay in a place like that. Our guests stay in everything from jungle lodges to hotels in cities but ones that are guesthouses or local brands.
“We also develop homestays within communities. In Mongolia, we have local living programmes where you can stay in a yurt with a family. In the Amazon, you can stay with an Indian tribe.”
Which destinations are most popular for G Adventures tours?
Over 100,000 people travel with G Adventures a year. Journeys range from eight days to four months and take place in more than 100 countries.
Bruce says: “G Adventures is the biggest operator in the world on the Inca Trail – in fact Peru is our number-one destination globally. From the UK, which is our biggest market, South East Asia is the most popular, followed by Peru, then India in third place and Costa Rica fourth place. Antarctica is up there too.”
How is traveller behaviour changing?
Bruce says: “I am from Trinidad and my grandfather went to Harvard, and when he left on a boat he didn’t come home for five years. He just wrote letters. The world seems smaller to the next generation. When our parents travelled it was considered an epic journey – now I am coming to London [from Canada] for one night.”
In terms of travellers who book with G Adventures, he says: “People are getting younger and older every year. Taking gap years are also a big trend – taking time out from work, in between jobs, or in retirement.”
Which destinations do you predict will be trending next year?
Bruce says: “I think Africa is going to have a return because, unfairly, ebola devastated the whole of tourism to Africa even though the disease was only in the West. I think there is a pent-up demand for people returning – especially to Kenya and Tanzania in the East, for safaris.
“I’d also say Colombia – that is why we are working with the government there. It is a beautiful country and it’s safer than it’s ever been. Cuba is exploding too – you should go there soon because once they open it up to the US it will change completely.
“I think in general people are searching to become more disconnected, in more remote places like the Galapagos, Mongolia and Antarctica.”
How do you minimise your footprint on remote environments and communities?
“We are a niche operator – our impact is never as big as bringing in 5,000 people on a cruise ship. Our groups average 12 people, so our footprint is always minimal.
“Where we do take bigger groups, they are to high-volume places such as Egypt, Machu Picchu, Costa Rica and Thailand that have the infrastructure to handle it.”