Bruce Poon Tip founded G Adventures in 1990 and his passion has driven it to become the world’s largest adventure travel company. Bruce has inspired people across the globe with the idea that travel has the potential to change the world. He’s delivered speeches at the United Nations, World Bank, Apple, Google, TED events and countless conferences.
At the time, holidays meant packages, resorts, coach tours and cruises so offering sustainable, authentic trips with an element of adventure was pretty unheard of. G Adventures aimed to change the negatives we often associated with travel: the huge carbon footprint, exploited locals and money being sucked into large corporations rather than benefiting local communities.
Today, travellers actively seek out responsible tours that allow them to experience a destination like a local. G Adventures is about memorable experiences, gorgeous locations, exotic expeditions and trips can range from safaris to cultural treks – but crucially, the focus is also on sustainable tourism. G Adventures has been driven by the belief that travel is an exchange, not a commodity.
In 2003, G Adventures established the Planeterra Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to ensuring the communities touched by tourism benefit from the opportunities it offers. Planeterra works to minimize the impact on the destinations, promote sustainable solutions and economic growth for communities. Bruce also wrote the book Looptail, the extraordinary story of his personal adventure, and how he balanced his desire for a socially responsible company with the desire to generate profits. It is his story of ‘why community, culture, and karma matter in business.’
So we were keen to hear his thoughts on the positive impact green travel and ecotourism can have on the world. Read his insightful answers here:
Ecophiles: How has ecotourism changed?
Bruce Poon Tip: On the whole, people are pretty savvy nowadays when it comes to responsible travel but this wasn’t always the case. When ecotourism appeared on the scene in the ’90s, it was the first time tourism could be viewed as a force for good.
In 1990, the International Ecotourism Society defined ecotourism as: ‘responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well being of local people.’ This definition confused consumers at the time – suddenly as part of ecotourism, we also had to think about ‘responsible travel’, the environment and the local people. It put travel in a whole new light.
How can travellers contribute a positive change to the communities they visit?
Over the last 20 years, travel has been the most destructive industry next to publishing. People are travelling to the poorest countries in the world but only $5 of every $100 they spend is staying in that country. But that is changing. Today’s more ethically aware consumer is prepared to stretch their budget to ensure exploitation, destruction and waste is not the outcome of their holiday spend.
It’s about travelling the right way. People have to understand that travellers are travelling to the 40 poorest countries in the world, where the most in-need citizens on our planet live. Travel is a big part of their GDP, but it’s not always done right; it’s done with foreign ownership and money is being sucked out of the economy and not benefiting local people.
For the world’s 40 poorest countries, tourism is now the largest source of revenue. If travel is done right it can be a form of wealth distribution and it can be a force for peace. When we get to know other cultures and other people, we start to trust other cultures and other people. Then it’s a natural path to peace – so travel could change the world.
How does G Adventures contribute to the change you want to see in the world?
In every way and with every decision we make. I, personally, am doing all I can to get up there and spread the gospel on how tourism can be a force for good. For us as a company, it’s our guiding purpose. We’ve created more than 50 community projects in the last 15 years and we’re doing 50 more over the next five. Governments are even coming to us to find sustainable solutions for the growth of tourism.
Which destinations are doing ethical tourism best?
That’s a tough one because it depends where you draw the line. There are many issues when it comes to being ethical: human rights, the environment, dealings with foreign ownership of land. Some people think countries like Morocco are ethical but others have a real problem with Morocco’s treatment of animals.
When you take everything into consideration, the countries still leading the world are the G8 countries in the developed world such as Australia, Canada, the US and parts of Europe. Even when you go to some peaceful Asian countries like Thailand and Burma, you could uncover human rights violations and things that we aren’t comfortable with in our world, so it’s a tough question.
Does indigenous or home stay tourism truly help support local communities?
Yes, it does help local communities – but tourists need accessibility. So accessible indigenous communities and home stay opportunities on the tourist trail can benefit from tourism and local, authentic experiences. However, a lot of indigenous communities are not easily accessible, and there are varying degrees of accessibility, so that has to be tackled in a very different way.
After all these years, what continues to inspire you as a traveller?
The industry. Consumers are changing so quickly and dramatically. There’s so much more information available and people research travel very differently. Before the internet, people didn’t really know what they wanted or where they wanted to go because they didn’t have the information at their fingertips. Social media adds a whole new dimension of transparency and connectedness. It’s a very inspiring time.
What’s the future of ecotourism?
Well, first of all, the word ‘ecotourism’ will die, because it’s irrelevant. The future of travel is a more educated consumer – the industry has changed and the sustainable movement will only truly move when the consumer demands a more sustainable product.
The consumer has so much more information and connectedness and, as they change, the industry will change. As operators, we like to think we drive that change much more than we do but, really, it’s the education of the consumer that will ultimately create real, significant change.
Trips range from the stunning Norwegian Fjords to Galapagos Island Hopping. Also featuring trips that support their mission to protect wildlife, check out the G Adventures website for more details.