G Adventures' Bruce Poon Tip on sustainable tourism

By
|

This month, G Adventures, the Toronto-based pioneer in the sustainable travel movement, announced it was opening a second headquarters in Boston. The announcement coincided with its first Change Makers Summit in Peru. Senior editor Jeri Clausing, who was on that trip, sat down with founder and CEO Bruce Poon Tip on the final day of the summit to talk about the company and its newest initiatives.

Q: You have been based in Canada for 29 years. What prompted the creation of your so-called HQ2?

Bruce Poon Tip
Bruce Poon Tip

A: The U.S. is one of our fastest-growing markets, and it has the potential to be one of our biggest. And for us to expand, in terms of attracting the best talent in the world and also retaining the best people, we need an office in the U.S. I think we have been limited in our scope of who we can attract and retain.

Q: What percentage of your market currently is in the U.S., and what's your goal?

A: The U.S. would be about 20%. We'll double the business there over the next three years. That doesn't necessarily mean that 20 is going to go to 40 though, because we're growing our business everywhere. Right now, the U.K. and Europe is our biggest market, but we feel that our potential to grow in the U.S. is equal if not greater.

Q: You are here in Peru for your company's first big advisor event. How did this come together, and how is it different from the usual industry fam or top-sellers trip?

A: I've been so against fams and the way they are done. They are totally motivated by destination or whatever fits an advisor's dates and their budget. So then we get these people who arrive and have no interest. Those fams don't answer the need that we want. We want people to see what we do. We want them to learn what we do so they can be better ambassadors for us when they go home.

So this trip is a labor of love for us. Because we have a very complicated product. It's not easy to sell what we do. I don't think everyone is suited for our tours. But with the amount of green-washing going on in the industry right now, everyone wants to have a responsible message. But there's a difference between what we do [and other companies just making charitable donations]. The difference is our relationship with communities. The dialogue we have with the communities is so deep and so invested. So we want people on the ground to see what we actually do.

Q: As part of this trip we saw several of the community projects your foundation has funded. Which one are you most proud of?

A: Parwa [a restaurant in the Sacred Valley] is pretty big. What you guys probably don't know about the Parwa restaurant is that prior to us bringing tourists there in 2014, tourists didn't stop in that area. There was zero employment and absolute poverty in the region. Now every tour company in the world is stopping there -- not just for Parwa, but now there are also other businesses. So it's a super proud moment for us.

Q: We also stopped at the women's weaving cooperative in Ccaccaccollo. They have developed an exhibition and sales area. Do you ever worry about these villages becoming like zoos, where tourists go to gawk at the locals?

A: The answer to your question is really understanding when there is a point where we have to branch out to create two projects and then three projects, and so on, and benefit more communities as opposed to allowing one to get too successful. I don't think we worry about that too much because most of our projects are in much smaller areas. Peru is a mass destination, so you are seeing one of the biggest destinations we have in the world.

Q: Besides increasing the number of projects you want your foundation, Planeterra, to fund -- from 75 to 100 by 2020 -- you have recently started including "ripple scores" for your itineraries. Tell me about that.

A: This was created to give customers a view of how much of the money spent to run their tours stays on the ground.

Now, in the corner of every trip description there is a little ripple score that shows a percentage of how much of your money is staying in the local community. It's a small thing. But for us ... this is policing ourselves and creating best practices for our buyers because they are motivated by more than price. They are motivated now to ask the questions about local ownership and local employees. We've always had these policies, but enforcement was all anecdotal.

Comments
JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI