Our series Tour Operators That Give Back looks at a company that ensures travelers’ money benefits the communities they visit.
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IIt’s goodns the people we meet on our travels who create the memories and experiences that change our lives. G Adventures is committed to making travel a force for good, with all the social, environmental and ethical good it creates, fueling tourism that has a positive impact not only for the communities in which it operates, but also for everyone along the way. And the company hopes it will influence the way we think about travel.
Founded in 1990, G Adventures welcomes 200,000 travelers a year on tours that average 10 to 12 people. It offers more than 750 small-group excursions on seven continents, covering wellness, hiking and biking, rail, sailing and river tours, family adventures and trips for 18-30 year olds. .
What’s so great about traveling with G Adventures? Its tours, built through meaningful relationships with local communities, directly benefit the people and places along the route. But the communities they impact extend far beyond tourist destinations, to G Adventures employees, suppliers and agent partners, small business owners, customers, social subscribers and travelers. It’s a ripple effect that keeps the remarkable community tourism business she started 31 years ago.
During the travel hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, G Adventures has strived to maintain a responsible travel commitment, supporting local populations impacted by the tourism shutdown. Among other projects, the company launched funds to donate more than $122,000 for the basic needs of local communities.
A positive ripple effect
After a transformational backpacking trip to Asia, Founder and CEO Bruce Poon Tip was inspired to change the face of travel. He wanted to find a better way to see the world, expand beyond backpacking or large tour groups, and create an authentic and sustainable travel experience. In 1990 he founded G Adventures, long before the term “sustainable” was widely used in the travel industry.
“We operated at the local level and became more aware of the need to work with local communities to enable our customers to have more authentic experiences,” he said. “We were suddenly making decisions based on questions of culture: cultural interaction, cultural immersion and cultural heritage.”
The very first trips were to Ecuador and Belize because Poon Tip wanted to “take people places where others weren’t going.” On one of his first trips to the Ecuadorian Amazon, Poon Tip met a man named Delfin who couldn’t understand why people wanted to visit his community. Poon Tip convinced him to share his lifestyle with travelers and open his home for homestays, and Delfin, who became the company’s first community tourism partner, is still affiliated with the organization today.
“A few years later, we began our first foundational work in 1995, partnering with Conservation International to explore how extreme poverty intersects with tourism and how we could be a catalyst for change by developing community projects,” explains Poon Tip. It is through this partnership that G Adventures became the first international tour operator to organize trips to Chalalán Lodge in Madidi National Park in Bolivia.
On these early excursions, G Adventures travelers and tour leaders played a pivotal role in helping community members learn, through hands-on experience, how to run a successful ecolodge. Today it is an example of successful ecotourism in the country.
This was just the beginning for G Adventures. Poon Tip believed that travel could be a force for social good and the distribution of wealth, and in 2003 he founded the company’s nonprofit partner, the Planeterra Foundation. In 2018, it was honored by AFAR as Travel Vanguard, the first tour operator to be honored in this way.
To measure the real impact of trips on local communities in their itineraries, G Adventures began to apply a Ripple Score on his tours– an assessment that allows people to see the money spent by the company on all the services needed to run each tour, measuring the power of the tourism supply chain to funnel money from travelers to communities underserved around the world. The higher the score, the more money stays in the local community. In 2021, the average company Ripple Score for all travel is 93, which means that 93% of the money spent in the destination goes to local businesses and services.
« Developing the Ripple Score with Planeterra and Sustainable Travel International [an organization focused on protecting and conserving the most vulnerable destinations by transforming tourism’s impact] was a five year labor with love,” says Poon Tip. “We needed to see how we could engage all of our suppliers and change business behavior by finding a way to measure the local impact of how our dollars are spent. This has broadened the spectrum of how people buy travel, not just based on price or dates, but the actual impact on the community.
How G Adventures Gives Back
From its inception, the company’s vision for responsible travel has been to give back as much as possible. The company still aims to employ local staff to guide tours and local businesses to host, transport and provide activities for travelers.
Planeterra transforms travel into impact by providing community-based tourism businesses—from women-owned craft cooperatives to nonprofits that train women in tourism—access to online training tools to break down barriers to engage underserved communities in a meaningful way. The organization has created an online community that provides a place for community tourism around the world to connect and share stories and experiences.
The G Values Fund also provides low-interest loans to G Adventures companions called CEOs: Experience Directors. This allows them to start their own business that will not only help the community where they live, but also add an experience to one or more G Adventures tours. For example, Hanoi Food Culture is a restaurant that hires and trains disadvantaged local youth who then run the restaurant that serves traditional Vietnamese food. G Adventures travelers visit the restaurant on multiple tours and learn about the origin of the restaurant, which helps support the business and the cause.
G Adventures is also committed to improving the sustainability of its own operations. He launched the Plastics Partnership Project in 2018 to eliminate single-use plastic as much as possible on his tours, encouraging travelers to bring refillable bottles, working with accommodation partners to provide clean drinking water for these bottles and developing other tools and resources to help reduce plastic throughout its operations.
In 2016, G Adventures partnered with non-profit organization Friends-International to develop the Global Good practice guidelines on child protection in the travel industry, outlining how businesses can operate in a way that protects children. In the same year, another partnership with the International Institute for Tourism Studies at George Washington University resulted in a set of guidelines on responsible travel with Indigenous communities to ensure that tourism supports and respects the rights, history and culture of Indigenous peoples.
Among the groups that worked to contribute to the guidelines was tThe World Indigenous Tourism Alliance (WINTA). “WINTA and its network seek to influence the tourism industry to act with simple human decency and environmental awareness in all its transactions around the world,” says Ben Sherman, President, Global Indigenous Tourism Alliance. “Indigenous peoples seek to build tourism businesses in partnership with members of the tourism industry that honor humanity’s obligation and sacred duty to the Earth.” The desire to model responsible action has also resulted in an animal welfare policy that puts the needs of animals first and ensures that all animals featured on G Adventures tours are treated humanely.
“Part of our model is to allow so many people to be involved in the story,” says Poon Tip. “One of the wonderful things people take away from travel is an appreciation for how other people live and our collective place in the universe. How can we change the way people think about travel, do the privilege they have to travel and how travel can be a force for good?
“Real change happens when consumers change themselves and see they have the tools to be better travelers.”