With sustainable tourism fast climbing the travel and tourism agenda, we’re discussing the topic with travel industry leaders and change makers and asking them how they think we can #Traveltochangetheworld.

In our latest ‘Travel to change the world’ interview, Bruce Poon Tip, founder of G Adventures, shares his thoughts and ideas on how we can all do our bit to sustain the industry and leave a legacy of goodness.

 

What was it that inspired you to join the travel industry?

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Bruce Poon Tip and his holiness, The Dalai Lama at the launch of Poon Tips book – Looptail

I was born in Trinidad, moved to Canada when I was three and went on a backpacking adventure through Asia in 1990.

I was deeply touched by what I saw and when I came back I thought ‘I want to make a career out of this’. I wanted to share that passion and vision of experiencing adventures in an authentic and sustainable manner with others. I wanted to bridge the divide between backpacking and mainstream travel and give travellers the opportunity to foster meaningful connections with local communities in the countries they visited.

My belief then, and indeed my belief still to this day, is that travel can connect global cultures and lead to greater global wealth distribution – if done correctly.

That was the beginning of G Adventures and my travel industry life, 27 years ago now.

 

What concerns you about the industry today in terms of its long-term viability?

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I think the travel industry faces numerous challenges, just as it probably always has done at varying other times in history.

Today, we’re in the middle of a time where the world seems beset by a serious case of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.

Across the world there is civil disruption, wars, disease, environmental concerns and less freedom for many. Many currencies are volatile as are the countries they represent and of course terrorism has made many people scared of travelling.

However, this industry is a resolute one and especially in Australia where you are very far away from many of the world’s troubles and attitudes. The Australian travelling public is resilient and continues to embrace travel as a rite of passage.

 

Do you think travel can change the world?

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G Adventures Belize Caye Caulker Bike with Purpose Tour

I think travel has already changed the world in so many ways.

But yes, absolutely it can do more and that’s perhaps travel’s greatest opportunity. Through education, the breaking down of stereotypes and connecting human beings – regardless of where they’re from. All this creates responsible ambassadors who spread the word and inspire more people to travel and do the same.

Today, there are more opportunities than ever in travel; there are more ways to travel and more ways to experience the world. I believe there is truly something for everyone, everywhere.

 

Are you seeing positive change happening in the industry that you really admire?

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I think the most impactful, positive change that I’ve seen is that, increasingly, it’s consumers who are driving innovation and more responsible travel.

Consumers are pressuring companies for answers, solutions and transparency. And to me, that’s exciting.

More and more travellers are looking at corporations and saying “what are you doing to give back? What are you doing that’s holistically sustainable in the way you are operating your business?”

With social media being so prolific now, there really is nowhere to hide – and that’s a great thing as it forces everyone to lift their game and do more. For most of the next generation coming through exposure via social media isn’t an abnormal concept – it’s part of their DNA and would be abnormal to not think like that.

 

What projects is G Adventures undertaking in this space?

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G Adventures Unbutu Training Cafe, Maai Mahiu, Kenya

The United Nations has designated 2017 the Year of Sustainable Tourism Development and we believe that with increased awareness tourism can be the biggest means of wealth distribution in the world.

We’ve got five new G for Good experiences that are joining our G Adventures’ list of 31 projects around the world, and are part of our commitment to launch 50 new projects by 2020 – 10 per year – also known as our “50 in 5” campaign.

These new initiatives include:

1. Bike with Purpose – Caye Caulker, Belize

On Caye Caulker, children often drop out from school by age 12. We send 4,000 travellers a year to the island, and by taking a Bike with Purpose tour, travellers give students from the Ocean Academy (the island’s only community high school) the opportunity to practice their guiding skills while offering travellers a unique experience.

2. El Hongo Community Restaurant – Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Playa del Carmen has become built-up by mass tourism and this project takes travellers to see ‘the other side’ with a home-style meal at volunteer-run restaurant El Hongo. Our small groups tour the neighborhood, learning about the vivid street art the kids create, and have a meal at their social enterprise restaurant which supports these community initiatives.

3. Cafe Ubuntu – Maai Mahiu, Kenya

This really cool training cafe empowers mothers, many with children living with disabilities, giving them meaningful job opportunities. Travellers enjoy a delicious lunch sourced from local organic farms. The café also provides a market for marginalised women to learn to make and sell handicrafts as meaningful souvenirs. Proceeds from the businesses help support the nearby Ubuntu School, which serves children with special needs by providing therapy, education, and vocational training.

 

What do you think is the biggest challenge the industry faces in terms of ‘sustaining’ itself?

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G Adventures ‘Time of your life’ Campaign targeting Millennials

The biggest challenge is always piquing people’s interest to learn more and inspire others to do the same in a positive way.

Travel agents in Australia are like nowhere else I’ve seen. And I say that in the most positive way. In Australia, being a travel agent means being professionally trained and often accredited to very high standards. There’s nothing like that anywhere else in the world for travel agents.

Australian travel agents are extremely professional, knowledgeable and generally well equipped to inspire travellers to try new destinations and experiences.

The travel industry is growing again, with the resurgence of agents well and truly alive and well. 10 years ago, travel agents were being written off in favour of the internet and that doom and gloom outlook has only ceased recently.

I think the Australian travel industry is well placed now to take advantage of consumers’ increasing appetite for ethical and purposeful travel and to push the boundaries. In that way, together we’re already providing a dynamic, scalable platform for everyone to sustain themselves. And it’s awesome news.

Do you think travel can change the world? Share your comments below.