G Adventures and the Evolution of Adventure Tourism
In 1990, Bruce Poon Tip founded G Adventures “to bridge the gap between mainstream tourism and the backpacker” (Poon Tip, 2013, p.47). They’ve since received many awards for their innovative and social business approach, which is centered on happiness. “In the adventure travel industry, G Adventures is recognized as an innovative company that offers hundreds of unique tours to nearly every corner of the globe. The Toronto-based firm is capable of taking clients to all seven continent [sic], and to some of the most remote regions on the planet, while still maintaining sustainable and ethical travel practices along the way. Working with local tour guides, and focusing on small groups, the company has earned itself a reputation as one of the best organizations in the entire industry, particularly when working in developing nations” (Becker, 2014). In 2000, G Adventures started to arrange the first homestays with indigenous communities.
In his book Looptail (2013) Poon Tip illustrates his first experience with creating a sustainable solution through tourism. Their customers would “take local transportation, including canoes and trains, and would stay in small, locally owned, family-run guesthouses and farms” (Poon Tip, 2013, p.73). Poon Tip describes how the Pimpilala tribe in Ecuador thrived since their first encounter in 2003. In the early days, travelers would bring their own sleeping bags, but in the meantime the community was able to build some “basic cabins with rustic beds, electricity, and plumbing” (Poon Tip, 2013, p.73), financed through hosting adventure travelers. The chief’s son was even able to study in Russia. Despite these changes, the tribe has managed to “preserve their culture. They are proud of their ability to maintain their lifestyle and stay true to their ancestor’s way of life” (Poon Tip, 2013, p.74).
In the beginning, G Adventures used to have partnerships with local NGOs, but Poon Tip wanted to move faster and thus founded his own non-profit “Planeterra Foundation” to “create opportunities through social enterprise in travel destinations around the world” (Planeterra, n.d.). Since then, G Adventures has created many more sustainable opportunities around the world. Whenever possible, G Adventures involves local businesses and labor along the supply chain, such as transport and accommodation. They created a donation program that allows travelers to give back by either adding three dollars to their booking or by donating on a dollar-per-day basis. The funds go directly to the communities the travelers engage with during their trip.
Another example of how G Adventures successfully enables communities to benefit from tourism while preserving their traditional culture is the weaving cooperative in Peru. When Poon Tip noticed that the Peruvian traditions in the region around Cuzco were slowly dying because the younger generation would move to the city center to serve his clients in bars and restaurants, G Adventures came up with a plan: “We would recruit 60 women in one of the villages outside Cuzco – 30 older and 30 younger – and have them weave all day in a co-op that we’d help build. The older women would teach the younger generation how to weave; meanwhile, we’d be creating employment for both age groups. But we wouldn’t pay them wages; instead every single one of our groups who were on their way to the Inca Trail trip would stop by the co-op, spend a day there, learn how to weave, spend time with the women and girls, and then buy the textiles – the authentic weaving. It was a brilliant idea” (Poon Tip, 2013, p.232). The Peruvians then built the co-op themselves while Planeterra paid for the rental equipment such as cement mixers. Up to date, the project has been very successful. “It’s about empowering people and giving the communities in which we operate long-term support instead of short-term relief” (Poon Tip, 2013, p.233).
G Adventures also set up a program to empower poor women in India. During recent years, the number of violent abuses and rapes in India increased and raised safety concerns for both local women and female travelers. G Adventures wanted to tackle the problem and developed the “Women on Wheels” program. In this initiative poor women in Delhi are trained to be chauffeurs who then provide the transport for female travelers. “Our ground partners are training poor women from surrounding slum regions to obtain their drivers licence, and become certified commercial chauffeurs for other women or couples. Women are also trained in English, self defence, CPR, women’s rights, and communications. This 8 to 10 month course ends with our partners helping the beneficiaries receive their first driver’s licence and then linking them with the resources to start working in a new dignified job opportunity“ (Planeterra Foundation, 2015). By providing job opportunities that turn into the primary income stream for their families, women are empowered to make household decisions for themselves and their families. Additionally, “Women on Wheels” increases the safety for female solo travelers.
Now G Adventures’ expertise is also required in post-disaster areas. Five years after the 2010 earthquake, Haiti is still struggling to recover from the disaster. In 2013, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) reached out to G Adventures, asking them “to assess the possibility of creating a tourism infrastructure in Haiti” (Becker, 2014). According to Becker (2014), the IDB identified tourism as a tool for economic development, hoping that an influx of foreign visitors would boost the Haitian economy. They believed it could also change the country’s image on an international level. Jeff Russell, VP of innovation at G Adventures, then went to Haiti “to explore its potential as an adventure travel destination”. Russell connected with local tour guides and tourism officials, and developed a plan for a tour to Haiti that would highlight the country’s rich history and culture, as well as the natural resources of the country. The 10-day trip was offered five times in 2015, with more departures planned for 2016.
Adventure Tourists to the Rescue
When two massive earthquakes struck Nepal in early 2015, ATTA and the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) joined forces and called for all Adventure Tour Operators to help the people of Nepal. G Adventures’ Planeterra Foundation had previously created an ‘Emergency Preparedness & Response Fund’ called Help Now “to help at-risk communities by developing emergency response plans, providing targeted aid and relief during a disaster and helping the area recover and rebuild more quickly and effectively” (Planeterra, n.d.). They immediately mobilized their customers to donate for Nepal and raised over C$ 218,000 for emergency relief.
According to the Nepal Association of Tour Operators (NATO), tourism arrivals to Nepal dropped by as much as 85% after the earthquakes. But avid trekkers requested “trips that combine trekking and voluntourism efforts“ to help Nepal recover from the disaster (Baran, 2015). Canadian adventure tour operator World Expeditions reports: “We’ve received an overwhelming response from the public wanting to assist”. According to Baran (2015), “the company is assembling a series of voluntourism projects that will run from September through April 2016, ranging from four days to three weeks in length, combining a community assisted project in Nepal with a trek“. Nepali adventure tour operator Ace The Himalaya teamed up with The Clymb, a Portland, Oregon-based outdoor gear and adventure travel seller. They assembled a 13-day itinerary that includes “nine days of trekking and four days of helping to rebuild destroyed villages“ (Baran, 2015). They will be offering eight departures between September and May 2016. “tour participants will help reconstruct villages in the Gorkha region, near the epicenter of the first quake, where trekking volunteers will provide ’priceless sweat equity along with much-needed dollars to help purchase construction supplies,’ Ace said“ (Baran, 2015). All proceeds from the trips will be donated to the local organization Sambhav Nepal Foundation to rebuild the villages. Australian tour operator Intrepid Travel also hopes to offer several charity treks in Nepal for 2015.
While some adventure operators raise donations or create volunteer itineraries, others provide transportation for aid delivery: When Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines in 2013, Eddie Agamos Brock, founder of Tao Philippines, an eco-tourism company that runs five-day boat expeditions between El Nido and Coron, decided to help because this area was one of the most affected, and some of their partnering island communities had been completely wiped out (Choat, 2013): “We cancelled a trip that week and concentrated all our boats on delivering aid. (…) Some of the trips have become a part of the aid distribution plan and we just ask everyone to help out. Our customers love it. (…) We’ve also decided to start a loaning co-operative, where we lend materials to repair boats”.
Christopher White also wanted to help after Typhoon Haiyan had hit the Philippines. At that time, White was a travel director for a Chinese extreme adventure tour operator. He mobilized a team of 25 volunteers from different backgrounds “to work with local groups to deliver food and medical supplies, clear debris and build ten houses in one of the hardest-hit areas in Bantayan Island, Cebu“ (Santos, 2015). But White soon noticed that their approach was going to be ineffective. The time volunteers would be spending in the area was too short to actually make an impact. White then co-founded Young Pioneer Disaster Response (YPDR). The organization is now committed to “a 3 year operation on Bantayan Island in order to facilitate the implementation of long-term solutions designed to empower and promote the prosperity and well-being of this disaster affected community“ (YPDR, n.d.). YPDR is accredited both in the Philippines and in the United States.