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In an era when travel retail outlets are closing their doors and moving exclusively online, it's a welcome relief to know that some travel providers still value face to face interaction and the importance of customers being able to speak with industry specialists. G.A.P. Adventures (tel. 800/708-7761; www.gapadventures.com) is one of the largest adventure travel companies in the world but it is still run with a personal touch and attention to detail that often gets lost when dealing with online travel providers.

On Saturday, September 15, G.A.P. opens its first concept store in the U.S. -- a place where those passionate about traveling can talk to adventure travel experts, watch travel videos and meet with fellow adventure seekers. This is the fifth of G.A.P.'s retail spaces -- the first three were established in G.A.P.'s home base of Canada (Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary) and the fourth is located in Melbourne, Australia -- a city known for its travel-loving population.

G.A.P. chose New York's Greenwich Village as its location -- which is a good fit based on its largely young, environmentally aware and student population. The store itself is a relaxed, ambient space where global music plays in the background and a huge world map greets you at the entrance. Its features include a series of iMac workstations where potential travelers can research G.A.P. trips; brochures and trip resources; a lecture space for G.A.P.'s series of educational seminars on topics like travel photography, travel packing tips, staying healthy on the road and travel writing; TV screens showing episodes of Great Adventure People, a highly successful series currently showing on Canada's Travel Channel; albums of photographs taken by G.A.P. travelers highlighting destinations and accommodation etc.; and professional G.A.P. staff who can provide personal insights into G.A.P.'s different styles of travel. It's a full service travel retail store, meaning that you can not only book your tour, but also your airfare and additional accommodation as required. G.A.P. has relationships with a number of airfare consolidators and can track down the right airfare to ensure that you get to your tour starting point in the most affordable way.

According to G.A.P.'s charismatic CEO, Bruce Poon Tip, the concept stores are a natural extension of G.A.P.'s mission to provide personalized travel experiences at a grass roots level and educate would-be travelers about the benefits of sustainable tourism. With the growing trend in the U.S. towards living a sustainable lifestyle and an increase in people's environmental awareness, why should people's travel be any different? G.A.P. Adventures creates its trip itineraries to provide eco-friendly tourism options for travelers who seek authentic cultural and environmental travel experiences. G.A.P. plans to expand its concept stores network with roll-outs in at least three new markets (Europe and beyond) in the next 18 months.

A key aspect to G.A.P. Adventures is the emphasis it places on corporate social responsibility. It has established Planeterra (www.planeterra.org), a foundation dedicated to giving back to communities in many of G.A.P. Adventures' destinations. G.A.P. encourages it travelers to donate a dollar a day for the duration of their trips, it matches all individual donations plus pays all administration fees so that 100% of the funds go directly to worthwhile projects in countries like Peru, South Africa, Costa Rica and Ecuador. The financial support is extended beyond local community projects to various international charities. G.A.P.'s dedication to sustainable and responsible tourism is evident in all its commercial and philanthropic activities.

I asked Bruce what destination he thought travelers should see now, or risk not being able to experience authentically in the future. Bruce's answer was China -- which I immediately assumed was because of the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008 -- an occurrence that tends to change cities and their infrastructure significantly. The main reason that Bruce cited was that cultural preservation is not particularly high on the Chinese government agenda, and as a result, perceived progress and modernization may be a threat to China's cultural icons and heritage. Bruce's current favorite adventure destination is the Arctic -- pristine and pure and available to discerning travelers through a series of G.A.P.'s Arctic expeditions to Spitsbergen (Norway) and beyond, aboard its specialized vessel -- Explorer.

If you can make it down to the grand opening of the G.A.P. store on Saturday, September 15, 2007, there will be informative presentations by Bruce and by travel guru and this website's namesake, Arthur Frommer (Arthur discusses G.A.P. on his blog). Other draw cards include trip giveaways, international music and dance demonstrations. G.A.P. Adventures will donate 10% of all New York store sales in the first week to Planeterra.

G.A.P. Adventures New York Concept Store (tel. 888/800-4100) is open daily and is located at 364 Avenue of the Americas (just near the West 4th Street Subway station). Drop in and say hello to the friendly staff and maybe even book that exotic overseas adventure you've always dreamed of.

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