Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bruce Poon Tip (pictured) for our radio show. Bruce is the founder of G Adventures, one of the most important small-group adventure operators in the world. Currently the company has 10 distinct brands of tours as well as both expedition and river cruising branches. It’s considered by many to be one of the travel industry's most innovative tour companies. Here’s a slice of our conversation.
Pauline Frommer: How does a G Adventures tour vary from, say, a 40-person motor coach tour?
Bruce Poon Tip: It’s the interaction with local communities, cultural immersion, sustainable development through tourism—having all those great things.
Frommer: When I talk about G Adventures, which I do every once in a while, I say that if you go on a G Adventures tour, you’re more likely to get a variety of different people on the tour with you because I think you guys are better than other companies at attracting people of different ages and of different nationalities. And you often give your passengers a bit more free time than the traditional tour groups do, where every single second is scheduled. Is that fair?
Poon Tip: Yeah. We are truly a global brand. People from 160 countries book trips with us each year, so when you’re going on a trip, you’re traveling with people from Scandinavia or Australia, or the United States or different parts of Europe and South Africa. And so there’s multiple cultures within your trip.
Frommer: And a core value for you is “responsible tourism.” What does that phrase mean to you?
Poon Tip: Responsible travel started when people started to want to have a positive impact when they traveled. Because we’re living sustainably at home—we’re recycling, we’re eating organically—it's becoming more and more common to be living responsibly at home. And so people want to match those values with their travels. They want to make sure local communities are benefiting. You know, travel can create great wealth distribution and poverty alleviation if [it's] done right. So travel can have a really positive impact on local communities.
Frommer: But how does it do that? I heard you speak recently and you gave a shocking statistic about what percentage of a travel dollar, for most travel providers, actually goes to the local community.
Poon Tip: The shocking statistic came out of the United Nations Environment Program, that for every $100 spent on a tour or land arrangement, only $5 stayed in the local community. Which is not sustainable. It’s missing a huge opportunity.
Frommer: To help toward [changing] that [G Adventures has] created a new scoring system so that people, at least when they book your tours—hopefully this will become an industry standard—can tell what impact they’re making.
Poon Tip: We developed the Ripple Score. It took us five years…to create a way to take an accurate reading of how much money stays locally in the community. [We looked at] locally owned accommodations, transportation, restaurants everywhere we’d stop on a tour, and then came up with an accurate score for every tour that we have. Sixty-three percent of our tours have 100 percent scores, which is great. And we have a lot of tours in the 90s, but we have some that we found out are in the 60s, so it’s going to create behaviors for us in our buying department to change behavior to actually use locally owned services. [This will be] used as a policing service internally for us as well.
Frommer: Which destinations tend to be at 100 percent?
Poon Tip: Well, in areas where there’s a lot of traffic. We’re very big in places like Thailand, Vietnam, Peru, Costa Rica. You know, we have 500 employees in Peru, and they’re all local people, so we can buy locally and make sure we have more control of the product. In areas that are more remote, like Central Asia, and emerging destinations like Colombia where we don’t have as many people and we don’t have a direct office, it’s more difficult for us to monitor.
Frommer: But you’re working toward 100 percent Ripple Scores across your tours?
Poon Tip: That’s what we’re working toward.
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