The Company We Keep: G Adventures Founder Bruce Poon Tip on Travelling with a Conscience

Thursday September 12, 2019 Written by Lisa Marie Corso with illustration by Moritz Wienert

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Though travelling the world in your early 20s is a right of passage for many, the gap year experience can conjure up unsavoury images of wild kids on raucous bus tours of Europe.

After his own youthful sojourn through Asia, however, Canadian Bruce Poon Tip was inspired to start G Adventures, a small-group tour group company and social enterprise for more conscientious travellers. “I founded the company back in 1990 with nothing more than two credit cards and a burning desire to create an authentic, sustainable travel experience,” he says. G Adventures has since grown from a one-man show to 2,200 employees, and the company offers over 700 trips to all seven continents. Though there’s nothing wrong with lounging on a yacht in Mykonos, his larger mission is to inspire more people to travel sustainably and responsibly. Here’s how you can, too.

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Share the love
It’s easy to fall back on tourist hotspots when you’re in a new place. But you should be spreading your money around. The travel industry accounts for one in 10 jobs around the world, and visiting as many different businesses as possible helps ensure that more than a select few restaurants and hotels benefit from overseas customers. “Tourism has the potential to be the greatest form of wealth distribution the world has ever seen,” Poon Tip says. “Ride different forms of transport, eat in different restaurants and use different, locally owned accommodations, such as homestays.”

Remember: you’re a visitor
There’s only one place in the world where you can be the type of visitor that kicks off their shoes and raids a fully stocked fridge, and that’s your parents’ house. Anywhere else and you need to be on your best behaviour. Do your research before visiting sacred sites and familiarise yourself with cultural protocol, which might be hyper-specific to the area. “It takes so little time to read ahead about the local cultures and customs,” Poon Tip says. Australia, for instance, is home to 200 Indigenous nations, and etiquette differs vastly between them. What might make sense in one community does not always make sense in another.

Avoid all-inclusive tours, especially cruises
Maybe you’ve spent your sick days on the couch watching daytime TV re-runs of The Loveboat, thinking cruises could be a glamourous way to see the world. But Poon Tip warns against cruise travel and other all-inclusive experiences, such as resorts. “The problem with this style of travel is that it's mostly foreign-owned, so no money stays in the local economy,” he says. Plus, the standard cruise ship omits more soot daily than one million cars. Instead, opt for accommodation that doesn’t have a huge carbon footprint and smaller tours that give back financially to the local community. “We do this by holding ourselves accountable,” Poon Tip says. “We measure each tour against our Ripple Score, which is a score out of 100 that shows the percentage of money we spend locally on trip services like accommodations, restaurants, and transportation.”

Immerse yourself in the local culture
Use your money for good. Thailand is a popular tourist destination, but an estimated 70 per cent of tourism revenue leaves the country when it could be creating more employment opportunities for people who live there. As consumers, it’s our responsibility to research where our money ends up and choose local businesses over those that are internationally owned, Poon Tip says.

BYO reusable water bottle
We’re always pounding the pavement on holiday, and while it may be convenient to buy a bottle of water, in doing so you’re contributing to the 12 billion metric tons of plastic projected to be in landfill by 2050. If you throw that bottle away, you’re adding to the waste burden of the country you have visited. Your take-away cups, Tupperware containers and metal straws aren’t just for everyday life. When you travel, bring all your reusable stuff with you to ensure you leave as little behind as possible.

This handy article was created in collaboration with G Adventures, one of the nifty brands featured in the mag as part of "The Company We Keep". Head over to G Adventures to learn more, or pick up a copy of Smith Journal's latest issue here

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