Our Tour Operators Giving Back series looks at a company that makes sure travelers’ money goes to the communities they visit.

Share this article

Iit is oft the people we meet on our travels create the memories and experiences that change our lives. G Adventures is committed to making travel a force for good – with all the social, environmental and ethical benefits it creates to promote tourism that not only benefits the communities in which it operates, but also has a positive impact on everyone along the way. And the company hopes this will impact the way we all think about travel.

founded in 1990, G adventure hosts 200,000 travelers per year on tours averaging 10-12 people. It offers more than 750 small-group excursions on all seven continents – including wellness, hiking and biking, rail, sailing and river tours, family adventures and trips for 18-30 year olds.

What’s so special about traveling with G Adventures? His tours, built through meaningful relationships with local communities, directly benefit the people and places on the itinerary. But the communities they impact extend far beyond destinations, to G Adventures employees, suppliers and agent partners, small business owners, customers, social followers and travelers. It’s a ripple effect that makes the company notable for the community tourism it pioneered 31 years ago.

During the travel hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, G Adventures worked to maintain a responsible travel commitment and support local communities impacted by the tourism freeze. Among other projects, the company has raised funds to donate more than $122,000 to basic needs in local communities.

A positive ripple effect

After a transformational backpacking trip to Asia, Founder and CEO Bruce Poon Tip was inspired to change the face of travel. He wanted to find a better way to see the world, going beyond backpacking or large tour groups and creating an authentic and sustainable travel experience. He founded G Adventures in 1990, well before the term “sustainable” was widely used in the travel industry.

“We worked from the ground up and became more aware of how we needed to work with local communities to bring more authentic experiences to our customers,” he says. “Suddenly we were making decisions based on cultural issues: cultural interaction, cultural immersion and cultural heritage.”

The very first trips were to Ecuador and Belize because Poon Tip wanted to “take people where others don’t go”. On one of his first trips to the Ecuadorian Amazon, Poon Tip met a man named Delfin who couldn’t understand why people would want to visit his community. Poon Tip convinced him to share his way of life with travelers and open his home to homestays, and Delfin – who became the company’s first community tourism partner – is still associated with the organization today.

“A few years later, in 1995, we began our first founding work by partnering with Conservation International to explore how extreme poverty intersects with tourism and how we could be a catalyst for change through developing community projects,” says Poon Tip . Through this partnership, G Adventures became the first international travel company to offer travel Chalalán Hut in Madidi National Park in Bolivia.

On these early excursions, G Adventures travelers and guides played a crucial role in helping community members learn through hands-on experience how to run a successful ecolodge. Today it is an example of successful ecotourism in the country.

That was just the beginning for G Adventures. Poon Tip believed that travel could be a force for social well-being and the distribution of wealth, and in 2003 founded the company’s non-profit partner, the Planeterra Foundation. In 2018 he was honored by AFAR as Travel Vanguard, the first tour operator to be recognized in this way.

To measure the real-world impact of travel on the local communities in their itineraries, G Adventures began using a Ripple Score to his tours– a rating that shows people how much money the company spends on all the services needed to run each tour and measures the power of the tourism supply chain to push travelers’ dollars into underserved communities around the world conduct. The higher the score, the more money stays in the local community. In 2021, the company’s average Ripple score across all trips is 93, meaning that 93 percent of money spent at the destination goes to local businesses and services.

“Development of the Ripple score with planet era and Sustainable travel internationally [an organization focused on protecting and conserving the most vulnerable destinations by transforming tourism’s impact] was a five-year labor of love,” says Poon Tip. “We needed to see how we could engage all of our suppliers and change company behavior by finding a way to measure the local impact of our spending. It has expanded the spectrum of how people buy travel – not just based on price points or dates, but real community impact.”

How G Adventures gives back

Since its inception, the company’s vision of responsible travel has meant giving back as much as possible. The company always strives to hire local staff to guide tours and local companies to provide accommodation, transportation and activities for travelers.

Planeterra transforms travel into impact by providing community tourism businesses (from women-owned craft cooperatives to nonprofits training women in tourism) access to online training tools to break down barriers and engage underserved communities in meaningful ways. The organization has created an online community that provides a place for community tourism around the world to connect and share stories and experiences.

The G Values ​​Fund also offers low-interest loans to G Adventures tour guides, known as CEOs: Chief Experience Officers. This allows them to start their own business that not only helps the community where they live, but also adds an experience to one or more G Adventures tours. For example, Hanoi Food Culture is a restaurant that employs and trains underprivileged local youth who then run the restaurant that serves traditional Vietnamese food. G Adventures travelers visit the restaurant on multiple tours and learn about the origins of the restaurant, which in turn helps support the business and cause.

G Adventures is also committed to improving the sustainability of its own operations. The Plastics Partnership Project was launched in 2018 to eliminate as much single-use plastic on its tours as possible, encourage travelers to bring refillable bottles, work with accommodation partners to provide safe drinking water for those bottles, and develop other tools and resources to help reduce plastic throughout the facility.

In 2016, G Adventures partnered with nonprofit organization Friends-International to create the Global Best practice guidelines on child welfare in the travel industry and outlines how companies can operate in a way that protects children. That same year, another partnership with the International Institute of Tourism Studies at George Washington University resulted in a series of guidelines on responsible travel with indigenous communities to ensure tourism supports and respects the rights, history and culture of indigenous people.

Among the groups that contributed to the guidelines was tThe World Indigenous Tourism Alliance (WINTA). “WINTA and its network seek to influence the tourism industry to act with simple human decency and environmental conscience in all of its dealings around the world,” said Ben Sherman, Chairman of the World Indigenous Tourism Alliance. “Indigenous peoples seek to establish tourism businesses in partnerships with members of the tourism industry that honor humanity’s commitment and sacred duty to the earth.” The desire to act responsibly has also resulted in an animal welfare policy that puts the needs of animals first and ensures that all animals featured on G Adventures tours are treated humanely.

“Part of our model is to get as many people involved in the story as possible,” says Poon Tip. “One of the wonderful things people take away from travel is an appreciation for how other people live and our shared place in the universe. How can we change how people think about travel, recognize the privilege they have to travel and how travel can be a force for good?

“The real change happens when consumers themselves are transformed and see that they have the tools to be better travelers.”