G Adventures Connects Travelers to Local Communities on a Deeper Level

Our Tour Operators That Give Back series looks at a company that ensures travelers’ dollars benefit the communities they visit.

G Adventures Connects Travelers to Local Communities on a Deeper Level

G Adventures offers trips in dozens of countries, including Vietnam.

Courtesy of G Adventures

It’s often the people we meet on our travels who create the memories and experiences that change our lives. G Adventures is committed to making travel a force for good—with all of the social, environmental, and ethical good it creates, fueling tourism that has a positive impact not only for the communities in which it operates but also for everyone along the way. And the company hopes that influences the way we all think about travel.

Founded in 1990, G Adventures hosts 200,000 travelers per year on tours that average 10–12 people. It offers more than 750 small-group excursions across all seven continents—covering wellness, hiking, and cycling, rail, sail and river tours, family adventures, and trips for 18-to-30somethings.

What’s so exceptional about trips with G Adventures? Its 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 the tour destinations, to G Adventures’ employees, supplier and agent partners, small business owners, customers, social followers, and travelers. It’s a ripple effect that keeps the company notable for the community tourism it pioneered 31 years ago.

During the pause in travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, G Adventures worked to maintain a responsible travel commitment, supporting local people impacted by the halt in tourism. Among other projects, the company launched funds to donate more than $122,000 for essential 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, expanding beyond either backpacking or large tour groups, and create an authentic and sustainable travel experience. In 1990, he founded G Adventures, long before the term “sustainable” was used widely in the travel industry.

“We operated at a grassroots level and became more aware of how we needed to work with local communities to allow our customers to have more authentic experiences,” he says. “We were suddenly making decisions based on issues of culture: cultural interaction, cultural immersion, and cultural heritage.”

The very first trips were to Ecuador and Belize because Poon Tip wanted to “bring people to places where others weren’t going.” On one of his first trips in 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 for homestays, and Delfin–who became the company’s first community tourism partner–is still affiliated with the organization today.

“A few years later, we started our first foundation work in 1995 by partnering with Conservation International to look at how extreme poverty intersected with tourism and how we could be a catalyst for change by developing community projects,” says Poon Tip. It was through this partnership that G Adventures became the first international tour company to run trips to Chalalán Lodge in Bolivia’s Madidi National Park.

On those early excursions, G Adventures travelers and tour leaders played a pivotal role in helping community members learn through on-the-job experience how to run a successful ecolodge. Today, it’s an example of successful ecotourism in the country.

That was only the beginning for G Adventures. Poon Tip believed that travel could be a force for social good and wealth distribution, and in 2003, he founded the company’s nonprofit partner, the Planeterra Foundation. In 2018, he was honored by AFAR as a Travel Vanguard, the first tour operator to be distinguished in this manner.

To measure the real-world impact of travel on the local communities in their itineraries, G Adventures began applying a Ripple Score to its tours—an evaluation that lets people see the money spent by the company on all the services it takes to run each tour, measuring the power of the tourism supply chain to channel travelers’ dollars into underserved communities around the world. The higher the score, the more money that’s staying in the local community. In 2021, the company’s average Ripple Score across all trips is 93, meaning that 93 percent of the money spent in the destination goes to local businesses and services.

“Developing the Ripple Score with Planeterra and Sustainable Travel International [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 our suppliers and change the behavior of the company by finding a way to measure the local impact of how our dollars are spent. It’s expanded the spectrum of how people purchase travel—not just based on price point or dates, but real, community impact.”

G Adventures trips have a "ripple score," allowing guests to see how much money stays with the host communities.

G Adventures trips have a “ripple score,” allowing guests to see how much money stays with the host communities.

Courtesy of G Adventures

How G Adventures gives back

Since its earliest days, the company’s vision for traveling responsibly has meant giving back as much as possible. The company always aims to employ local staff to guide tours and local businesses to host, transport, and provide activities for travelers.

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

The G Values Fund also provides low-interest loans for G Adventures tour leaders called CEOs: chief experience officers. This allows them to kick-start their own businesses that will not only help the community where they live but also add an experience into one or more G Adventures tours. For example, Hanoi Food Culture is a restaurant that hires and trains underprivileged youth from the area who then run the restaurant that serves traditional Vietnamese food. G Adventures travelers visit the restaurant on several tours and learn about the origin of the restaurant, which in turn helps support the business and the cause.

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

In 2016, G Adventures partnered with nonprofit Friends-International to develop the Global Good Practice Guidelines on child welfare in the travel industry, outlining how businesses can operate in ways that protect children. That same year, another partnership with the International Institute of Tourism Studies at George Washington University resulted in a set 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 worked to contribute to the guidelines was the World Indigenous Tourism Alliance (WINTA). “WINTA and its network seek to influence the tourism industry to act with simple human decency and ecological conscience in all its dealings around the globe,” says Ben Sherman, chairman, World Indigenous Tourism Alliance. “Indigenous people seek to create tourism businesses in partnerships with members of the tourism industry that honor humankind’s obligation and sacred duty to the Earth.” The desire to model responsible action 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 about making it possible to bring as many people along into the story,” says Poon Tip. “One of the wonderful things that people take away from travel is the appreciation for how other people live, and our collective place in the universe. How can we change how people think about travel, realize the privilege they have to travel, and how travel can be a force for good?

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

>> Next: OneSeed Expeditions Empowers Locals While Offering Some Seriously Epic Trips

Jill K. Robinson writes about travel and adventure for AFAR, National Geographic, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, Outside, Sierra, and more. She has won Lowell Thomas, Society of American Travel Writers, and American Society of Journalists and Authors awards for her work.
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