TORONTO – An estimated 1,400 travel enthusiasts were in attendance at G Adventures’ 3rd annual Future of Tourism event, which took place on Sept. 23 at Toronto’s Winter Garden Theatre. Led by founder Bruce Poon Tip and emceed by G Adventures’ ‘mayor’ Todd Rogerson, the two-hour presentation included a number of exciting announcements, most notably the winner of the company’s groundbreaking global contest called the G Project.
Launched earlier this April and powered by G Adventures and its non-profit foundation Planeterra, the contest encouraged people to submit their ideas on how to help solve social and environmental issues at a local level. The winner would then receive a US$25,000 development grant to bring his or her idea to life. A panel of judges, which included Les Stroud, star of the TV series Survivorman, and Braulio Dias, Assistant Secretary General of the UN (who went on to designate the G Project as a major UN event), helped whittle down the 350 entries from over 90 countries to just four finalists, all of who travelled to Costa Rica last week to pitch their ideas at the inaugural Summit in the Jungle. It was here that Toronto resident Lee-Ann Gibbs won the judges over with her impassioned plea to empower victims of abuse.
Her winning idea, titled ‘Human Trafficking Survivors Take Back The Streets’, focuses on Samrakshak Samuha Nepal (SASANE), a Nepalese organization that trains female survivors of physical and sexual violence to be certified paralegals. As an extension of this, Gibbs proposed using the winnings to train survivors to become tour guides and hospitality staff, providing them with education, employment and, in her mind, most importantly hope.
After the success of the G Project 2013, Poon Tip announced to great applause that the contest will return in 2014.
“The G Project is more than traveller philanthropy or charitable giving. It’s a unique initiative designed to bring people from different backgrounds together to lead, build and foster positive change all over the world,” he said. “It was devised as a means to help and enable aspiring change-makers to take their idea from conception to action and impact.”
Poon Tip also took the opportunity to plug his new book ‘Looptail’, which in just one week became a bestseller on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Considered a business book and not autobiographical, Looptail focuses on G Adventures’ unique business model (which is based on sustainable and responsible tourism) and how the company is actively pursuing ways to better the world.
To celebrate the book launch, Poon Tip welcomed to the stage an important guest speaker – Delfin Pauchi, an old friend who resides in the tiny village of Pimpilala, 4.5 hours from Quito, Ecuador in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. When Poon Tip first met Pauchi 20 years ago during the early years of the company, he was instantly inspired to bring more travellers to remote communities around the world so that they could experience local customs beyond the resort compounds and cruise ships. It was this chance meeting that essentially started it all for Poon Tip, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Since then, G Adventures has grown to offer a wide selection of affordable small group tours, safaris and expeditions to more than 100 countries on all continents. Through Planeterra, it has also embarked on a global initiative to promote tourism as a means of distributing wealth to the communities it travels to.
“Planeterra and G Adventures work together to create sustainable solutions in the places travellers love to visit, to create opportunity and not dependency, because we really believe that giving needs to be tied to the market so that it can truly change the condition of poverty,” said Paula Vlamings, Planeterra’s Executive Director. “There’s often an imbalance of power when some of these companies come into local communities, promising opportunities of income without ever really connecting with the market. At Planeterra, we try to really understand the interests of the communities, what are they looking for in terms of their own opportunities to get involved in the tourism industry.”
Planeterra and G Adventures are currently investing in 25 projects in 15 countries, including the building of a community-owned restaurant in the Sacred Valley of Peru. Located in an area that trekkers pass through everyday but not necessarily stop at, the restaurant (by way of including it in G Adventures’ itineraries) will be guaranteed an approximate 10,000 visitors each year. As a result, money will pour into this community and help bring it out of poverty.
Similarly, in Delhi, India, Planeterra and G Adventures have teamed up on the Street Kids Home project, which trains homeless youth to become city tour guides by teaching them English and Hindi. There are an estimated 400,000 kids living on the streets in Delhi.
“Social enterprise drives our business decisions on finding solutions for our business problems and finding social solutions that can make people’s lives better, and that’s what our business is all about,” Poon tip concluded.