Written by David Silverberg
In 1990, Bruce Poon Tip went backpacking across Asia, but he wanted to embark on a trip set apart from what travel agencies were offering him. Instead of the usual hotspots and resorts some agencies suggested as ideal areas to visit, Poon Tip went off the routine path and bought a guidebook and visited the sites that reflected the various communities across Asia, instead of solely checking out the “tourist traps.”
In an interview, Poon Tip says that was the eureka moment to create his own travel operator. In that year, G Adventures was born, offering customers an alternative to the resorts and cruises common in the industry. Instead, travellers can get on a first-name basis with a country’s people, cultures, landscapes and wildlife.
“We want to give travellers a culturally immersive experience,” says Poon Tip.
What does that look like? Take an Indian travel package, as an example. One program G Adventures set up trains women living in shelters to drive, and sponsors and government grants pay them to be drivers for the company’s arrivals to the country.
In another project in India, funded by the government, homeless children in Delhi are trained to give boots-on-the-ground tours to G Adventure travellers, as a way for the children to “show a different side of the city that others might not see,” adds Poon Tip.
“People are travelling all over the world and their money isn’t staying in the local economies,” he notes, addressing another issue G Adventures aims to tackle. “If done right, travel can have the ability to create wealth distribution and it can also be the fastest path to peace by allowing us to relate to others by learning about their lives, their religions.”
What is also unique about G Adventures is its Ripple Score, a calculation it makes on sites such as analyzing if a hotel is foreign-owned or local.
Based in Toronto, G Adventures offers more than 800 tours in 100 countries, bolstered by a global staff of 2,500. Poon Tip’s contribution to the travel industry has not gone unnoticed: he has addressed the United Nations and the World Bank and delivered keynote speeches at TED events and entrepreneurship conferences around the world. In 2012, Bruce was inducted into the Social Venture Network Hall of Fame. He was also awarded a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, which recognizes significant contributions to society.
In 2018, Poon Tip was named one of Canada’s Most Admired CEOs for 2018 by Waterstone Human Capital, Canada's leading cultural talent management firm.
On what Poon Tip finds fulfilling about leading this small but scrappy company, he says, “I get a ton of gratification from seeing how travel helps people understand who they are and appreciating where they sit in the universe.”
He recognizes the challenges ahead of him but he’s happy to face them head-on. “We run more than 100 countries so every decision made is critical and it can be challenging to grow from a startup to a multinational company. But in five years from now I predict we’ll be double the size we are now.”
Photo credit Zlatko Cetinic, Images Made Real