InFocus: G Adventures

Sam Ballard profiles the company set up in Canada in 1990 which is now the market leader in sustainable tourism and hugely popular with solo travellers

Having been founded in 1990 by Bruce Poon Tip with two credit cards, G Adventures has come a long way in a pretty short amount of time. The company, which now has more than 1,500 staff, runs 700 tours on all seven continents. And it’s growing.

“We are now the largest small group touring company in the world,” explains Brian Young, managing director of G Adventures, EMEA. “We began on a foundation of offering amazing experiences that get under the skin of a destination – all with a socially responsible company. That’s something we have maintained through to today.”

The fact that G Adventures has managed to maintain its ecological credentials as it has built itself up is testament to the team, and the vision of its founder. If further proof was needed the Dalai Lama himself even wrote the foreword to Poon Tip’s book Looptail.

“With the amount of choice we offer it is difficult to say who a G Adventures customer is because we have something for pretty much everyone,” Young says. “However, if you look across the board then the average age is about 37 and 64% are female, a lot of those people are solo travellers.”

The popularity of G Adventures among solo travellers is astonishing. The company estimates that more than 50% of bookings have only one name attached. But why is G Adventures such a good fit for solos?

“We are highly skewed to solos,” Young says. “For starters, you can travel with us without having to pay solo supplements. For many women, who might not have travelled alone previously, now they can with a company like ours because they have the security of a group. However, our average group size is just 12 – a lot of whom will be solos themselves – so travellers can create meaningful, and lifelong relationships with other people in their group as they have these amazing experiences, all while being led by our CEOs.”

G Adventures’ CEOs are another part of the company’s story. Abbreviated from chief experience officers, and known as tour leaders in old money, the CEOs are “the most important people in our business” according to Young. They are all local and are with the group 24 hours a day.

“Our market has always been seen as niche but that’s no longer the case. Our offering is becoming more and more mainstream. More people want to see iconic places around the world – but they want to do it off the beaten track and really get under the skin of a destination. They want to see local communities.

“They also want it to be sustainable and know that their holiday is benefiting those local communities.”

For G Adventures, which considers itself the market leader in sustainable tourism, that takes many forms. One of the most interesting is its social enterprise projects such as Women on Wheels.

“Safety is always paramount to us, no matter who is travelling,” says Young, “Take one example: arriving at Delhi airport. It’s manic – and I imagine quite intimidating for a solo traveller

“We have put in play is a project called Women on Wheels, which is a social enterprise where we have taken women who couldn’t get a job – they might be single and are trying to bring up a family – and give them meaningful employment.

“We teach them to drive and then they work for Women on Wheels. Then we use Women on Wheels drivers to pick up our single female travellers from Delhi airport and take them to their start hotel.”

The initiative is part of a far wider scheme by G Adventures, which hopes to have established 75 social enterprise projects by 2020.

Young adds: “93% of people on our tours will touch one of our social enterprises. We use the power of our travellers to power up the social enterprise projects. We use the money that we generate to help the local community – and we make sure that the money stays within that local community.”

The ethos is carried on to the company’s G Local scheme. G Adventures only contracts local hotels (rather than global chains), but it also ensures that those hotels are hiring local people and that the food it uses is sourced from local markets. The statistics back up what they’re doing: 90% of suppliers purchase more than half of their supplies from local producers; 83% of supplier management staff is local; and 50% of suppliers worldwide contribute to non-profit organisations.

It was through all of these initiatives that the company developed its relationship with arguably the most famous brand in the travel industry: National Geographic.

“National Geographic has very clear core values as a business,” Young says. “After looking at us – and the sustainability that we promote – they saw that we were a great fit for them.

“They have traditionally sold very high end travel products. Their range with us makes them far more accessible to a traditional National Geographic customer.”

The range, which is known as National Geographic Journeys, takes the massive resources that National Geographic has and puts a G Adventures spin on them. One example is the company’s Israel and Jordon product. It includes tours by both Israeli and Palestinian guides to give a dual perspective on the region’s conflict as well as night walks with a Bedouin guide and a ride through the desert on a 4×4 as guests visit the ancient sites. 14-nights is priced at just £2,629 per person.

Given that 80% of the company’s bookings are currently made through the trade, the investment that G Adventures is putting into the trade is obvious. It has an eight-strong team looking after agents, while its online booking system, Sherpa, is the best in the industry according to Young.

“Our tours are amazing. We get right under the skin of a destination, he adds. “People still want beach holidays – don’t get me wrong – but people want to see the world. They want to tick off those iconic destinations.

“Millennials are definitely within that bracket. People want to go to India but they want to really experience the destinations. We can do that with our CEOs and our social enterprises help tell more of that story too.”

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