The Future of Tourism 2013: Travel As The Agent Of Change

The G Project winner is announced; Looptail is launched and the role of tourism in the world is discussed during G Adventures' eclectic evening
09-24-2013  By: Zachary-Cy Vanasse
Paula Vlamings, executive director, Planeterra; Bruce Poon Tip, founder, G Adventures and Todd Rogerson, mayor, G Adventures
Paula Vlamings, executive director, Planeterra; Bruce Poon Tip, founder, G Adventures; & Todd Rogerson, mayor, G Adventures

G Adventures' Future of Tourism 2013 featured a mix of moments and tone on Monday night.

Hosted at the sold-out Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre in Toronto, the annual celebration of the brand and its various projects as well as company founder Bruce Poon Tip's thoughts on the future of travel was a buffet of launches, announcements and surprise guests; most notably The G Project winner, Toronto resident Lee-Ann Gibbs.

The event was hosted by G Adventures 'mayor' Todd Rogerson who introduced speakers as well as a video message delivered by television's Survivorman Les Stroud, who preached learning to travel responsibly in a world where travel is going to continue growing.

Travelling with intention

Paula Vlamings, executive director, Planeterra
Paula Vlamings, executive director, Planeterra
Paula Vlamings, executive director, Planeterra followed up Stroud's message with her own take on responsible tourism, delivering a message of travelling with intention.

"When we travel with intention is when we truly start to see the world around us," Vlamings told the crowd. "As travellers I think we all understand how precious resources are in the developing world...but the most precious things you can give a community is opportunity." 

She went on to outline a few ways Planeterra is looking to give opportunity to communities around the world through its 25 projects in 15 countries, the majority of which are small development projects.

Tourism as a force for wealth distribution

Vlamings was followed on stage by Poon Tip who opened his oration with a mini-trip through the history of travel culture since he founded the company as Gap Adventures in 1990.

Poon Tip described the early '90s as the "end of innocence" for the travel industry as the Internet and the second wave of the green movement no longer made it as simple for travel sellers and suppliers to move product, no questions asked.

As the idea of sustainability settled in in the mid '90s, eco-tourism became the buzzphrase, Poon Tip recounted. That mindset would bring about the introduction of responsible travel which brings us to the modern realm of "sustainable tourism."

"There's all different reasons to motivate people to travel, but what has happened over the past 20 years is, people have so much information at their fingertips, they make decisions different now on how they purchase," he said.

Despite the move towards "sustainable tourism" from a portion of the world travel market though, according to Poon Tip, there is an equally strong push towards compound-based vacations.

Bruce PoonTip. founder, G Adventures
Poon Tip cited statistics indicating that while 10 years ago one in five people taking a package holiday chose an all-inclusive vacation, that number has skyrocketed to 75 per cent today.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), as of 2008, for each US$100 spent on vacations by a tourist from a developed country, only around US$5 actually stays in a developing-country destination's economy.

In the face of these statistics, Poon Tip challenged those in the audience to step off the compound and experience the local life on their next vacation and notice the difference between what the compound resorts have access to and what the locals have access to.

"This is the problem we face in tourism today," Poon Tip said. "The idea is not to stop tourism. The idea is to find a way that tourism can benefit local people and tourism can actually be one of the most powerful forces in creating wealth distribution."

While currently distant from the reality, turning tourism into the a powerful force of wealth distribution across the planet is not outside the realm of possibility, as Poon Tip pointed out that - next to oil - tourism is the largest source of foreign exchange for the world's 40 poorest countries.

The G Project winner

The evening's biggest moment came when Poon Tip introduced the winner of The G Project - a project which asked the question 'What are you going to do today for tomorrow?' - fresh off the Summit in the Jungle in Costa Rica, at which the four finalists each presented their project plan to a panel of judges.

Bruce Poon Tip presentes The G Project winner Lee-Ann Gibbs with $25,000 cheque
Bruce Poon Tip presentes The G Project winner Lee-Ann Gibbs with $25,000 cheque
Toronto's Lee-Ann Gibbs, with her inspiring "Human Trafficking Survivors Take Back The Streets" project, received the biggest cheer of the night for her presentation of her winning project.

An estimated 30,000 Nepali girls are sold into sexual slavery and forced labour every year, Gibbs told the audience. These young girls are forced to work as prostitutes in brothels or forced labour until they are too sick to work, then they are left to die in the city streets. However, some of these women do manage to be rescued, escape or survive.

SASANE, established in 2008 by former female victims of human trafficking, is an organization empowering women survivors by training them to become certified paralegals.

Gibbs' project proposed leveraging and supporting SASANE's effort to empower human trafficking survivors by training them to become tour guides and hospitality staff so that they can gain access to the resources and economic benefits of Nepal's rapidly growing tourism industry.

An emotional Gibbs discussed her time in Nepal with the group of women she described as sisters and how they inspired her to try and give them a chance and an opportunity.

"The self-confidence, the self-esteem, the pride that these women feel that they can stand on their own two feet and have a chance and an opportunity...and remove the stigma that comes with trafficking, this is an impact that people often don't think about and don't talk about when they think about a project like this, but it's a pretty big one," she said.

In making her project pitch to G Adventures and Planeterra, Gibbs challenged the organizations to add one more core value to the four The G Project stood on - those being beauty, community, freedom and knowledge - and that additional core value was hope.

"To me hope is really what inspires change and what inspires ideas," Gibbs said. "While I was preparing my pitch I wrote to the women and asked them 'What would it mean to you if we won The G Project? How would winning change your life?'... They said 'Most importantly, we'll be independent.'"

Following her winning pitch presentation, Poon Tip presented Gibbs with a cheque for $25,000 and then announced that The G Project would be returning once again in 2014.

The Dalai Lama & Delfin

Poon Tip wound down the evening by discussing his new book Looptail: How one company changed the world by reinventing business.

"For years people were asking me to write a book, and I didn't think I had anything to say," Poon Tip told the audience.

He then explained how an experience with Dalai Lama lead to his inspiration to write the book and recounted how he eventually got the Buddhist leader to pen the foreword for it.

Delphin Pauchi with translator
Following the presentation of his book, Poon Tip brought out Delfin Pauchi, whom Poon Tip had met decades earlier and was one of the company's first homestays, to share his words with the audience.

Pauchi expressed his thoughts on the important role sustainable tourism can play in local economies, citing his own experience where he and his family in the Ecuadorian Amazon have been able to continue living in harmony in the rainforest because of the homestays they have been offering to G Adventures' clients throughout the years.

The night concluded with what has become a G Adventures tradition in recent years, the lip-synced video featuring company staff around the world. This year the G Adventures team chose Billy Idol's 'Dancing With Myself' and the video was debuted to those in attendance on Monday night.

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