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Sunday,  May 19, 2024 10:40 AM 

On Location: “Travel can transform lives”: Bruce Poon Tip, Canadian agents unpack “GX” in Peru


On Location: “Travel can transform lives”: Bruce Poon Tip, Canadian agents unpack “GX” in Peru
Canadian travel advisors on the scene at G Adventures' inaugural GX summit in Cusco, Peru. (Pax Global Media)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

“If done right, travel can transform lives in the community,” said Bruce Poon Tip, the founder of G Adventures. “Travel can be the greatest form of wealth distribution that the world has ever seen and impact the most in-need citizens on the planet.”

“As an industry, we don’t embrace or lean into that enough.”

With that as a starting point, G Adventures hosted its first-ever community tourism summit, called “GX,” in Peru last week, giving more than 400 attendees an opportunity to not only see what the Canadian tour operator does on the ground, but to also engage in conversations about community tourism – a touring model that G has pioneered since its formation in 1990.

From left: President of Planeterra Jamie Sweeting, Founder of G Adventures Bruce Poon Tip. (Pax Global Media)

As previously reported, the multi-day convention from Sept. 22-27 invited seven groups – a diverse mix of travel advisors, media, influencers, suppliers and travellers – to venture out into Peru, into Lima, Cusco and remote villages in the Sacred Valley, and experience local life.

(To see what PAX experienced at GX, click here).

The itineraries, which were all slightly different, included visits to several “G For Good” projects powered by Planeterra, a non-profit, founded by Poon Tip 20 years ago, that uses tourism as a catalyst to improve people's lives.

GX attendees pack the courtyard at Cusco town hall. (Pax Global Meda)

After a few days of adventure, all seven groups came together as one last Wednesday (Sept. 27) at Cusco’s town hall to hear from inspirational speakers and leaders at GX’s main event, which was held in conjunction with World Tourism Day.

READ MORE: On Location - “A transformative experience”: G Adventures’ GX summit in Peru showcases power of community

The inspiring day was packed with ideas and conversations about ways to bring positive change to the world through community tourism.  

Later on, a gold-themed closing party - sponsored by ProColombia, and inspired by Colombia’s Lost City of Gold - was held in Cusco’s ancient temple of Qorikancha, which was then followed by an buzzing afterparty featuring iconic disco group the Village People. 

From left: GX panelists Meenu Vadera, founder, Azad Foundation; Helga Benito, Tara Hopkins, çöp(m)adam, Julie Fitzgerald speak about how community tourism enterprises can empower women. (Pax Global Media)

“Our goal has always been to explain how deep we go in travel,” Poon Tip told PAX, which covered GX on location. “We can’t do it with just press releases. We run great trips to Peru, but nobody goes as deep as we do in terms of our relationships within the community.”

READ MORE: On Location - G’s golden Village People party in Peru; PAX, TTAND agent win awards

GX – an evolution of all the events G Adventures has hosted over the years, and created to celebrate Planeterra's 20th anniversary – was held in Peru to support the South American country, which has struggled with its return to pre-COVID tourism numbers due to recent civil unrest, Poon Tip said.

Peru also happens to be one of G Adventures’ top-selling destinations. 

Meeting locals at Cuyo Chico, where travellers where guests learn local traditions like ceramic and empanada making. (Pax Global Media)

For travellers who visit, “Machu Picchu is always the goal,” Poon Tip said. (And GX participants did, indeed, visit the famous 15-century Inca citadel).

However: “We surround it with community tourism and social enterprise.”

The tour operator, for example, will take its small groups to villages on the way to Machu Picchu, stopping at Planeterra-supported projects, such as the Ccaccaccollo Women’s Weaving Co-op, a group of 45 Quechua-speaking women who have made a sustainable business by mastering the art of weaving.

On location at the Ccaccaccollo Women’s Weaving Co-op. (Pax Global Media)

Ccaccaccollo Women’s Weaving Co-op. (Pax Global Media)

Bruce Poon Tip (centre) visits Ccaccaccollo Women’s Weaving Co-op. (Pax Global Media)

This co-op, which PAX visited, was G’s first Planeterra project in Peru, and bringing thousands of travellers here over the years has provided a direct income to locals, resulting in a thriving workforce for women, improved housing, a parking lot and other revenue streams, such as homestay experiences.

Another enriching experience involved visiting Parwa, a spectacular Peruvian restaurant, supported by Planeterra, in the region of Huchuy Qosqo

A special gathering at Parwa restaurant. (Pax Global Media)

Parwa restaurants supports locals in Huchuy Qosqo. and beyond. (Pax Global Media)

When travellers dine here, they support more than 40 locals, empower women in the workforce, and contribute to ripple effects in the community, such as clean water projects and supply orders from nearby farms, generating income for many.

Sometimes, when it comes to understanding a concept like community tourism, and how it can elevate a community, seeing is believing.

Which is why it was important to G Adventures to include its Planeterra projects in the GX itinerary.

“GX is about us showing the passion we have for poverty alleviation and how we define community tourism,” Poon Tip said.

“GX is about us showing the passion we have for poverty alleviation and how we define community tourism,” said Bruce Poon Tip, founder of G Adventures. (Pax Global Media)

Advisors “blown away”

It’s a powerful thing when stakeholders from all corners of travel come together to thoughtfully discuss ways of using tourism for good.

And key to this conversation are the sellers of travel – travel advisors, who represented a good chunk of GX’s guest list. 

READ MORE: G Adventures launches “Trees for Days” initiative

The summit intersected with G’s annual “Change Makers” event, an incentive trip for the trade that rewards top-selling travel advisors from G’s global markets.

GX intersected with G’s annual “Change Makers” event for travel advisors. Here's the Canadian contingent. (Supplied)

Representing Canada this year were 13 travel advisors, who started their experience in Lima, Peru’s capital, before heading to the mountainous Cusco region, where they visited local enterprises, as well as Machu Picchu.

“[Agents] are blown away,” said G’s Global VP of Sales and Customer Operations and Managing Director for Canada David Green, who was paired with the Canadian contingent.

“They’re not just seeing our impact firsthand, but they’re also sharing and collaborating with agents from around the world.”

David Green, G’s Global VP of Sales and Customer Operations and Managing Director for Canada. (Pax Global Media)

Events like GX, and Change Makers, “reinforces our commitment to being an agent-first business,” Green told PAX.

“We cannot do what we do without these agents,” he said.

Poon Tip echoed that point. 

“Travel agents are extremely important for a high-touch product like ours,” he said. “Our customers need to be prepared to go on a trip.”

From left (of G Adventures): Gemma English, GPS, B.C.;  Erin Rogers, national sales manager; David Green, global VP of sales & customer operations & managing director for Canada, in Cusco, Peru. (Supplied)

“Much more than tourism”

Nicki Clark of Flight Centre Kitsilano in Vancouver, BC, was thrilled to be part of this year’s program.

For her, the main takeaway was “how a small decision made by travellers can make a huge ripple in communities.”

READ MORE: G Adventures’ Change Makers agent incentive returns for 2023

“What might be a couple of dollars to us can change someone’s life,” Clark told PAX, referring to the Planeterra projects she visited and the positive impact she saw.

From left: Lynne Bruce, Niche Travel Group; Nicki Clark, Flight Centre Kitsilano. (Pax Global Media)

Connecting with locals in Peru was also “extra special,” she said, noting a 10-year-old-girl named Gabrielle she met while visiting the Women’s Weaving Co-op.  

“She grabbed my hand, showed me llamas, and introduced me to her mother,” Clark said. “It was something I never would have experienced if I had just showed up in a city without G Adventures.”

“Community tourism is so much more than just tourism. It’s about connecting with people who are proud to show their country off. It’s something I think we should all try.”  

Nova Scotia-based Lynne Bruce of Niche Travel Group was excited to return to Peru after last visiting the country four years ago.

She got to reunite with her Peru-based CEO (“Chief Experience Officer,” G’s term for tour leader), and meet other members of the G team.

Canadian travel advisors soak up the view in Cusco, Peru. (Supplied)

“What touched me was the community,” Bruce told PAX. “The people, the projects, the success they’ve achieved. You feel part of a community…and people are always smiling at you.”

Community tourism is about “bringing people together and helping people,” she said.

“And giving people a chance. It helps give people a better life.”

Tourism that benefits everybody

That pretty much lines up with how the big boss at G Adventures sees it.

“Traditional tourism,” said Poon Tip, is a “one-way conversation about pleasing the customer.”

“The customer has a one-way experience where they pay for services and want a certain comfort level to a point where they feel like they’ve never left home,” said Poon Tip, who shared similar insights in the 2021 documentary film The Last Tourist, which Poon Tip produced. 

READ MORE: 'The Last Tourist’ reveals tourism’s dark side, but it's "a message of hope,” says Bruce Poon Tip

Whereas community tourism “is about everyone” in the tourism supply chain, he said. 

Media attendees hike “The Balcony of the Sacred Valley

“It’s about everyone being involved in the dialogue around tourism, the creation of experiences and also benefitting from it,” Poon Tip explained.

“It’s a privilege for you to go on a holiday, and that privilege comes with great responsibility. You have an opportunity to transform and change lives.”

Poon Tip acknowledged that many travel agencies rely on “mainstream travel” for business.

Locals arrive at Parwa community restaurant in Huchuy Qosqo. (Pax Global Media)

However: “They should be promoting different things to create opportunities for customers to think differently.”

“The impact of our industry is going to be when we educate consumers about the possibilities of travel,” he said. “Many people that travel with us say they didn’t know this type of travel existed.”

GX will return

As for the future of GX, the summit will return next year in a yet-to-be-revealed location.

Planning the first one was “overwhelming,” Poon Tip shared, but it went “better than we could have expected.”

“It was a dream to put this together, and there was a lot of risk,” he said. “[But] people came together to bond, as a community, and share a common purpose about why they were here.”

“I think it worked brilliantly.”


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