An Interview with Bruce Poon Tip of G Adventures

04 Sep 2017

Ellie Fazan speaks to philanthropist and founder of G Adventures, Bruce Poon Tip...

Broke and more than 3,100 miles from the check-in desk for my pre-booked flight home, I once travelled alone from Cape Town to Nairobi on public transport. En route, I was squashed into jeepneys with farm animals, slept on floors surrounded by curious children, and learned a thing or two about the world while loitering in bus stations. And while this changed my perspective on the planet, things carried on much the same as before.

Bruce Poon Tip at the South Pole

A completely new perspective

Not so for Bruce Poon Tip who went backpacking around Asia on US$10 a day at the age of 22. It was a truly transformative experience for him, and one that was to change the face of travel forever. “I got arrested in Burma. Ate crickets for the first time. It was an adventure!” he says. “But what really stood out was meeting real people and seeing their spiritual connection to the world. It was a completely new perspective.”

Afterwards, Bruce had an idea to take people on organised tours, taking them out of hotel environments and allowing them to discover the essence of a place, but without the risk of getting arrested or having to sleep on a bus-station floor. “You’ve got to remember that this was the early 1990s, and if you wanted to book a hostel or hotel, you had to write a letter! I went to Venezuela, Ecuador and Belize – maxing out two credit cards – and put various itineraries together. Then I persuaded a friend to be my first tour leader and hit the pavements, telling anyone who would listen about this exciting new way to travel.”

Six brave souls went on the first expedition; now, 25 years later, G Adventures offers more than 650 tours across all seven continents, serving 150,000 travellers a year. Some of those original six travellers still take tours with G Adventures, one of whom has done 35 trips. “We offer a range of experiences, each intended to get deep into the heart and soul of a destination,” says Bruce. “When I was younger, I liked the hustle and bustle of Hanoi and the markets of Marrakech. As I get older, I like more remote places – the desolation of the Antarctic, the unspoilt wilderness of the Galápagos Islands, the spiritual nature of eastern Tibet.” With G Adventures, all of this is possible.

Hot-air balloons in Bagan at sunrise

Engaging with local communities

All of Bruce’s adventures call on local guides – who each have relationships with restaurants, shops and locally owned hotels – to give guests an authentic insight into the lives of the people they meet and of the places they visit. “You can’t just bring in people from outside and let them create itineraries. It just doesn’t work like that.” These guides are the most important people in the business – and to reflect this, 10 years ago he gave away his CEO title. “We don’t call them leaders or guides any more. Instead, they are called ‘chief experience officers’. Our focus is 100% on the customers. Their experience has to be the best, and I wanted the people who have contact with them on a daily basis to have the most important title in the business. Now it’s something we’re known for globally.”

An engaging dialogue with local communities provides alternative income and lifestyle pathways, ensuring that everyone benefits. “With some all-inclusive holidays, less than US$5 of every US$100 stays in the local economy,” he says. “But if done the right way, travel is a great force of good and form of wealth distribution.”

Bruce’s non-profit organisation Planeterra further supports local communities, creating social enterprises that empower women, and support young people, and indigenous and rural communities worldwide. Projects include a women’s weaving co-operative that employs 100 women in Peru, city tours led by street children – like the one taken by British Royals Kate and Wills on a recent visit to India – and a programme that encourages youth to stay in school on the island of Caye Caulker in Belize.

“When our partners first got started, only 30% of the youth were registered in secondary school. Our partners opened a community high school, Ocean Academy, and we worked with them to develop Bike With Purpose, a program that would empower youth to lead tours around the island as a means to pay for their tuition and save for their families. 90% are now attending school.”

Machu Picchu on a cloudy day

Getting more from your holiday

G Adventures has recently partnered with National Geographic. “They’ve been discovering the world for 129 years, funded the discovery of Machu Picchu, and have wildlife-research centres in Africa and scientific research stations the world over. This means we can take our guests ‘backstage’ and add an extra level of expertise to trips: greater hands-on exploration, more interactions with local experts, and the freedom to roam, all within the structure and security of a small group.”

These National Geographic Journeys with G Adventures are a unique collection of tours designed to take you deep into the cultures and habitats of the places you travel to. “Travel is all about storytelling. I want people to have enriching, transformative experiences,” says Bruce. “Experiences where they come home and say, ‘It was amazing. The people were beautiful, And we learned something, too’. This is the first step towards spreading the word and changing how we live in the world.”

On these small group tours you get to eat high-quality local food, sleep in comfort, and travel in style – from boat, to train to hot-air balloon – yet you also get to see the world at a grassroots level. “Even when I travel for business, I still like to immerse myself in local culture, but our National Geographic Journeys are one step better. You’re travelling with other people from round the world – 160 countries – so it’s a cultural experience within a cultural experience. These kinds of holidays are self-selective, so you’ll always travel with like-minded people. It doesn’t matter if you’re 30 or 70, you’ll have things in common. I always get letters saying, ‘My new best friend is 65.’ That’s the great thing about travel.”


Book it now: For a fresh perspective of your own, travel the world on a National Geographic Journey with G Adventures. To find out more, call 0800 258 8773 or make an appointment with one of our Travel Experts.


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