A sustainable tourism industry driven by informed choices that benefit destinations and empower women was the vision offered by G Adventures’ founder Bruce Poon Tip, at this week's 2014 Future of Tourism presentation.
The fourth annual event was held Monday night at Toronto’s Koerner Hall, drawing hundreds of travel professionals and guests to learn more about sustainable tourism. With World Tourism Day taking place Sept. 27, this year’s theme of Tourism and Community Development provided the context for the evening. In addition to the 1,100 RSVPs to the event - a sell-out crowd - more than 480 online viewers watched a live stream of the presentation, said Tim Chan, PR Manager for G Adventures.
Following a video address by renowned chimpanzee researcher and humanitarian Dr. Jane Goodall, the evening began with a panel discussion on the issue of sustainable tourism amongst some well-known names, including Lonely Planet CEO Daniel Houghton; Audrey Scott of Uncornered Market (who, along with husband Daniel Noll, also serves as a ‘Wanderer in Residence’ for G Adventures); Planeterra Foundation president Jamie Sweeting; and Toronto TV personality and experienced traveller Kris Reyes.
“Tourism shouldn’t be on autopilot – there needs to be some control,” said Scott, responding to a question about what direction emerging destinations should take when embracing a new travel market.
“Some governments look at Cancun as an ideal tourist attraction,” said Sweeting, “and from a financial perspective it’s a success. But we need to change the definition of success - currently, success for the average tourism minister is the number of bums in beds, not how many local people whose lives have been enriched by the industry.”
The lively discussion was followed by a presentation by Bruce Poon Tip, outlining the current challenges posed in re-defining the travel industry and potential solutions. Among those are a need to provide tourists with more opportunities and incentive to embrace travel that benefits the local community in a destination, as well as more opportunities that benefit and employ women. The CEO pointed to a new initiative begun by G Adventures in India called Women on Wheels, which employs local women in Delhi to transport G Adventures’ single female travellers to the region.
Ultimately, he said, it all begins with consumers making informed purchase decisions, a process made easier in the age of smartphones and social media.
“It’s all about consumers and what they buy - entrepreneurs create products based on demand,” he said. “We have all of this information in our pockets and it only takes a few minutes to ask some questions, but we still don’t do that all the time.”
Special guests present at the event were Hellen Nduta, one of G Adventures’ CEOs and the first female safari guide in Kenya; and Lee Ann Gibbs, the winner of the company’s GProject campaign who received $25,000 to assist her ‘Sisterhood of Survivors’ program, benefiting Nepalese women who were the victims of human trafficking and subsequently sold into the country’s sex trade.
On the business side of things, Poon Tip also offered a glimpse of future offerings from G Adventures, including the company’s upcoming international rail packages, as well as the new G Adventures’ travel app, which launches Dec. 1 and will keep travellers connected with information (such as itinerary details and emergency contacts) tailored to their profile.
MAIN PHOTO: (From left) Dave Holmes, ‘Mayor’ of G Adventures’ Toronto Base Camp; Kris Reyes, Global TV; Jamie Sweeting, president, Planeterra Foundation; Audrey Scott of Uncornered Market; Daniel Houghton, CEO, Lonely Planet.