“Community is about everybody. Everybody who is part of our supply chain in tourism,” said Bruce Poon Tip, founder of G Adventures. “It’s people who get together with a shared sense of responsibility.”
The meaning of community, and its role in tourism, was explored by more than 400 travel and tourism aficionados – from suppliers to travel advisors to media to travellers – this past week as G Adventures held its inaugural “GX” summit in Peru.
The multi-day convention, which kicked off on Sept. 22 and concluded Wednesday (Sept. 27), was produced to showcase the power of community tourism – a space that made-in-Canada G Adventures has pioneered since 1990 – and spread the word that travel, if done properly, can be the greatest form of wealth distribution and empower communities globally.
“That's what our groups do all over the world every day,” Poon Tip told attendees at yesterday’s main event, which took place at Cusco Town Hall on World Tourism Day. “Their vision of travel is making sure everyone has a transformative experience.”
Into the Andean highlands
To say GX – an evolution of all the events G has hosted over the years – was transformative would be an understatement.
The summit – also held to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Planeterra, a non-profit founded by G that uses tourism as a catalyst to improve communities and lives – consisted of seven different groups who were each given dedicated itineraries through Peru, which is home to section of the Amazon rainforest and ancient Incan ruins.
(Poon Tip said holding the summit in Peru was “strategic” in helping support the country, which has struggled with its return to pre-COVID tourism numbers due to recent civil unrest).
As media, PAX began in Cusco, a city in the Peruvian Andes, once capital of the Inca Empire, where we unlocked secrets of the Sacred Valley – including a brand new, soon-to-be-released G itinerary that takes guests to the archaeological site of Huchuy Qosqo, a lesser-known, 15th century ruin in Peru that experts say was built as a royal estate by the Inca Emperor.
The day-and-a-half, 16 kilometres trek through remote Andean highlands — at elevations above 4,000 meters! — involved climbing steep hills and camping overnight on a flat plateau, overlooking the mountainous Sacred Valley, steps away from ancient Inca stonework.
This site, which cars can’t access, is rarely visited. But the high-altitude trail to get there, known locally as “The Balcony of the Sacred Valley,” will be offered by G Adventures soon.
Us media were used as guinea pigs to trial the newly-developed route (which made us laugh given that guinea pigs are a delicious delicacy in Peru).
We also, by train, ventured to Aguas Calientes, a town that sits at the foot of the famous 15th-century Inca citadel Machu Picchu, which we also explored.
G For Good
But it didn’t start and end there. Earlier, we had a chance to visit important “G For Good” projects supported by Planeterra.
There was 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.
Members of the co-op, located in a remote Indigenous community in the Andes, apply traditional methods of manual wool spinning, using natural dyes from flowers and plants.
Visitors, here, are welcome to purchase items from the co-op’s collection of ponchos, scarves, hats and mittens, which are made from various types of wool, from llama to alpaca.
This was G’s first Planeterra project in Peru, and hosting thousands of travellers over the years has provided a direct income to local families, while also improving the village overall with improved housing, a new parking lot and homestay experiences.
Bruce Poon Tip – known as “Papa Bruce” in these parts – joined journalists in visiting the co-op, where locals, dressed in traditional Peruvian clothing, greeted us with singing, dancing and glowing smiles.
“I’m amazed coming here,” Poon Tip said, addressing attendees. “When we came here in 2003, there was nothing here but a soccer field. There were no roads or parking. All the homes weren’t here.”
There was also “zero” tourism back then, he said.
“People [hundreds of thousands] passed through the Sacred Valley just to get to Machu Picchu,” Poon Tip said, explaining how G set out to change that by adding visits to villages along the way on its tours.
It was when a smart local woman named Francisca, who founded the co-op, approached G/Planeterra about establishing her village as a tourism destination – to not only share weaving techniques and preserve traditions, but to also build a business out of it – that local life began to change.
G Adventures now brings 12,000-13,000 guests to the Women’s Weaving Co-op annually (in pre-COVID times), providing a direct revnue source to the community.
(The women of the co-op, notably, were featured in the G-produced documentary The Last Tourist).
“This project has a lot of meaning for us,” Poon Tip said.
It’s one of many G-led community projects that have transformed lives.
We also visited Parque de la Papa (Potato Park), where 1,300 native potato varieties grow in the Andes.
The entry fee visitors pay supports operations (which work to preserve potato species), and here, there are micro-enterprises, enabling women to run medicinal tea and handicraft businesses.
We visited Cuyo Chico, where guests learn local traditions like ceramic and empanada making, and we dined at Parwa, an amazing Peruvian restaurant, supported by Planeterra, in the Huchuy Qosco region.
When travellers dine here, they support more than 40 locals, empowering women in the workforce, while contributing to ripple effects in the community, such as clean water projects and supply orders for tea, potatoes and quinoa from nearby farms, creating income for many.
More than 10,000 G Adventures travellers visit Parwa annually, and it’s considered Planeterra’s most successful enterprise.
The G and Planeterra teams, suppliers, media and locals, in fact, gathered at Parwa for an uplifting celebration earlier this week.
Let’s just say the smiles in the photos speak for themselves.
3 major announcements
GX culminated in Cusco yesterday, on World Tourism Day, where attendees gathered for inspiring keynote talks and lively panel discussions about community tourism – in Peru and beyond – how it can empower women, its role in alleviating the climate biodiversity crisis, and its representation in media.
The energy in the room was electric as attendees clapped and cheered in unison each time an inspiring point was made on stage.
At the event, Poon Tip and President of Planeterra Jamie Sweeting announced that the non-profit will triple its community projects around the world, from 120 to 300, by 2030 (an initiative also known as Project 300).
G also unveiled a new “Trees for Days” initiative, bringing the protection of the environment and empowerment of local communities closer together to enact powerful change through tourism.
Now, for every day a traveller is on a G Adventures trip, one tree will be grown in their name, helping to both mitigate carbon emissions and increase support in 17 local communities around the world.
The tour operator also announced a new collection of trips, called “Geluxe,” which President and Chief Executive Officer of G Adventures Benjamin Perlo described as “an upgraded active program” that will take travellers further off the beaten path, with an emphasis on community tourism
The new collection of 25 destinations will officially be announced in the coming months, with trips starting in 2024.
In between sessions, GX welcomed special guests, including Jessica Nabongo, who shared her wisdom as the first black woman to visit every country, TV presenter Tyson Mayr, who shared lessons learned from visiting more than 100 countries, and Mario Rigby, who gained international acclaim for a two-year expedition he took across Africa.
Poon Tip also welcomed a long-time friend to the stage – a man named Delfin and his wife Estela, who have owned and operated a traditional homestay in the Amazon basin of Ecuador since 1993.
Poon Tip first met Delfin in the early 1990s and noted his influence on the formation of G Adventures and its community-focused touring model. (And Delfin, too, was featured in The Last Tourist documentary).
The event wrapped with a high-energy gold-themed party – sponsored by ProColombia, and inspired by Colombia’s Lost City of Gold – in Cusco’s ancient temple of Qorikancha.
Later on, attendees were bused off to a secret location for an afterparty, where the one and only Village People performed high-energy hits such as Y.M.C.A, Macho Man and others.
It was celebration like no other, accented with an acute consciousness of topics discussed earlier in the day.
It was writer, editor and public speaker JoAnna Haugen who brought it home, reminding attendees that there are pockets of communities in all spaces (not just remote places) that have never had the chance to participate in tourism.
“Community tourism is a model that gives power and ownership of tourism products – [including] the development and delivery – to people who have not been part of this story, the one we all live and work in, in the past,” Haugen said during one panel discussion.
“The people in these communities have needs and desires about how they want tourism to be in their space…and it’s those ripple effects, deep into communities, that I think are so powerful.”
Canadian travel advisors were on the scene at GX in Peru! Stay tuned for PAX’s follow-up about their experience.