Being a publisher, I get a fair share of preview copies from publicists hawking business and self-help authors. Frankly, many of these just aren’t applicable to whatever ails us at the time. They usually get re-gifted to staff or friends so I can play amateur psychologist at who needs what type of counseling.
One book that came across my desk this fall was Looptail by Bruce Poon Tip. Glancing at the jacket, I remember Bruce as the founder of G Adventures, which I like to call the biggest tour company no one has heard of. This book is a historical tale about the growth of G (formerly known as Gap Adventures), now a $200-million company, and also a guiding light for what the travel and tourism industry should be.
In 1990, Bruce saw a rift in the adventure travel industry where Western tourists would come to developing countries only to travel in a swank bus with a Western tour guide, stay in Western-owned hotels and drive around to “see the country.” In his opinion, operators were doing everything in their power to create a Western environment, which defeats the entire purpose of going to another country in the first place.
What resulted was the creation of what’s called “community tourism” where G built tour programs that created local benefits for local people. This extends well beyond homestays and visiting local shops. G developed its own non-profit entity to CREATE sustainable programs in developing countries where they ran tours. With strong buy-in from their customers and employees, the result is that dollars spent in the community stay in the community. Cool idea, huh?
I have personally experienced the positive impact that projects like this can have on communities. On a recent trip to Jamaica, we visited a local school that is supported by the Sandals Foundation. It’s a pity on one hand to see what these kids lack compared to the U.S. In classrooms the size of our janitor closet, with no AC or screens, kids stacked like sardines all work diligently to improve their handwriting. While they don’t lack enthusiasm, they are lacking resources, and that’s where the inclusive resort operator Sandals is trying to make a difference. Along with other initiatives, the foundation features a program called TAG where travel agents can give back a percentage of their commission to these community programs.
In my perspective, traveling does so much to open one’s mind that it’s a travesty many don’t care or don’t fully understand their responsibility as our role in the betterment of the communities we visit. Tourism can become the world’s #1 renewable resource, but only when we stop treating it like a landfill.
Understanding that we’re part of something greater is what the Looptail is about. It’s something G started with their tours, migrated to their customers, and now envelops their employees and community. I was excited to hear that Bruce will be speaking at this year’s Travel Exchange in Los Angeles—his audience will be better for it.
As we enter this holiday season of 2013 and reflect back on our highs and lows, I urge you to A) go buy the book—it will make a great holiday gift for yourself and B) understand that through your actions, you can positively impact the lives of many around the world, just like the folks at G do every day.
Here’s to a great 2014!