Travel Agent recently caught an Acela train from New York up to Providence, Rhode Island to check out G Adventures’ new offices and meet with the team. 2011 was eventful for the company: In 12 months, the erstwhile Gap Adventures emerged from a legal battle with a certain clothing retail chain by rebranding and renaming the company, and wound up having the most successful year in their 21-year history. They followed that feat by having their most profitable month ever in January of this year, surpassing any other peak sales month by 30 percent. (For the record, that clothing chain had to close more than 100 branches of its stores in the same week that the name change went into effect.)
For 2012, one of the new programs is called Local Living, a concept within the tours that involves home stays in sites as diverse as Guatemala, Patagonia and Tuscany. The latter program lets guests live on a winery for a week, working in the fields and eating with the host family. “You live like a local,” Steve Lima, the brand’s U.S. marketing manager, said. “You earn your keep!”
A major challenge with the company’s rebranding is the perception of the word “adventures.” Melissa McKee, G’s new marketing specialist, pointed out that the word might encourage people to think that the company specializes in what is popularly known as “adventure tourism,” or that they cater to 20-somethings. “Cultural immersion can be an adventure,” she said. “It’s not just rock-climbing.” In addition, a full 20 percent of their clientele is aged 50 and up. To battle any misperceptions, the company hosts webinars with the agent community, explaining what they do and what they offer.
One of the biggest changes with G Adventures is the new G-Plus Comfort Collection, which does not include any new tours per se, but has organized the company’s 150+ top-tier excursions into one catalogue. These tours include stays in high-ranking hotels, private transportation and an overall higher level of service.
G now offers 10 trip styles, from active to family, to cater to what Lima calls a “wide breadth of clients.” Group tours are kept small (no large buses), and some FITs are available as well. The brand’s partnership with the Discovery Channel has proven successful, and G Adventures now offers 39 Discovery Adventure tours—up from 18 in 2010.
Value-for-money is also an important factor: Some tours average out to $89 per day. (The Costa Rica Quest is a nine-day trip that costs approximately $900, not including airfare.) The value, Lima explained, is in the way the company operates: “We’re not looking to get people out there by bucketloads—we’re using small vans. That’s a major value. You’re not traveling with 45 people, but 12. If you look at it based on guide time per client, it’s very valuable.” Also, he noted, small groups are more flexible in terms of where they can stay and eat, and what attractions they can access. “You could never stay at the G Lodge with 50 people,” he said.
That lodge, which opened last month, is also a major perk for the company. Accessible only by a three-hour canoe ride, it has only four hours of electricity per day, and offers exclusive access to the jungle. Guests can go into jungle at night with a guide to look for alligators, Lima told us.
In total, G Adventures has 18 offices around world, which they use to coordinate with locals and to keep abreast of situations as they unfold for any of the 200+ independent tours they offer. For example, G was offering travel to Cairo by the middle of March last year once the initial civil unrest had calmed down. When the situation became dangerous again, the local office helped get all of their clients out. “It lets us ensure that the product is executed properly,” he explained. “They’re not on their own.”
Perhaps best of all, G Adventures offers a sustainable tourism program called Planeterra, which helps local people at destinations around the world. The program currently supports 30 projects around the world, and guests booking trips on G Adventures can donate $1 per day towards the program.
Oh, yes, and that office: With purple walls, a pool table and a friendly black lab named Kaya, G Adventures’ Rhode Island base feels more like someone’s comfortable rec room than a formal place of business. Somehow, that seems very apropos.