G Adventures' Bruce Poon Tip Talks About the Future of Tourism

Over the past year, G Adventures founder Bruce Poon Tip has toured around the world with several industry pros, talking about the future of travel, tourism and the planet in a program aptly entitled “The Future of Tourism.” This month, the program made its US debut in G Adventures’ base city of Providence, RI at Johnson & Wales University, and Travel Agent was there to talk with Poon Tip.

The biggest question, Poon Tip acknowledged, was—Rhode Island?  “We toured Future of Tourism everywhere in world—London, Sydney, Vancouver, Toronto and Halifax,” he said, noting that the demographics in each city helped them see what different areas are looking for in terms of travel product. The venue, meanwhile, was also chosen carefully:  “J&W has one of the biggest tourism programs in the US,” Poon Tip explained. The event, therefore, was able to bring students, industry professionals and travelers alike to learn about the evolution of travel over the years, especially in the context of sustainable tourism—“From ecological to responsible travel, we looked at how they are different and how they are defined. We’re educating people about how tourism can be a force of change and good and can aid on conservation and create jobs and do things that companies struggle to do.” 

The first movement was eco-tourism, he continues, which focused on visiting rainforests and recycling programs. This trend was followed by responsible tourism, which focused on local impact and the potential benefits of visitors to both the land and the people who live there. “Al Gore came along and made sustainability an issue, and it combines both,” Poon Tip explains. “It was centered around climate change. Customers are confused about what those things mean. We talk to students and industry professionals about all the terms. Now, there’s ethical tourism: People make decisions based on their beliefs on human rights and issues. They make ethical decisions.”

In every industry in the world, sustainability is in question, Poon Tip believes. “In tourism, hotels, cruise ships and resorts are differentiating themselves through sustainability platforms.” He points to Sandals and Ritz Carlton as two brands that are taking initiatives to become environmentally responsible, rather than “greenwashing” with only token efforts. “Consumers need to know the difference between the companies that have sustainability as part of their core beliefs as opposed to those that donate to the  World Wildlife Fund or Unicef.”  

Consumers who truly want to travel green need to ask questions before they spend money, Poon Tip says. “That’s the future of tourism: For change to happen, it’s in the consumer’s hands. The consumer makes decisions by purchasing. Companies make their product by demand. Ask questions and find out what companies do before spending your money. Do you want a luxury hotel? Ritz Carlton is a good example, and Four Seasons did nothing for years, but they’re starting to do something now. Hilton has little things in place, but it’s nothing compared to Marriott or InterContinental...There is evidence to show that, all things being equal, people will choose the sustainable choice.” 

The biggest eco-trend, Poon Tip says, is that people are now as responsible while traveling as they are at home. “They want  organic food, recycling, safe bulbs. They used to suspend that on holiday, which has been weird, but there’s a tipping point now. People are questioning their vacations. When they go to another country, they should respect it like their own.”

Travelers, he continues, want active holidays and cultural exchanges. “The world is smaller than it was 20 years ago...One of our programs is called Local Living; it was introduced this year. It’s 30 new tours with community tourism. You can live on a farm with a family in Italy or France or Chile or Mongolia or Costa Rica. It brings tourism to small communities.” Guests participating in Local Living can live like locals for a week, including cooking with the families in their own kitchen.  “You can be as active as you like. We’re into innovating…Last year, we test-marketed six programs, and they sold out in seconds. Now we have 30 programs for Local Living. We’re taking families, young and old travelers. It’s very interactive. And it’s hugely successful.”

“There’s no greater path to peace in the world than knowing other cultures,” Poon Tip adds. “There’s a lot of ignorance about cultures that causes conflict, so this can give you greater appreciation for what you have at home—and respect for other cultures.”

 

Photo courtesy of Kevin Dailey

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