The Tour Operator Blazing a Trail in Responsible Tourism

Tajikistan | Iskanderkul Mountain Valley with local kids | Photo by Gary Arndt
Tajikistan | Iskanderkul Mountain Valley with local kids | Photo by Gary Arndt

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G Adventures’ suite of responsible travel guidelines is aimed at protecting children, animals and indigenous peoples’ rights, while its more than 65 social enterprise projects around the world have been designed to alleviate poverty, empower women and disadvantaged youth, and to celebrate indigenous cultures

As responsible and sustainable travel becomes a bigger and bigger issue in the global travel industry, tour operators, hotels and resorts and airlines can no longer ignore the need to introduce eco-conscious initiatives into their practices. Small-group adventure travel tour operator G Adventures has been making a name for itself as a trailblazer in the sector, having rolled out various purpose-driven initiatives under its ‘G for Good’ social enterprise umbrella over the last four years. The company’s suite of responsible travel guidelines are aimed at protecting children, animals and indigenous peoples’ rights, while its more than 65 social enterprise projects around the world have been designed to alleviate poverty, empower women and disadvantaged youth, and to celebrate indigenous cultures.

The company’s recently updated Animal Welfare policy highlights G Adventures’ firm stance against tourism involving captive elephants, whales and dolphins; any type of hunting or non-sustainable fishing; cruel activities including bear baiting, bull fighting, cockfighting, or ritual animal slaughter; provoking animals in the case of things like bull running or crocodile wrestling; the drugging of animals; show performances involving wild animals and any sort of handling, touching or riding of wild animals, among others.

Meanwhile, the tour operator’s previously released guidelines, Responsible Travel with Indigenous People, brought to the fore another issue in tourism less publicised than animal welfare: the impact of tourism on indigenous communities.


Looking after the locals

G Adventures began a process to fully audit its 700+ tours, 1000+ vendors, thousands of tour experiences, and its digital, print and video marketing materials toward the development of a governing Indigenous Tourism Policy in 2017. In partnership with The George Washington University’s International Institute of Tourism Studies and the Planeterra Foundation, it then published a 23-page, open-source booklet to educate travel companies that work or intend to work with indigenous people, while supporting the many indigenous groups that depend on visitors for their economic well-being and for their cultural survival.

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Today, G Adventures partners and/or contracts the services of 94 different indigenous communities in 44 different countries. Its social enterprise model – which seeks to earn profit while delivering social impact – is built around a strategy of identifying the unique but often excluded communities who have so often been left out of the tourism economy, then bringing them into the company’s supply chain. That way, communities like the San Bushmen in South Africa, the Wiwa people of Colombia’s Lost City, and the Red and Black Lahu and Karen people of Northern Thailand’s hill tribes, for example, directly benefit from sharing their lands, talents and stories with paying customers. Their accommodations, transportation, food and handicrafts become part of customers’ travel experiences.

“For far too long, governments and businesses have prioritised rapid growth over respect for Indigenous peoples. Their ancestral lands, traditional culture and legacies have been threatened, and in many cases undermined, by the impatient pursuit of profit,” says G Adventures’ Vice President of Social Enterprise and Sustainability, Jamie Sweeting.

Speaking before event hosts from the World Bank Group, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the Inter-American Development Bank and the Government of Jamaica, as well as leading representatives from 150 different countries in 2017, he stated that the tourism industry must take responsibility for the impact mass tourism has had on local communities: “As more travellers seek immersive, experiential, off-the-beaten path holidays, I regret to say that the tourism sector has also contributed to this problem. We have an opportunity to rewrite that story; to lead from within, and make tourism a greater force for Indigenous well-being.”

Kelly Galaski, the Planeterra Foundation Project Manager overseeing the guidelines project, adds her hopes for the guidelines’ impact: “As the world hyper-connects, the cultural survival of the world’s 370 million Indigenous people hangs in the balance. So, it’s our great hope that others in the travel and tourism sector join G Adventures in putting these guidelines to positive, expedient use.”


Counting where it counts

G Adventures’ industry-first ‘Ripple Score’ initiative has also been introduced as a way to score its tours, disclosing what percentage of a tour’s local expenditure remains in the local economy. The initiative was introduced after a thorough analysis of the company’s supply chain to find out how many of its suppliers were majority locally-owned, and how much money was staying in the destination. The average Ripple Score across its 640 scored trips is 93, meaning that 93% of the money spent in-destination across these tours is spent with locally-owned businesses, benefitting local people. These scores appear alongside each trip on the G Adventures website and in G Adventures’ brochure.

Adrian Piotto, Managing Director for G Adventures Australia and New Zealand, says “It’s always been our goal to prioritise the use of local service providers who employ local people. But just how well we were doing, and what benefits we were helping to create, were less than clear. That’s why we decided to undertake this massive outreach effort two years ago, and find out just how home-grown and beneficial our tours actually are.”’

In further support of local communities and families, last year G Adventures also released a set of Child Welfare Guidelines in partnership with Planeterra and ChildSafe and welcomed by UNICEF, which aims to raise awareness of child protection and welfare within the tourism industry.

Founder and Executive Director of Friends-International, Sebastien Marot, says these guidelines are long overdue, and that as the travel industry has evolved to become more experiential, with more community-based tourism, there was a growing awareness of the need for, and the importance of, a framework to protect children. “These guidelines provide that framework, and it’s my hope they will become the benchmark for ensuring effective child protection in the tourism industry, with travel companies, agents, travellers and tour guides all contributing to creating safe environments for children,” he says.

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