Travel opens the mind, so they say. For Canadian Bruce Poon Tip, founder of international travel company G Adventures, travel is also the key to world peace.
“It [sounds] romantic and over the top, [but] a lot of violence in the world is because of fear and ignorance,” says Poon Tip. “If we know how other people live, there would be less violence. I believe tourism can be the fastest path to peace in the world.”
Since establishing G Adventures in 1990, Poon Tip has worked closely with grassroots communities to provide travellers with an unusual overseas experience. The driving force of the organisation, he says, is the promotion of responsible tourism; working closely with local businesses, services and people to ensure travel dollars stay in the local economy.
An example of this is the Parwa Community Restaurant in Peru’s Huchuy Qosqo village, situated near the tourist hotspot of Peru’s Sacred Valley. One of 56 international social enterprise projects by Planeterra, the not-for-profit arm of G Adventures, the restaurant was established to address the lack of employment opportunities for local women despite flourishing tourism in the region. Since opening in March 2014, the restaurant has trained or employed 260 people (mostly women) and also sources its ingredients directly from local farmers. All G Adventures travellers to Sacred Valley visit the restaurant.
Poon Tip encourages people to think carefully about the impact their tourism has on local communities and the way they can give back to the places in which they’re holidaying. “Responsible travel is about making the right choice,” he says.
We asked Poon Tip for his practical tips on how to be an ethical traveller:
Avoid “all-inclusive” tours
“Especially cruise ships,” says Poon Tip. He says many mainstream tour operators are foreign-owned, so profits from tourism are channelled offshore, meaning, “no money stays in the local economy”.
Spread your spend
Don’t just stick to shopping in one location because that’s where the tour bus has dropped you. “Create wealth distribution when you travel,” says Poon Tip. “Ride different forms of transport, eat in different restaurants.” Also be wary of some boutique shopping centres and resorts – they tend to be where tourists channel their spend but are often foreign-owned.
It only takes a little investigating to find out if a tourist attraction is foreign-owned, if its produce is local or whether animals in its care are treated well. “Realise the power you have as a consumer and use it,” says Poon Tip. “Just ask the question.”
Respect local cultures
“It takes so little time to read ahead about local cultures and customs,” says Poon Tip. Be respectful. He cites a recent travel experience to the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City as a classic case of visitors disregarding local convention: “They tell you before you go in to wear long pants and [not have] exposed shoulders. The amount of people who make a scene or take pictures when they’re asked not to – I just don’t understand people like that.”
Engage with locals
Part of Poon Tip’s ethos of responsible tourism is learning from the communities in which you travel. Luckily, food is one of the greatest facilitator for this exchange to take place. “Food is a great unifier of cultures,” he says. “You can share the language of food even if you don’t speak the same language. It’s the best thing you can do.”
Poon Tip’s philosophy is travel is not a commodity but an exchange of cultures, ideas and wealth. Its business model incorporates practices that invest in the wellbeing of communities – travellers, locals and small business are joint winners of the tourism industry.
“The demand of consumers has changed,” says Poon Tip. “My hope [is] people would want to match their values with their travel. You don’t just leave your values at home because you’re on holiday.”
Broadsheet are partnering with G Adventures to offer one lucky reader the chance to win a trip to Peru. It’s the first in a four-part series of competitions we’re running with G Adventures, sending winners on ethical adventures around the world. More information here.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with G Adventures.