Even for inveterate traveller Bruce Poon Tip, his most recent trip was a whirlwind. Two days prior to our conversation, the G Adventures founder made the 22-hour flight to Bangkok for meetings, spent just 30 hours in the Thai capital and then flew 22 hours back. No surprise, then, that he regularly puts in more than 240,000 kilometres every year.
With tours in 134 countries and partnerships with the Jane Goodall Institute to promote wildlife-friendly tourism and the Multilateral Investment Fund to encourage sustainable tourism projects, Poon Tip knows a few things about being a conscientious traveller and where the industry is going.
On being a mindful traveller
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“The first thing people can do when travelling is spend their money locally. That means staying away from all-inclusive resorts and cruises where you end up spending no money locally and no money goes back to benefiting the local people. Those kinds of vacations want to promote these closed environments where they provide all-you-can eat and all-you-can drink, which is fine for you, but it’s not a sustainable model for local communities.”
On choosing accommodations
“I travel to do business in New York and in London and I stay in hotels very often that are more convenient, but even then, I try to find places that are more historic or landmark destinations. If it’s a family-run, family-owned operation, all the better. I’m also a real believer in Airbnb and those kinds of things where people are renting locally. In my experience, locally owned places tend to do a better job of really capturing the local flavour and style of a region. I think it’s weird in this day and age that people look for hotels that have all the comforts they have at home as opposed to looking for a place that will make them feel the most a part of the destination.”
On seeking out ethical tourism providers
“Any time you’re planning to partner with a company or a tour operator, ask them what they’re doing locally to benefit the community. Ask where the money’s going locally, ask about ownership and if they have any kind of information about what and how people benefit locally by you booking the trip. Anyone who picks up the phone should be able to say what the company does for the local communities, whether it’s the person selling the trip on the phone or the receptionist. It needs to be in the DNA of that company. If they say, ‘Oh, we’ll have to refer you to a special person,’ or ‘You’ll have to look at our website,’ you’ll know that company’s not really committed to what they’re doing. You hold all the power being the consumer.”
On the next hot travel destinations
“There’s a lot of excitement around the Stans right now, places like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, all of that Central Asian region is just exploding at the moment. They’ve recently relaxed their visa requirements, so there’s all these small countries that you used to need an individual visa to get to and they all got together to do a common set of regulations to make it easier to get in. It’s a fascinating place. It’s a really intact culture that’s unique in that it’s a mixture between Asia and Europe with a bit of the Middle East in there, too. The people are very Middle Eastern, but there’s an Asian influence and extreme ties to Europe, Eastern Europe, but still Europe. It’s just a fascinating place that’s been completely lost and no one talks about.
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“Colombia is also really interesting. It’s had really bad PR for the last 30 years, but it’s really come on right now, it’s opened up. The President of Colombia recently got the Nobel Peace Prize because of negotiating peace within the country and now that it’s safe it’s a gorgeous, diverse, beautiful country and it’s so underrated, but it’s a big up-and-coming destination. It’s got everything, it’s got great food, it’s got coastal, it’s got jungle, it’s got amazing music, it’s just so good.”
On the changing nature of travellers
“People today are motivated by wanting experiences more than travel. I think as that becomes more common it leads to a more responsible tourism experience. Sometimes people suspend their values when they travel, they’re motivated by price point and amenities, but that’s changing. Look at how we live at home day to day with the 100-mile diet, local foods and recycling. That didn’t happen before, and so more and more there’s a natural desire for us to want to match our values with our holiday time.”