|Paula Vlamings, executive director, Planeterra; Bruce Poon Tip, founder, G Adventures & Almas Jiwani, president and CEO, United Nations Women Canada National Committee and president, Frontier Canada
Viable, market-driven, community-based tourism and the crucial role of women within it were the anchoring topics throughout Tuesday night’s G Adventures Future of Tourism event in downtown Toronto.
Bruce Poon Tip, founder, G Adventures, made multiple noteworthy announcements during his presentation at the Winter Garden Theatre. Chief among them were G Adventures 100 per cent guaranteed departures from Jan. 1, 2013 and the company’s partnering with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF) to develop viable and community-based tourism projects around the world.
Guest speakers for the evening included Almas Jiwani, president and CEO, United Nations Women Canada National Committee and president, Frontier Canada, and Paula Vlamings, executive director, Planeterra, as well as video messages from Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler and MIF/IDB technical advisor Yves Lesenfants.
Women and Sustainable Tourism
|Almas Jiwani president and CEO, United Nations Women Canada National Committee and president, Frontier Canada
The evening’s first speaker, Jiwani, addressed the critical role tourism can play in the improvement of the quality of life in impoverished regions around the globe and specifically underlined the integrality of improving the lives of women within that model.
Jiwani said that tourism brings the opportunity for a wide range of formal and informal employment opportunities for women; flexible employment carried out in the workplace, community or household; the pathway to empowerment for women; and an elevation of their status.
Women currently hold an average of 49.5 per cent of tourism jobs, presenting tourism with the opportunity to play a vital role in the improvement of quality of life for women, and in turn their communities, across the globe.
“We know that tourism is a big business and big business means a big impact on women,” Jiwani said.
“There are many challenges and existing barriers that prevent women from benefiting from this growth,” she added. “Despite the increase of women employers, the majority of women in the tourism industry are concentrated in low-status, low-paying and precarious jobs... and are even exploited. There are also undeniable links between tourism and the illegal sex industry, with sex tourism being the driving factor in many regions, particularly in Southeast Asia and the Pacific."
Female subjugation creates never ending poverty and hinders economic growth, explained Jiwani. She pointed to Africa and its radically increasing tourism industry as offering some examples of the potential for good that tourism can do for impoverished women.
International arrivals to the continent increased by 7.5 per cent through the 1990s and the cultural tourism the increase brought with it helped demystify the position of women in African society and helped to open avenues for meaningful and impactful cross-cultural exchange.
“Attempting to give tourists an understanding of the unique traditions and lifestyles of a local people, many believe that women are placed to be a driving force behind cultural tourism,” she said.
Jiwani stated that tourism will continue to provide future opportunities for the advancement of women, such as self employment and the developing of small and medium sized enterprises, and help to significantly impact poverty reduction in rural communities.
“When women win, the tourism sector wins, and when tourism wins, we all win, ” she said.
The United Nations Women Canada National Committee CEO concluded her presentation by appointing Poon Tip as a UN Women in Canada NC advisory board member.
Planeterra and Sustainable Solutions
|Paula Vlamings, executive director, Planeterra
Using a quote she had heard a week prior at the International Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference, Vlamings outlined the ideal behind her presentation as: a nice place to visit must also be a nice place to live.
“It should remind all of us that the places that we visit as travellers are also peoples’ homes.”
Vlamings said that while NGOs and other charitable organizations have always played the focal role in bringing positive change around the world, the role businesses play in generating positive impact is increasing.
“Now we have terms like socially responsible investment funds and social entrepreneurship, social ventures and social enterprise.”
With tourism serving as a leading economic driver in many destinations, Vlamings said it is important that the industry reflect on the role it can play as a harbinger of good.
Vlamings also discussed the strong connection between women and successful micro-businesses, and preserving indigenous cultures and traditions.
“It is widely acknowledged that [educating women] is the one key element in combating poverty,” she said. “And it is really important for us to put the focus on women in many of our projects.”
Integral to any sustainable tourism solution is a symbiotic relationship with the real world market, according to Vlamings. Planeterra’s success has been largely tied to its ability to bring G Adventures travellers into the areas of poverty, creating sustainable financial income through tangible industry practices.
The Private Sector, Tourism and the Global Distribution of Wealth
|Bruce Poon Tip, founder, G Adventures
“Tourism is growing faster than was ever anticipated,” said Poon Tip, citing the one billion tourists who will travel in 2012. “This is a good thing. There are not many industries that can say they will double over a 10- or 15-year period.”
Despite the increase though, Poon Tip said that if tourism is to play the significant role it needs to play in bettering the world, travellers need to have more purpose when they travel.
“The biggest issue we face right now around the world is the distribution of wealth,” said Poon Tip. “And yet, [despite the fact that] we’re in the worst economy of our times right now, staggeringly, giving is at an all-time high.”
The vast majority of the record charity proceeds are going to NGOs and other not-for-profit organizations, said Poon Tip, who believes that therein lays something of a problem.
As positive an impact as these organizations have on impoverished regions around the world and as crucial a role as they play – and will continue to play - in dramatically improving the quality of life for the people of these regions, charity is simply not a sustainable economy, explained Poon Tip. The G Adventures founder noted that millions in chairty dollars have been lost on failed projects around the world simply because great intentions do not necessarily lead to economic feasibility.
Because the charitable organization model for distributing wealth is not sustainable, Poon Tip said that the private sector within the travel industry must serve as the foundation on which viable economic opportunities are built in the less fortunate regions of the world.
With that goal in mind, G Adventures/Planeterra announced its partnership with IDB/MIF, the very first of its kind, in creating six projects around the world that will help stimulate local economic growth, preserve culture and, most importantly, generate market demand from travellers.
“It’s going to open up the future for government institutions to work with private sector companies to find sustainable solutions in tourism. Traditionally, it has not been something they have been able to work out because most companies don’t have a business model that is socially driven like ours,” Poon Tip told TRAVELHotNews.com.
The initial phase of the initiative will be to launch sustainable businesses in San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala; Ometepe, Nicaragua; Sarapiqui, Costa Rica; Lares Trek, Peru; and the Sacred Valley, Peru.
100% Guaranteed Departures
Poon Tip also announced that G Adventures will be offering 100 per cent guaranteed departures from Jan. 1, 2013, a move he described as bold and designed to demonstrate the tour operator’s commitment to leading with customer service and the confidence it has in selling its programs.
“It’s been about 18 months in the works, and for us it’s about leading our space in customer service," he said. "We’re always trying to push that boundary. Sometimes we have to take huge risks there. We like to be as bold and innovative in customer service as anywhere else in our business. This is a huge undertaking with lots of people involved to make it happen. But we’re excited about it."
New brochure, bus, campaign, destination and viral video
Also unveiled by Poon Tip were the G Adventures 2013 Earth brochure, which includes all G Adventures trips; the teaser to a new campaign; the new G Adventures bus, which runs solely on used cooking oils; the company’s new Culture Book and its newest viral video.
The new purple G Adventures bus, described as a mobile concept store and a secret pet project of Poon Tip’s through the past year, was parked outside the Winter Garden Theatre following the event and will be used promotionally to travel to events. Guests were able to grab a free copy of the new G Adventures Culture Book, which details the culture of the company rather than product, when they visited the bus after the event.
Poon Tip also offered up a teaser trailer for the “What Will You Do Today, For Tomorrow?” campaign which will be fully unveiled on Jan. 7, 2013. For more information, visit ThisIsYourPlanet.com.
The website is similar to the Pinterest model, but displays peoples’ stories of what they will do today in order to help create a positive impact for tomorrow.
G Adventures announced it will be offering its first trips into Australia and New Zealand in 2013 as well.
“For years we’ve been trying to develop tours in Australia and we’re super excited to announce a whole bunch of tours that will be utilizing locally indigenous communities,” said Poon Tip. “We worked very hard to put together something different and unique.”
Finally, Poon Tip premiered the third edition of G Adventures lip synching video. This year's video stars G Adventures employees and is set to the Queen song “Somebody to Love.” To view the video, click here.