What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?
The moment built over the years with the realization that the vast majority of community tourism businesses were teetering on the edge of failure because no one was buying their products, no one knew they existed, they were not competitive or of high enough quality. For many years there has been a focus on the development of community-based tourism (CBT) as a method of poverty alleviation, community development, and environmental conservation. Funding has been provided time and time again to communities with good ideas. Studies have been conducted, numerous CBT plans have been undertaken with residents of rural communities hopeful for the tourists to come. Unfortunately, studies have shown that many such CBT enterprises do not show increase in sales after 5 years, many sit with 5% occupancy rates, and not many benefits are evident over time. As has been noted earlier, the “problem” is that CBT was seen as a solution before the actual solution was realized. The same theme has been coming up over time, that “lack of access to markets” was the greatest obstacle to CBT’s success.
From the tour operator’s perspective, Gap Adventures has been adding community experiences into its trips for two decades, and recently has been increasing these types of experiences with the intent to make each of the one thousand itineraries include community experiences. We know that travellers crave authentic interactions with local people, and want trips that are doing more to preserve cultures and natural resources. We want to include these experiences for our travellers and therefore we can help to develop them directly for a market of 100,000 travellers with the knowledge of what sells in the general marketplace, what is necessary logistically and from a marketing perspective in order to be successful. We knew we could make a difference in communities worldwide and we want to ensure a focus on coastal and freshwater communities as part of this program with the knowledge that these are often the areas most impacted by tourism, with a wealth of at-risk resources.
Tell us about the social innovator behind this idea.
The social innovator behind this idea is Bruce Poon Tip, the founder of Gap Adventures and the non-profit foundation, Planeterra.
After returning from a backpacking tour of Asia, in 1990 Bruce was driven to share his passion and vision about experiencing adventures in an authentic and sustainable manner with others. With nothing more than his own personal credit cards, Gap Adventures was born. What started off as a one-man show has grown to become the world's largest adventure travel company with over 850 employees. Today, Gap Adventures offers more than 1,000 small group experiences, safaris and expeditions on all seven continents, to more than 100,000 travellers a year.
In 1991 Bruce visted the Ecuadorian Amazon and met a man named Delfin Pauchi. He told him he would be back with a group six months later. Despite the language barrier, Delfin welcomed a small tour group into his home to experience daily life in the Amazon with his family and discover the natural wonders of the Amazon in ways never before imagined. Little did we know this would evolve into an extraordinary and life-changing partnership. With a mutual commitment to preserving his cultural heritage, community and natural environment, Gap Adventures has over the years worked with Delfin to develop an authentic and unprecedented adventure that provides our travellers with an unforgettable Amazon experience while ensuring economic sustainability for Defin and his family. Today, nearly twenty years later, Delfin remains a loyal friend and invaluable partner of Gap Adventures.
Long ago, Bruce realized that the essence of what would make his adventure travel company successful was the quality of the natural environment in destinations and the authentic interaction with local people. Intact socio-cultural and natural assets were fundamental to the business model from the start. He wanted travellers to take public transportation, visit nature reserves, and support small businesses. What was then seen as a unique style of tourism, is now a model that can be replicated to improve the sustainability of tourism worldwide. Such a sustainable tourism model creates the business case for this type of innovation.
How did you first hear about Changemakers?
If through another, please provide the name of the organization or company