Tour Operator’s Plan for Sustainable Tourism Development: Linking communities to market from the start.

Tour Operator’s Plan for Sustainable Tourism Development: Linking communities to market from the start.

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$1 million - $5 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

We are working in both Ecuador and Nicaragua.
In Ecuador we are working specifically in the Galapagos islands, and Pacific coast communities including: Tumbes, Mancora, and Trujillo.

In Nicaragua we are working specifically in San Juan del Sur on the Pacific coast.

The idea is to optimize market access and efficiency of the tourism value chain by connecting MSMEs with one of the largest tour operators in the region from the point of product development, providing them access to a ready market.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

The Sustainable Tourism Cluster has identified a series of ineffective methodologies that affect the competitiveness and sustainability of MSMEs in the tourism industry. Since the majority of the efforts concentrate on strengthening products, this often leads to serious problems with quality, economic sustainability, and positive impacts on communities and biodiversity being very low. Additionally, due to the fact that there has been no connection to the market, these MSMEs do not adequately comprehend how the tourism value chain functions. These factors limit the competitiveness of the sector and its real impact on local economic development. The project attempts to disseminate a model to allow MSMEs to more effectively access the market. With Gap Adventures’ experience in market-based product development, we will be able to develop an evaluation mechanism that will allow the enterprises to understand their position in the market and identify ways to improve their product development process in line with market demand.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

a. Private sector leading an initiative to develop tourism MSMEs (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises). It is innovative for the private sector to lead a development initiative, as they are usually brought in at the end of the process in an attempt to market developed products. With a large, successful tour operator leading this initiative, traditional development methodology is reversed. Gap Adventures brings knowledge not only on the international market and demand, but technical expertise on tour operations, logistics, what sells, and what is required for a supplier to succeed in the marketplace. b. Replicable model on developing market-ready product. Gap Adventures works with MSMEs and community-based enterprises on developing their businesses to grow with the volume and demands of its travellers. It has proven ability to influence the success of small business by providing a market for their products and working to improve quality and capacity to work with one of the largest operators in the region. c. MSME development is mutually beneficial – for communities and private sector Gap Adventures will provide a ready-made market for the projects/MSMEs and be integrated into the ongoing quality control indefinitely, due to the built-in triple bottom line business philosophy. It is in the best interests of the tour operator to contribute to destination management including quality control, environmental conservation, economic sustainability, and preservation of cultural heritage.
About You
Planeterra Foundation and Gap Adventures
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Section 1: About You
First Name


Last Name



Planeterra Foundation and Gap Adventures


, ON

Section 2: About Your Organization
Organization Name

Planeterra Foundation and Gap Adventures

Organization Phone


Organization Address

19 Charlotte Street, Toronto, ON M5V 2H5 Canada

Organization Country

, ON

Your idea
Country your work focuses on

, L

Website URL
Would you like to participate in the MIF Opportunity 2010?


Do you have a patent for this idea?

What impact have you had on your clients and the tourism sector?

With our style of culturally immersive travel, we have been able to bring local communities and travellers together for 20 years, for an intercultural exchange, an authentic experience for visitors, and a livelihood opportunity for locals. We have been able to change lives in the Ecuadorian Amazon, and the Peruvian Andes, and remote villages of Kenya, to name a few, by linking communities with tourism services on offer to the 100,000 travellers per year to whom we sell adventure travel.

From the perspective of a successful tour operator, this style of product has enabled the company to build strong customer relationships which has reduced the cost of acquisition of new clients. The enhanced tourism experience has led to double-digit growth year on year, even during recession years. The increased growth has led to high volume in several regions which has also allowed us to become price leaders and be competitive. These are strong economic reasons for developing tourism in partnership with communities and building relationships with MSMEs.

The volume of business we conduct in areas such as Peru, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, and South East Asia for example, have allowed us to develop relationships with suppliers that enable us to work together on such initiatives as improving sustainability practices. Our intent is to influence the tourism industry at a high level, by increasing standards first within our own supply chain with the expectation that this will influence other industry players to do the same.


Planeterra and Gap Adventures work with communities to develop a tourism product that Gap Adventures, as the tour operator, purchases directly. For example en route to the Sacred Valley of Peru, Gap Adventures groups (about 25,000 passengers per year) stop at the Ccaccaccollo community to learn about Incan dying processes and purchases textiles directly from the women in the weaving cooperative. In Guatemala on Lake Atitlan in 2011 we will be including a homestay with 15 Mayan families, which amounts to about 750 guests in the first year.

These are two examples of the various types of community-based tourism enterprises (CBTE) that are suppliers on many of our 1000 itineraries. Additionally we work with small NGOs that offer volunteer programs to incorporate them into the new Planeterra product line of voluntours. Therefore with extensive experience linking communities directly to the tourism supply chain, we have already been successful with this model.

For the initiatives in Ecuador and Nicaragua, we have partnered with Rainforest Alliance, who will provide technical assistance and training once the MSMEs have been assessed and have identified areas for improvement.


1. Methodology that permits the systematization of knowledge and processes for connecting tourism supply to markets.
2. Evaluation tool to permit enterprises to determine their position with respect to needs of the market.
3. 26 MSMEs, 14 in Ecuador and 12 in Nicaragua, will apply the tool and identify necessary actions to increase their links to the market.
4. 26 MSMEs will receive market-based technical assistance from the tour operator to improve their product offerings.
5. A number of existing businesses will be converted into suppliers for Gap Adventures and/or other regional tour operators.
6. New itineraries will be created that include projects/ small businesses in the coastal communities of Nicaragua and Ecuador.

What will it take for your project to be successful over the next three years? Please address each year separately, if possible.

In the first year the methodology will be developed and applied to 26 enterprises, connecting them to the international market by not only working directly with Gap Adventures and Planeterra, but by receiving the type of development assistance they need in order to be partnered with other appropriate domestic and international tour operators

During the first year, Planeterra and Gap Adventures will work with other partners to identify MSMEs that can be included in Gap Adventures' tour itineraries to begin immediately in providing opportunities to CBTE in both Ecuador and Nicaragua. Concurrently, MSMEs that require technical assistance in order to become partners with Gap Adventures, or Planeterra voluntour product, or simply market-ready for other buyers will be identified.

During the 2nd and 3rd year Planeterra will work to facilitate links with these community operations with other national and international operators. Also during this time technical assistance and knowledge sharing between destinations and businesses will be facilitated by our partners with guidance from Planeterra and Gap Adventures.

What would prevent your project from being a success?

A lack of involvement by national and local governments could prove harmful the the project. As the respective Ministries of Tourism, Ministries of Environment and municipal and provincial authorities are in charge of designing and enforcing public policies that apply to the territories where the enterprises are located, it is important that they be involved.

Additionally, any natural disasters that could affect the areas of intervention would be detrimental to the project.

How many people will your project serve annually?


What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

$100 ‐ 1000

Does your project seek to have an impact on public policy or introduce models and tools that benefit the tourism sector in general?


What stage is your project in?

Idea phase

In what country?

, L

Is your initiative connected to an established organization?


If yes, provide organization name.

Gap Adventures

How long has this organization been operating?

More than 5 years

Does your organization have a Board of Directors or an Advisory Board?

Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with NGOs?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with businesses?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with government?


Please tell us more about how these partnerships are critical to the success of your innovation.

The innovation requires partnerships because they are the foundation on which the idea is built. The idea that community enterprises can be developed hand in hand with market demand necessitates partnerships. Partnerships with local NGOs and community–based tourism enterprises are essential to creating unique travel experiences as well as in providing direct market access to communities. These partnerships create support for natural and cultural conservation initiatives, which in turn create economic opportunities, allowing for the continued success of sustainable adventure travel model that is based on the quality of the destination.

In addition, we have partnered with Rainforest Alliance, who will bring expertise in the form of training and technical assistance to the MSMEs.

What are the three most important actions needed to grow your initiative or organization?

1. Demonstrate to the tourism industry the business case for this triple bottom line model of sustainable tourism in order to increase the organization’s profile and lead to further opportunities to replicate the model globally. This will include documentation of the partnership model in order to ensure process is replicable. The process by which projects are identified including the criteria for being inserted into the tourism value chain must be applicable to other regions in order for this innovative initiative to truly grow and make an impact on the sustainability of tourism worldwide.

2. Maintain focus on developing product for specific markets to ensure viability of initiatives into the future. We can make an impact, we can influence the success of MSMEs, and we can grow our organization, if we do not sway from the hard facts that CBTE are not successful unless they are inserted into tourism value chain. In order to insert them into the value chain, they must be developed for specific markets and/or companies that are ready to include them in their own supply chains.

3. Concentrate on community tourism businesses related to cultural heritage and environmental preservation to ensure sustainability and quality of destinations into the future. Tour operators consistently look for quality product – from the smallest family homestay business to large resorts. The product in this case however is the natural beauty of ocean and freshwater destinations, with coastal ecosystems and species as the main draw – and with the greatest risk of being contaminated or overused. Therefore the only manner in which to grow the organization is to support and develop local partnerships that focus on conservation, to ensure a quality product, and sustainable business opportunity for the region’s MSMEs.

The Story
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?

Email from Changemakers

If through another, please provide the name of the organization or company

50 words or fewer

MIF Opportunity 2010
Has your organization been legally constituted or registered in your country or one of your target countries for at least three years?


Does the applicant organization have sufficient financial resources to guarantee the co-financing required by MIF during the execution period of the project? (This amounts to at least 50% of the project’s total budget with 25% in cash and 25% in-kind.)


Does the applicant organization have experience managing projects co-financed by international organizations? Please describe below

The leadership of Planeterra has many years of experience in managing projects co-financed by international organizations.

Please classify the applicant organization according to the options below


What problem-area does your project address?

Access to knowledge and training, Access to markets.

How will your project address this problem?

As noted earlier, Planeterra and Gap Adventures work with communities to develop a tourism product that Gap Adventures, as the tour operator, purchases directly. It is in the organization’s best interest to facilitate access to knowledge, training, and markets in traditional and non-traditional tourism destinations. The tour operator wants to continue to provide authentic experiences in healthy natural environments, and the best way to do this sustainably is to support local initiatives that aim to preserve, protect, and share with visitors. Therefore our project naturally makes partnerships with local community businesses and will address the problem of lack of access to markets and training by facilitating partnerships with those MSMEs that require technical assistance to become part of the tourism supply chain. The intent is that these MSMEs will be developed into product that tour operators (including but not limited to Gap Adventures) can purchase.

Who is benefited by the initiative? (Please highlight the type and number of beneficiaries, and their role in the tourism value-chain.)

On a micro level the beneficiaries include the MSMEs, CBTEs, cooperatives, local NGOs – all those that provide tourism or complementary services in the destinations of focus (coastal and freshwater communities of Ecuador and Nicaragua) that have the potential to be included in tour operators’ supply chains. Going forward we would analyze the region and number of current initiatives as well as potential projects to develop a plan for specific beneficiaries. The role of these beneficiaries is that of tourism supplier. They will be converted from an isolated MSME competing with hundreds of thousands of CTBEs worldwide into a supplier with market-ready product for domestic and foreign tour operators.

On a macro-level, efforts in sustainable tourism development at large will benefit from a new standard and direction of bringing in the economic element into development for effective and sustainable results.

How will the project's results assist the region’s tourism sector and micro, small and medium-sized enterprises?

As noted above, tourism MSMEs identified as potential product partners will be assisted in becoming part of the tourism value chain for tour operators with access to markets. There is great potential to scale up the model and work with all CBTEs to ensure they will be developed for a ready market, in partnership with a tour operator, rather than in isolation. Some impact will be evident by the number of overnight guests, the increase in revenue to MSMEs, and the benefits this will provide to conservation. Other impact will be evident by the way in which tourism development projects are designed going into the future, increasing the effectiveness of micro-enterprise development and essentially turning traditional community development on its head by achieving market-driven sustainable development strategies.

A. Total Budget (100%)


B. MIF Contribution (up to 50% of total budget and US$. 500.000 max)


C. Cash co-financing (at least 25% of total budget)


D. In kind co-financing (at least 25% of total budget)