Raffles chats with Entrepreneur & Philanthropist Bruce Poon Tip of G Adventures

It is not often that a 10-year old gets to wax philosophic for an hour with one of his idols. But that’s exactly what happened when Raffles caught up with entrepreneur and philanthropist Bruce Poon Tip, founder of award-winning small group adventure travel company G Adventures.

Raffles first learned about Bruce back in 2016 when he competed in, and won, the State Final of the NSW Education Department’s Multicultural Perspective Public Speaking Competition. Some of the thanks for that must go to Bruce (unbeknownst to him) as it was through Raffles watching his TED talks, which he stumbled across while researching what great public speakers do right, he learned that passion was the key.

Not only did a then 8-year old Raffles pick up an expert tip or two on how to hold a crowd, he was intrigued by Bruce’s thoughts on sustainability and tourism. Enough so that by the time he spotted a copy of Bruce’s second book ‘Do Big Small Things’ on my desk and nicked it, my big small thing was a raving fan.

Raffles chats with Entrepreneur & Philanthropist Bruce Poon Tip of G Adventures

Now with Bruce in town to discuss the launch of G Adventures industry-first guidelines for child welfare, he and Raffles chat all things responsible travel. Over to them…

Hi Bruce, first I’ve got to say I think you are epic. Not just because you are so successful but because you became successful by helping the planet and the people in it. That’s the kind of person I want to be when I grow up. Now, I believe you started your first business when you were only 12. I’m 10, and I’m really inspired by that. Got any tips for a wannabe junior entrepreneur?
I think you’re doing pretty well from what I can tell. You know I was actually 11 when I started my first business, so you’ve got one more year. Seriously though, my tip is to do what you love. Because if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.
Awesome advice.

How and what made you decide to start a travel business?
It was my passion. Back in 1990 I decided I wanted to start a business. I’d already started three businesses before I turned 16 when I was still in school. But after school when I decided I was going to start a business my two passions were travel and music. I was either going to start a record label or something in travel.
I am really into travel and music too. I play guitar.
So, what’s your favourite band?
Too many to choose. I like rock music though. I break if someone plays pop music.
I was really passionate about the human side of travel and the ability to change people’s lives through travel, so I chose it.
I think that would be my choice too. Unless Green Day is looking for a guitarist. In that case…

So, I heard that on your first ever tour the tour group got arrested? That’s not a great start but it is kind of funny. How did that happen?
You’ve really done your research, I haven’t been asked this question in a very long time. Good work! On our first tour to Belize we promised a canoe trip on the itinerary but when we got there we realised they didn’t know what canoes were. We’d sold the trip saying we had them, so I had to buy canoes and drive them down to fulfil our promises. Unfortunately, when the group were going down the river in Belize, people were freaking out because they had never seen a canoe and it wasn’t a legal registered floatation device in Belize. And they arrested all of us for having these illegal floatation devices. So, it wasn’t like everyone was in big trouble, but we did all technically get arrested and the canoes got confiscated. Not a good start.
Did they ever rebook?
You know what one of the people on that tour is one of our most travelled persons and she recently took trip number 38 with us.
That’s a win.

G Adventures is all about Sustainable travel. Can you tell me some of the ways that your company helps the communities you visit?
There are different ways we help. The first is by creating a dialogue with the communities before we arrive. That makes us unique because most tour operators send tours to a destination without consulting the local people. We create a dialogue and we find out how we can work with them in partnership. We also support social enterprise businesses and give micro loans to people to help serve our companies. We create paid jobs and wealth distribution through our travels. As we become successful in a destination the community around us becomes successful and that’s really important for how we gauge the success of our business.

Your company has just announced Global Good Practice Guidelines to protect children, and to educate the travel industry and travellers on how to responsibly interact with children, which I think is awesome. Can you tell me a bit about this and some of the simple steps kids like me can make to help other kids?
Yeah. The child welfare guidelines are very important for tour operators to follow. There’s more of a demand now to visit more remote places and more fragile cultures where people have never been before, so you have to have a set of guidelines to make sure the wellbeing of the children is looked after. Very simply, the guidelines are really asking people to act like they would at home. When people travel to other countries they act as though they have certain rights. They want certain services and amenities when really, they should just respect the local traditions and cultures of that country. It covers basic things like not giving children candy or taking pictures without permission. I mean, if you saw a cute kid in a grocery store here in Sydney you wouldn’t take a picture of them without asking, so why do it in another country. It is about showing respect and making sure we set up a safe place for children as tourism pushes into undiscovered territories.
I read that you’d worked on this with ChildSafe and a range of contributors including the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). That’s awesome.

Bruce Poon Tip Child Welfare Guidelines

My mum has been teaching us to travel responsibly since we could talk. How important do you think it is to teach kids to be responsible and sustainable travellers from an early age? What are the best ways parents can do this?
Well I think a big part is teaching our kids to live sustainably at home. We’re teaching them to respect and recycle, to eat organically and healthy. People seem to suspend their beliefs when they travel because they’re paying for a luxury holiday, but my question is why separate those beliefs when we go on holiday. What parents can do is teach their kids to be really respectful at home and take those same values when they go on vacation. It’s not a lot to ask.
That’s great advice.

I love that your company has specific family tours, so kids can enjoy more adventurous holidays too. You have kids. Do you get them to road test your family tours before you open them up to the public?
I do. It is funny you should mention that, we just did a trip to one of our local living programmes in Italy two weeks ago. And earlier this year we went camping in Namibia on a truck call The Lando that we created for touring. It’s got device chargers in every seat, water purification machines and Wi-Fi. The company has been using it for a while, but we’d never had kids on it. So, I took my kids camping for a couple of days and we tested it out and they gave it the thumbs up so now I know we can start a family programme there.
They must be the happiest lab rats in the world.

Can you tell me what the differences are between your family tours and regular tours and what kind of things do you put in place to make them memorable for kids?
The thing about family tours is bringing like-minded parents together. They want to create that community with kids while they’re travelling. It also gives parents a chance to enjoy their holiday too while the kids play and connect because when you’re travelling alone with kids, it can be hard. You may not know it Raff. But you’re hard work.
Oh, I know it!
But what we really want is for kids to learn about respecting other cultures and learning how other people live to give them a greater appreciation of where you come from and of other cultures. That’s the best gift you can ever give a kid. That cultural exchange is so beautiful and so valuable and precious. It gives you a secret weapon when you come back home. Because you have something other kids may not. Along with a greater appreciation for where you sit in the world, travel gives you the confidence to be a great student and a great kid.

Raffles chats with Entrepreneur & Philanthropist Bruce Poon Tip of G Adventures

Of all the destinations G Adventures visits, which do you think is the best for families?
Oh boy. I think Thailand is a great location because kids love the combination of kicking back on beaches and more active attractions. On my side of the world, Costa Rica and Peru both offer beautiful coastlines but also have great activities so get the balance right for kids.
Thailand is great. Peru is on my list

G for Good Peru - G Adventures Founder Bruce Poon Tip at Machu Picchu

You do tours in Australia right? Do you work with Indigenous people?
Very much so. That was one of the reasons we wanted to come to Australia, which was the first developed country where we ran tours. Indigenous community development was very important to us and so we created a whole bunch of different experiences for our tour up the East Coast of Australia. When we came here and started doing research up the coast there were lots of Indigenous shows and entertainment, but we wanted to do what we do everywhere else in the world and create experiences. So, we started dialogues with Indigenous communities. We didn’t want to invade their privacy, we wanted to see what their  needs were, what they were interested in and what their comfort level is in working with tourists. Right now, we are in discussion with some Indigenous leaders to build social enterprise projects in The Torres Straight Islands and Northern QLD.
That’s so cool that you’re are investing in programmes for Indigenous people.

How do you think family travel is changing and evolving? I mean my mum says that most Aussie family holidays used to be all about visiting the Gold Coast or Fiji and they’re great, but these days kids are going to more exotic places like Chile and Morocco. What do you see in the future for family travel?
I think families are travelling younger and that they’ll choose holidays that are more defined by interests and whether that’s animals or action and sports, there will be more choices for families in the future.

I love that G Adventures take animal welfare seriously and has banned unethical animal attractions from its tours. What spurred the decision to stop things like elephant riding?Elephant riding was the first thing to pop up on our radar. When we started questioning it and did the research about the training that was involved we realised it didn’t match our values, and once we opened that door just a crack we realised there was lots of stuff we needed to look more closely at. We talked to Jane Goodall and The Jane Goodall Society and asked for help in creating animal welfare guidelines. We evaluated all our tour hotels and activities and removed everything that didn’t fit within the guideline, like snorkelling in the Galapagos and dolphin encounters in the Caribbean. We have more than 20,000 departures a year, so it was a difficult job in the beginning, but it was the right thing to do.
That’s so great. I’m very anti elephant riding and tiger selfies, and I once swam with wild turtles off a beach in New Caledonia and some people started touching and holding them for photos. I was angry.
Animals don’t have a voice. So, when you see people act like this it’s a good opportunity for you, at the age of ten, to use yours. Not to start a fight or to embarrass people, but to say I don’t think it’s the right thing to do.

Through your work you’ve met some amazing people like Sir Richard Branson and The Dalai Lama, who are two of my biggest heroes. That’s so cool. Do you have a hero or someone you look up to as a role model?
I have many, But the Dalai Lama is a big one. He is a leader in every way, promoting the idea of infinite happiness and wellbeing. Kindness and happiness are the two greatest things that you could have a mentor on.
Your first book Looptail has a forward by the Dallai Lama, right?
Yeah. You know I’m not a Buddhist though people think I am. But I believe in his philosophy of happiness. He says, “Our only purpose in life is to achieve happiness”.  That is a beautiful statement. And when your happiness is about creating happiness for others it makes the world a more beautiful place. He inspires me to be a better person. Nelson Mandela was another great leader and the reason he inspired me is because he was a man of principal and I believe you have to be principled, if you want to be successful. These are the values that I look up to.
I think they’re both amazing and that you’re just like them. That’s why you inspire me.

You’ve obviously travelled a lot, do you have hot tips for any must visit destinations I should be ticking off?
If you’re talking about hot new destinations, Columbia in South America is such an amazing place. It has a beautiful coast, an amazing jungle, plus phenomenal music and food. The Stans in Central Asia are interesting too.  Countries like Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan are opening up for the first time. It used to be hard to get a visa to go, but the governments have relaxed the rules. They’re pretty cool, if you go soon you’ll get to see it before tourists get there.
I’m sold. Mum, I hope you’re taking notes here.

Is there some place that is still on your bucket list?
Yes. I’ve never been to Russia because I want to do the Trans-Siberian all the way from Beijing through Northern China, Mongolia and Siberia to Moscow, but it takes a long time and right now I’m a pretty busy guy and don’t have the time to take a month or two off to do the full trip. But I will.
I’ll come with you!

Thanks for speaking to me Bruce, I really appreciate your time. You’re legit as awesome as I thought you would be and that makes me a happy traveller!

 

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