G Adventures Advances UN Sustainable Development Goals Through 50-in-5 Tourism Campaign

Last fall, G Adventures announced the 50-in-5 campaign as part of the United Nation’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.  I had an opportunity to ask Kim McCabe of G Adventures, a few questions about the goals of this campaign and how it related to sustainable tourism as well as benefiting local communities socially, economically and environmentally.

What is your ultimate goal with the 50-in-5 campaign, as it relates to traveler awareness of sustainable community experiences?

G Adventures’ 50-in-5 Campaign will raise CAD $5 million (USD $3.9 million) to integrate 50 new social enterprise projects into the G Adventures portfolio within 5 years.

This integration aims to positively change the lives of local people in communities in more than 35 countries, by providing them with access to the economic benefits of tourism.

The 50 new projects, which will be added to the current list of 25 projects, are grouped under the company’s commitment to social entrepreneurship known as “G Adventures For Good” and are a combination of incorporating small locally owned businesses, educational or cultural activities into our travel experiences.  The objective will be to spotlight self-sustaining social enterprises that support marginalized women, disadvantaged youth and indigenous communities. 

Our travelers will be able to make a direct, meaningful contribution to improving people’s lives by spreading wealth, increasing cultural understanding, and sharing opportunities. It’s not charity, it’s just good business that also benefits people. These experiences will help our travelers better realize that, by choosing a travel company that prioritizes responsible, sustainable travel that supports local people, they can do good for the world, simply by having an amazing time.

How is G Adventures selecting the communities to participate in this effort?  For example, how is a community demonstrating a need for economic development while also proving to be a tourism destination?

Through its nonprofit foundation Planeterra, (which sits within G Adventures and works to identify, develop and implement community development projects), G Adventures staff work together to identify potential project locations and determine the optimum place along existing travel itineraries where projects could receive an adequate number of visitors. 

We also seek communities that have the right recipe for success, which includes on-the-ground partners that are invested in social enterprise development and communities in need that have projects, which are benefitting people but have not fully benefited from the travel industry’s potential.

G Adventures has thus far received CAD $ 3.5 million (USD $2.75 million), with a goal of CAD $ 5 million.  Can you provide some specific information on how the money will be earmarked for projects that emphasize efforts toward child education, women empowerment, wildlife conservation, etc.?

Some “G Adventures for Good” projects simply require guidance and access to the supply chain by becoming direct suppliers for our company, while some need seed investments from CAD $5,000 to $25,000 to get started.  Other projects require up to CAD $100,000 in capital investment, and become signature G Adventures experiences.  

By working with local beneficiaries, we can evaluate the needs of the project and determine how to make the most significant impact, knowing we have a customer-base to sustain new and burgeoning initiatives.  In terms of beneficiaries, we concentrate the majority of our social enterprise projects on those that help people versus protecting wildlife.

While we fully support animal welfare (an example of that is that we have adopted the guidelines developed by the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) in conjunction with the Born Free Foundation, a third-party organization whose mission it is to protect animals from abuse), we feel that there are many wonderful organizations with expertise in wildlife conservation already doing that.  With that, our aim is to ensure that all animals encountered on our tours, wild and domestic, are treated humanely.  As a company, we continuously audit, review and, in some cases, remove activities that may jeopardize animal welfare.

To support people, we’re working to bring underserved communities into the tourism supply chain and support community development projects that help people help themselves.  This integration is helping to give men, women and children greater access to education, health care and sustainable income that honors their traditional way of life. 

Then, once the social enterprise is part of the tourism supply chain, the impacts begin to multiply within the community.  We call this the ripple effect, and it’s the goal of all our new 50-in-5 projects.

Morocco Women

Moroccan women in rural Meknes with some traditional dishes. (c) G Adventures, Inc.

For example, for International Women’s Day, we launched three new social enterprise projects that directly benefit women in Morocco, Belize and Australia. 

  • In Meknes, Morocco, we launched the Morocco Community Lunch and cultural exchange experience. The goal is to help promote women’s rights, gender equality and access to the formal economy for women who live in rural areas of the country.  In the village of M’Hoya, a group of women serve travelers a traditional lunch and teach guests some basic Arabic.  Income generated from the tours will go to support long-term job development in rural Morocco.
  • In Queensland, Australia, travelers have the chance to learn about and support the Aboriginal Jirrbal community in Tully. The new Café Chloe, a converted railway station, was created with tourism dollars and is now a café and vocational training center for youth and women. Visitors can have lunch at the cafe and also receive lessons in weaving and Aboriginal arts.
  • In southern Belize, guests have the opportunity to learn ancient pottery-making techniques with a group of female Mayan artisans.  The Belize Pottery Cooperative was formed to encourage women in the San Antonio region to share their traditional knowledge with visitors and earn income to support their families.

Another great example is our recently introduced Thailand Community Trek, which both introduces travelers to a region few get to explore and provides employment opportunities for the younger generation.

Can you spotlight a specific community project that you think provides a (repeatable) blueprint for other communities?

In the Sacred Valley of Peru, we are helping women by introducing our guests to the K’aytu Women’s Weaving Co-op. This incredibly successful social enterprise is helping more than 60 indigenous female artisans achieve financial independence and preserve their traditional skills through the creation and sale of traditional handicrafts.  Thousands of our guests visit this community as part of the Sacred Valley Tour, where they spend money to purchase handmade artisan crafts and learn traditional weaving skills.

This program has been so helpful to the community, in terms of helping to preserve indigenous knowledge, provide local job opportunities to employ young people, and empowering women and mothers, that we are developing plans to replicate it in Belize.

Maasai Engineer Clean Stoves

A Maasai engineer sits atop a home for which she has installed a clean cookstove. (c)  

Do you have any anecdotes to share about a specific person who has benefited from the 50-in-5 campaign?

In Tanzania, a young, female Maasai leader named Esupat works with the G Adventures supported Maasai Clean Cookstoves & Solar Project, to install clean cookstoves within the Maasai bomas in order to reduce indoor air pollutants that cause terrible respiratory illness among children living in these small and often one-roomed homes. 

G Adventures travelers who are on safari in Tanzania have a portion of their tour fees go towards buying and installing a clean cookstove for a family in a Maasai village. The travelers then have the opportunity to visit the village, see a stove installation, and learn more about why this simple stove design can be life-changing, especially for children.

With training and support from G Adventures’ nonprofit, Planeterra, Esaput has installed over 300 stoves and now serves as a coordinator, trainer, and chief stove installer in Tanzania. She has since earned the nickname “Airport” from her Maasai friends and neighbors, following travel to Uganda where Esupat was invited to share her stove installation techniques with a group running a similar project there, because she was the first person in her community to ever fly in an airplane.

With the recent earthquake in Ecuador, are you planning on increasing your efforts to the country outside of the current project in the Galapagos Islands?  What about conflict areas such as Israel and Jordan (with the refugee crisis) or economically hard hit areas such as Egypt? 

We have plans to do more projects in Ecuador mainland and Galapagos also, throughout the next five years.  However, we tend not to work in conflict areas because we follow tourism volume.

In order to sustain community tourism enterprises, we follow a pretty strict market-based model of working with communities where we can deliver a healthy volume of travelers to sustain small businesses or revenue-generating programs.

That said, G Adventures returns quickly to regions hit with conflicts or natural disasters as soon as it is safe for our staff and passengers. That is often quite quickly, because we have local staff on the ground who monitor the situation. Once G Adventures is running tours again, Planeterra can follow and continue with our work.  

Specifically regarding the refugee and migrant crisis: we are working in that part of the world, developing projects in both Turkey and Jordan. One Turkey project that is in development now is a community park and almond cooperative that will help to bring new income opportunities that are also more climate-resilient to women and families.  We plan to integrate visits to this new co-op on G Adventures tours in the region, later in 2016. Our tours also visit a women’s craft cooperative in another part of Turkey, helping to empower rural women and reduce waste through artisanal handicrafts and workshops, offered to travelers. 

We are considering potential new projects that could employ migrants and refugees in the region, but have not finalized these plans yet and are therefore not ready to announce them. We hope to announce them later in the year.  

So the short answer is yes, we plan to work in all of these areas where there is tourism demand, and we can contribute by assisting community groups and local NGOs to develop initiatives that can be inserted into the tourism supply chain in order to earn livelihoods to improve their lives.

With the G Adventures selection process, do the community leaders or stakeholders have a seat at the decision making table too?  If so, how is that represented?

We generally support initiatives that are grassroots (developed by our product and operations team, Planeterra or local NGO), which communities have organized or that local organizations have already conceptualized.

From there, we engage directly with the community leaders and work in partnership with them to develop projects, either kick-starting them with capital or customizing their products and services for our customers.

All community partners that we work with are part of all decisions, and part of our process is to build their capacity to work not only with us, but within the broader travel and tourism industry. Planeterra plays an intermediary role where we have the direct relationships at the initial stages with the local partners, develop the capacity and help them become a supplier to G Adventures, and then the business relationship develops.  

Planeterra continues to play a monitoring role once a formal business relationship is established between G Adventures and the community/local organization.  All initiatives we fund or assist in developing are wholly owned and managed by community associations or local NGOs/non-profits.  Therefore, their leaders and stakeholders are always at the table and in control of their own development. 

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2 Responses
  1. Avatar

    I’ve just finished reading Bruce Poon Tip’s book Looptail and have been DYING to go on a G Adventures Trip since. I too studied Sustainable Tourism Management at GWU and what they are doing is perhaps one of the best examples of a popular travel company implementing grassroots sustainable practices that travelers can actually participate in (at least this is my opinion). If there are other companies like this out there, please let me know!

  2. Avatar

    Thanks Kelly! We think they are doing good work as well, but by far are not the only ones who are benefiting local communities socially, economically and environmentally. If there is a specific region that you are interested in traveling to, we would be happy to connect you with them as that is what Greenloons is all about!