Yesterday I had a chance to meet Bruce Poon Tip, owner and CEO of G.A.P Adventures, one of Canada’s most successful travel entrepreneurs. You may wonder, what is he like? Bruce is the owner of Canada’s largest adventure travel company, an attractive man of about 37 years of age, dressed in casual attire and not afraid to speak off the cuff. Certainly a charismatic personality who was able to captivate last night’s capacity crowd at the G.A.P. concept store in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood.
In 1990 Bruce went on an organized backpacking trip to Thailand where he had a chance to explore the people and the country on $10.00 a day. This experience gave him the idea to create G.A.P Adventures, today Canada’s largest adventure travel company that now sells thousands of different trips and annually sends 40,000 passengers on their own small-group adventures. G.A.P has about 300 employees today, headquartered in Toronto, with operational offices in various countries of Latin America. It’s most recent endeavours are the G.A.P concept stores which have recently been opened in high-traffic areas in Toronto and Vancouver, places where travellers can research their adventure trip, get more information about their desired destination and book their once-in-a-lifetime experience supported by good advice with no sales pressure.
For his entrepreneurial savvy Bruce has won numerous awards, besides receiving an award as one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40, Bruce has been also been honoured as one of Canada’s top 5 entrepreneurs by Canadian Business as well as Canada’s 100 leaders of tomorrow. Profit Magazine named him in their 20th anniversary issue cover story as one of Canada’s Top 10 Entrepreneurs of the last 20 years. Bruce also received the Global Traders Leadership award from the government for his ground breaking ideas in exporting services.
Recently Bruce was asked by the World Bank and UNESCO to represent a team to visit the Peoples Republic Of China to lecture on Sustainable Development. In January of 2002 Bruce was the only Canadian operator invited to speak at the United Nations Launch of the Year Of Eco Tourism in New York. Bruce defied the odds once again last year by winning Canada’s prestigious Entrepreneur of the Year, as well as the National Citation for Entrepreneurship.
G.A.P’s additional awards include having two trips chosen among the TOP 25 Adventures in the World by National Geographic Adventure magazine, the Ethics in Action Award, the Global Traders Award and the Clean Air Commute Award for five straight years.
Although a consummate business man, Bruce Poon Tip has a conscience and he has founded his entire entreprise on the concept of sustainability and established travel practices that show consideration of natural surroundings and local cultures. By limiting the travel group size to 12 people, by taking local transportation and staying in small, locally owned hotels and guesthouses, G.A.P travellers are able to minimize their footprint in foreign communities and get maximum exposure to local culture.
Planeterra is a non-profit organization founded by G.A.P to give back. Today Planeterra raises funds for a number of community projects, international charities and an endowment fund to ensure long-term support of community development and conservation projects for years to come. Some of the community projects that G.A.P sponsors through donations include a community school in Ecuador, a foundation in Honduras to help women start their own businesses, an NGO in Costa Rica for environmental and wildlife conservation projects, a local battery recycling project in Chile, a drop-in center for street children in Cuczo, Peru, and many more. G.A.P Adventures itself also initiated a Women’s Weaving Project in Peru that taught local women ancient weaving techniques as well as natural fabric dye processes. Today all G.A.P travel groups visiting the Sacred Valley in Peru have a chance to see and purchase high quality textiles produced by these weavers, all sold at fair trade prices.
As another example of the innovativeness of his company, Bruce shared with us the story of how he went out to purchase the “Explorer”, the world’s first purpose-built expedition cruise ship. In March of 2004 Bruce went on an expedition cruise through the Antarctic and fell in love with the experience. He figured he need to buy his own expedition cruise ship and started looking for suitable vessels. In April of 2004 he found the “Explorer”, a historic expedition ship with a capacity of 112 passengers and a crew of 60 people. The ship had been docked in Genoa, Italy, for many months due to the financial problems of its owners. Just another 2 months later, but after many complications, G.A.P took possession of the ship. Only another 4 months later, after extensive restorations, the Explorer went on its inaugural journey and today offers expedition cruises to such unique places as Antarctica, the Amazon, Spitzbergen, and Greenland. (Incidentally, G.A.P. has agreed to sponsor our first Travel Story Contest and the grand prize winner of our contest will win an exciting adventure cruise on the Amazon in the Explorer – all thanks to G.A.P. Adventures.)
G.A.P’s innovative business ideas don’t end here. G.A.P also has a travel TV Show: Great Adventure People TV shows viewers the world – G.A.P Adventures style. The camera accompanies small groups of G.A.P Adventure travellers and follows them on unique G.A.P. adventure trips- cycling through the fascinating country of Vietnam, exploring exotic Morocco, and hiking, biking and rafting through captivating Spain and Italy. New episodes can be seen in Canada on CTV and will soon also be available in Great Britain on the UK Travel Channel.
G.A.P is a unique company, with a unique philosophy and a unique way of operating. I am looking forward to interviewing Bruce personally and to finding out how he is able to combine a successful high-growth adventure travel business with his dedication to social causes and sustainable travel. Stay tuned for some interesting insights into a brilliant entrepreneurial mind….
Susanne Pacher is the publisher of a website called Travel and Transitions(http://www.travelandtransitions.com). Travel and Transitions deals with unconventional travel and is chock full of advice, tips, real life travel experiences, interviews with travellers and travel experts, insights and reflections, cross-cultural issues, contests and many other features. You will also find stories about life and the transitions that we face as we go through our own personal life-long journeys.
Submit your own travel stories in our first travel story contest(http://www.travelandtransitions.com/contests.htm) and have a chance to win an amazing adventure cruise on the Amazon River.