GAP Adventures Named a Leading Voluntourism Company

For all of you who thought that the adventure travel companies would never fully enter this space, here is the proof. Travel & Leisure just named Gap Adventures a leader in voluntourism. Is this because of their great trips? Sustainability practices? PR team?

I’m not saying that this award isn’t deserved because I met with Richard Edwards at ATWS and really think they have a great sustainable product. I just wanted to bring to everyone’s attention that adventure travel operators are officially in this space and its time to partner.

Travel + Leisure names Gap Adventures a leader in voluntourism

The latest and best efforts at cultural preservation, environmental conservation, and community-building through tourism are recognized in Travel + Leisure’s 2009 Global Vision Awards. CEO and Founder Bruce Poon Tip of Gap Adventures, the world’s leading small group adventure tour operator, was one of 17 organisations recognised for efforts to promote voluntourism. Through the company’s non-profit organisation, Planeterra, Gap Adventures is dedicated to the development and support of small communities around the globe since 2003.

Voluntourism, a fast-growing segment of the travel industry has been pioneered by Gap Adventure’s vision to promote environmental responsibilty and a connection to locals. Planeterra’s range of projects, which span the arenas of health, education, employment skills training, cultural heritage preservation, and environmental conservation, help travellers find ways to give back to the people and places they visit. All projects have the central goal of helping local people achieve a sustainable way of life in an environmentally sensitive manner.

Highlights of Planeterra Voluntourism trips include:
– Project Costa Rica: Travellers get a hands on experience with the Sea Turtle Conservation Project including night patrols along the beach, data collection, beach clean-ups, maintenance, monitoring of the turtle and if the timing is right, counting baby turtles and releasing them.
– Project India: Volunteers participate in a five-day community project at the Bal Prakash Center which focuses on the eradication of child labour by a meaningful blend of education and vocation, while experiencing the beauty and adventure of India’s culture.

“We are excited to be honoured with this award and are pleased that Travel + Leisure recognizes Gap Adventures commitment promoting voluntourism,” says founder and CEO of Gap Adventures, Bruce Poon Tip. He adds, “We hope this honour will encourage travellers to seek out ways they can give back in the course of their adventures and make a positive impact on the world.”

Nancy Novogrod, editor-in-chief of Travel + Leisure, says “The individuals and organisations recognised in T+L’s 2009 Global Vision Awards epitomise the idea that travel is a force for good. Even in these challenging economic times, it is encouraging to see that important issues for our world and our industry are a priority for this year’s winners. We applaud their outstanding efforts and hope that they provide inspiration for both travelers and others in the travel world.”

As a result of Gap Adventure’s commitment to voluntourism, the Canadian tour operator was selected by a jury of eight members including Dan Barber, Celine Simone Cousteau, Bruce Mau, and Dr. Joseph E. Stiglitz for the fifth annual Global Vision Awards.

Read full article

Thirteen Tips for the Accidental Ambassador

Just back from an amazing Adventure Travel World Summit, fantastic travel folks and some great brainstorming, what a week! If you didn’t go this year I highly recommend trying to make it to Scotland next year.

One of the key people I met was Jeff Greenwald of Ethical Traveler, a really inspiring guy who is trying to make a huge difference through his website. Jeff’s team created “Thirteen Tips for the Accidental Ambassador” a quick reading to prepare those traveling abroad to do so responsibly.

I recommend sharing this, or something like it, with all of your clients – the more education they can have before they go in country the better experience is for both them and the communities. Jeff has some great bookmarks printed with this info on it that would make great pre-departure gifts, and no he is not a client – I just think this is a great idea.

At Ethical Traveler, our focus is on the positive impact travelers can have by being open, informed, and willing to immerse themselves in other cultures. In creating these following suggestions, we’ve drawn inspiration from our own journeys—with an emphasis on the person-to-person aspects of travel.
1) BE AWARE OF WHERE YOUR MONEY IS GOING, and patronize locally-owned inns, restaurants, and shops. Try to keep your cash within the local economy, so the people you are visiting can benefit directly from your visit.

2) NEVER GIVE GIFTS TO CHILDREN, only to their parents or teachers. When giving gifts to local communities – from schoolbooks to balloons, from pens to pharmaceuticals – first find out what’s really needed, and who can best distribute these items.
[See: “A Fistful of Rupees: Coping With Begging on Third World Trails”]

3) Before visiting any foreign land, TAKE THE TIME TO LEARN BASIC COURTESY PHRASES: greetings, “please” & “thank you,” and as many numbers as you can handle (those endless hours in airport waiting lounges, or aboard trains and boats, are all opportunities for this). It’s astonishing how far a little language goes toward creating a feeling of goodwill.

Click to view slide show.
Photos by Sebastian Copeland
Click the photo to view the slide show.
photo © Sebastian Copeland
4) REMEMBER THE ECONOMIC REALITIES OF YOUR NEW CURRENCY. A few rupees, baht or pesos one way or another is not going to ruin you. Don’t get all bent out of shape over the fact that a visitor who earns 100 times a local’s salary might be expected to pay a few cents more for a ferry ride, a museum entrance, or an egg.

5) BARGAIN FAIRLY, and with respect for the seller. Again, remember the economic realities of where you are. The final transaction should leave both buyer and seller satisfied and pleased. Haggling for a taxi or carpet is part of many cultures; but it’s not a bargain if either person feels exploited, diminished, or ripped-off.

6) LEARN AND RESPECT THE TRADITIONS AND TABOOS OF YOUR HOST COUNTRY. Each culture has its own mores, and they’re often taken very seriously. Never, for example, pat a Thai child on the head, enter a traditional Brahmin’s kitchen, or refuse a cup of kava in Fiji!

7) CURB YOUR ANGER, AND CULTIVATE YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR. Anger is a real issue for westerners—even the Dalai Lama remarks on this. It’s perversely satisfying, but it never earns the respect of locals, or defuses a bad situation. A light touch—and a sense of cosmic perspective—are infinitely more useful. As former Merry Prankster Wavy Gravy says: “When you lose your sense of humor, it’s just not funny anymore.”

8) It makes an enormous difference if you ARRIVE WITH A SENSE OF THE SOCIAL, POLITICAL, AND ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES faced by the people you are visiting. Our site will direct you to good profiles of most travel destinations; we also recommend you read the political and historic sections of your guidebook (Lonely Planet, Moon Publications, and Rough Guides are especially good for this). Many countries offer English-language newspapers, as well.

9) LEARN TO LISTEN. The ability to listen is the essence of diplomacy, on both the personal and international levels. Many of the world’s conflicts arise when people feel marginalized. Travelers from the USA in particular should be aware that many people—especially in developing countries—believe that having the ear of an American is tantamount to having the ear of America. So wherever you’re from, listen well—and with respect—to all points of view.

10) LEARN TO SPEAK. People from wealthy and powerful countries often express their opinions as if they are the absolute truth. Such preaching invites anger and resentment. We suggest tempering conversations with phrases like “I believe,” or “My view is,” rather than, “Everybody knows….”

11) The single most useful phrase any traveler can learn: “CAN YOU PLEASE HELP ME?” Rarely, in any country or situation, will another human being refuse a direct request for help. Being of service, and inviting others to reciprocate, is what the phrase global community is all about.

12) LEAVE YOUR PRECONCEPTIONS ABOUT THE WORLD AT HOME. The inhabitants of planet Earth will continually amaze you with their generosity, hospitality and wisdom. Be open to their friendship, and aware of our common humanity, delights, and hardships.

13) NEVER FORGET KURT VONNEGUT JR’S BEST LINE: “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.” In other words: go with the flow, and give free rein to your sense of adventure!

(Note: Colorful bookmarks featuring the “13 Tips” are available from Ethical Traveler for a reasonable price. Minimum order = 500. Please contact us to inquire.)

Please visit for another good list of cultural and moral considerations.

Travel Companies Lag in the Online Marketing Race

Some interesting articles, that are very true, about the lack of online marketing by travel companies. Sites are increasingly confusing in an attempt to keep relevant and companies are starting social media accounts with no clear sense of direction. My advice? Stop, think about the key differentiators of your brand, then act – don’t keep running with the same bland messaging that doesn’t set you apart.

“Travel companies expect the consumer to behave like a travel agent”

A new report, released by Forrester Research, found that far from embracing the do-it-yourself era, many consumers were fed up with the complicated process of planning and booking travel.

According to Forrester, travellers are fed up. There are 15 percent fewer travellers who enjoy using the web in 2009 than there were in 2007. Just one in three US online travellers feels that travel websites do a good job presenting travel choices, down from 39 percent in 2008. Travellers feel that they, and their business, are taken for granted.

“What we’ve seen is growing frustration,” said Henry H. Harteveldt, a Forrester travel analyst. “Consumers see other websites becoming easier to use — retail websites, banking websites, media websites. But travel is treading water as a category. There are very few travel companies that are really looking to improve the planning and booking process.”

Instead, customers are forced to figure out extra fees, wade through fine print and understand industry terms like the difference between a deluxe and a standard room, in addition to educating themselves about destinations, flights and hotels, Harteveldt said.

“Travel companies expect the consumer to behave like a travel agent,” he told the New York Times. “The question I always ask these guys is, ‘Could your mother-in-law use your website without having to call you for help?’ The answer is always no.”

To reverse travellers’ dissatisfaction and avoid having them abandon the web in favour of other, more expensive offline channels, travel eBusiness professionals must rethink their approach to travel eBusiness. To reverse this trend and re-engage travellers, travel eBusiness professionals must recognise that travel eBusiness is comprised of four continuous phases — not isolated, unrelated processes — supported by the five pillars of merchandising, context, engagement, value, and customer appreciation. Expect travel eBusiness professionals to be asked to become more involved with customer data strategy and for global distribution systems (GDS) to evolve into more useful global merchandising systems (GMS).

July 23, 2009 |

Online travel sector needs to improve overall customer engagement: survey

Online travel sites need to work harder at improving the entire end to end website experience if they are to build trusted, long-term relationships that encourage customers to buy from them time and time again, according to a study.

As per the findings of the first eTravel Benchmark survey, the online travel industry as a whole has some way to go in order to compete with ‘best in breed’ companies for website engagement and customer service.  When the sites were measured using the net promoter score  to find out which are most likely to be recommended through word of mouth, while eight companies ranked ‘above average’, the sector as a whole achieved score of +5.

Compared to other recent eDigitalResearch benchmarking studies that scored retail at +27, finance at +18 and car manufacturing at +7, the online travel sector is clearly lagging behind.

Airlines, however, were notably let down by poor first impressions and disappointing customer service, both of which play a vital part in overall customer satisfaction.  When measured on telephone customer service, just one airline, British Airways, made it into the top 10 rankings, rated seventh and just two airlines (Virgin Atlantic and British Airways) scored highly enough to make the top 10 for email customer service.

Derek Eccleston, head of research at eDigitalResearch said although there are clear leaders in certain categories, there is not one operator who has managed to tick all the boxes consistently.

“In a sector whose customers are particularly promiscuous – switching brands for a better deal, looking for recommendations and picking the purchase channel that most suits them at that particular time – failing to perform well  across the board is more than a missed opportunity, it is commercial suicide,” said Eccleston.

“What customers want is a clear step-by-step process.  They want a site that is easy to purchase from but at the same time that has the inspirational ‘wow’ factor to keep them engaged.  Add to that transparent pricing, great customer service, and of course a great trip and you’ve cracked it.”

The eTravel Benchmark survey uses eDigitalResearch’s eMysteryShopper tool to measure the ‘usability’ of 18 channel crossing, cruise and airline websites, comparing seven key areas ranging from first impressions to the search and booking process.  Overall, channel crossing operators fared better in the survey with P&O Ferries emerging as the top performer and Stena Line second.

Adventure Travel World Summit Coming Up, You Going? You Should Be.

It’s that time of year for conferences, but one you shouldn’t miss is the Adventure Travel World Summit that’s in Quebec Oct 19-22, hosted by the Adventure Travel Trade Association. What makes it different from other conferences is the almost absolute lack of voluntourism representation. Earthwatch will probably go, as will PEPY Ride, but not many others have shown up in past years. It’s a missed opportunity.

Almost all of the adventure travel companies are looking to combine some voluntourism into their offerings, instead of creating projects themselves many are looking to partner with volunteer companies – THEY JUST DONT KNOW YOU’RE OUT THERE!

So if you’re looking to expand your reach and network – this is the one conference I highly recommend attending (and no, they dont pay me).

Here are a couple selections from last year:

Learnings from the Summit in Norway – Take One

Learnings Take Two

Tax Deductibility and Voluntourism – Should it Stay or Should it Go?

The debate has always been around, should volunteer vacations be tax deductible? Does the mere word ‘vacation’ being used in marketing take away from the level of service that volunteers do in country? Or is the deduction in fact a marketing tool?

Journey Etc wrote an article on this topic addressed at travelers, what do you think about it? Let’s start the debate again.


Voluntourism – A Vacation with Tax Benefits

You probably know that business travelers can often deduct all or a portion of their travel, even if they are having some fun. But did you know that  you can also get a tax benefit from your vacation? You can  if you are willing to do a bit of work as a volunteer with a non-profit organization.

“Voluntourism” is becoming a popular option for travelers that want to make the most of their vacation.  By volunteering with a non-profit organization a person can travel to almost any global destination, experience the  culture of an area in a whole new way, and have a sense of purpose and of doing good with their vacation time.   And then to top it  off, some or all of their vacation expenses can be deducted on their income tax returns.

To get the tax deduction on your US  Return you must volunteer with a US non-profit corporation.  Habitat for Humanity is one organization that has volunteer opportunities both local and abroad. You could also contact an organization that specializes in voluntourism such as  Cross Cultural Solutions in New York or Global Volunteers which is based out of Minnesota.

There are a number of factors that determine if you can deduct some or all of your travel expenses.  In general the amount deductible will depend upon how much time you spend doing strictly volunteer activities, versus how much time you spend doing strictly vacation activities.

Whatever your skills or talents, there is a volunteer opportunity for you. You can help children and adults with their English. You can provide medical services, or you could help build a home.  You can work, with children, seniors, teens and adults.

When working with a volunteer agency expect to pay your own airfare, plus a program fee that will generally include lodging and meals.   Prepare to be flexible and open to new experiences. Do not expect classy hotels and fine dining.  To save money volunteers are often housed with local families or budget hotels and eat the local food.

If you want a vacation with a purpose, one where you get to really know the local people and culture, and one that comes with a tax benefit, consider voluntourism.  You’ll be glad you did!