29 SEP 2011: Maybe David Letterman should take a tip from the new G Nation as outlined by sustainable tourism pioneer Bruce Poon Tip. The other night the late night talk show host joked about the two newly released hikers from Iran. “Nobody likes hiking more than I do, but it seems to me that if you have an atlas, you can find better places to go hiking – than Iran or Korea.”

Kidding aside, despite some regions in the world where no tourists would dare to tread, most of the world is open for safe exploration.

Enter United Nations World Tourism Day, an annual world event conceived to foster “awareness among the international community” which began on September 27 1980. UNWTO organizers used the theme “Tourism – Linking Cultures” in an extraordinary attempt to find the top five pix and tweets addressing this year’s theme which you can view at http://wtd.unwto.org.

Guess what grabbed the judge’s attention? Try an image of Korean women celebrating an Indian festival and for the best 140-character tweet, it’s: “Tourism is a thread which connects all cultures and peoples. As we travel, explore and discover, the thread gets pulled tighter.”

It’s no surprise the Twitter world was in overdrive on Tuesday with hundreds of organizations professing their goal to make a difference among these pockets of turmoil through tourism. Greece wants tourists ... so does Egypt ... so does everybody else.

Closer to home, Bruce Poon Tip, founder of the adventure company previously known as GAP Adventures (more on the name change later), held his own Twitter campaign for an event he cleverly held on World Tourism Day.

Aptly dubbed The Future of Tourism, the crowds came.

In signature Poon Tip style, you know if you’re going to drum up a ginormous audience (which he did) you might as well throw in a few other sustainable tourism-related topics and more mega big announcements to broaden the show.

His friends from the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) were on hand to launch their global marketing campaign to help raise awareness for sustainable tourism.

Scientist/Environmentalist extraordinaire David Suzuki gave a highly anticipated pre-taped message saying how tourism itself can’t be sustainable. I guess he wanted to reduce his carbon footprint by staying at home in British Columbia.

Megan Epler-Wood, executive director of the Planeterra Foundation, the non-profit funding arm for Poon Tip’s company, explained how to make destinations work through financial contributions to help fund badly needed local projects. She cited some examples like a freshwater tank project in Panama, schools, and eye camps for cataract removals.

Gary Arndt, travel blogger with Everything-Everywhere and Gap Adventure’s nomad-in-residence shared personal accounts of his 4.5 year world tour. One of his most memorable conversations was with a man on the remote Solomon Islands exchanging fishing views on how Americans technically walk on water during the cold Wisconsin winters for ice fishing. “This conversation would never have happened a century ago.”

Shannon Stowell, president of the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), compared tourism to fire. “It’ll make you feel good but if it goes out of the hearth its destructive ... we’ve all seen tourism do the same thing.”

Switzerland Tourism was on hand to announce next year’s Adventure Travel World Summit which will be held in the famous resort town, Lucerne.

And then of course, the big game changer for the evening was from Poon Tip himself.

The sustainable tourism renegade has changed the company name to G Adventures (“G is for Great Adventures or anything else you want it to be,” said Poon Tip) while keeping the tagline “The Great Adventure People” due to an ongoing legal dispute with US clothing manufacturer, The Gap Inc. Poon Tip hopes this will finally end the bitter legal squabble.

“It’s like being in hell,” he said of the five year ordeal that’s consumed the old Gap Adventures with over $5-million in legal fees.

So fresh start, new ideas and big revelations were to be had.

Poon Tip revealed he’s not in the ethical tourism business because he’d be out of business tomorrow if he were. “We wouldn’t be able to go into China or Burma (Myanmar),” he said.

The fine tightrope act in a product driven industry also has its challenges. “I spent the last 20 years creating experiences. I wish I could say we were product driven without the demand but I have to take people to (exotic places),” he said citing Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, and Egypt’s Great Pyramids among other heritage sites on his trip roster.

On the flipside, Poon Tip recognizes the survival of these sensitive areas requires local support made possible through assistance from companies like G Adventures.

In Peru, for instance, the famous Inca Trail was having challenges. Poon Tip notes his company is the dominant tour operator there and he saw their way of life was in jeopardy since the youth were not carrying on traditions. The answer: He got his clients to learn the ancient weaving techniques from the local women and in the process gainfully employing them through a co-op and getting women out of poverty.

“Now I’ve got other operators wanting to use my co-op and I tell them to go get your own women weaving co-op.”

Donations are big business too. Every time Poon Tip launches a fundraiser or tweets a need to help fund one of his many Planeterra projects whether it’s for cataract surgery in Tibet or for clean water in Kenya, he says not only do donors meet the goal but they exceed it.

“We decided to raise $50,000 but we raised $100,000 so with the extra money we started an eye center in Tanzania,” he noted of the Planeterra Foundation fundraiser, “Ignite the Nite” with proceeds initially going to construct a permanent eye care centre in Cambodia.

With Poon Tip’s new G Nation, a term he uses to describe his vision, ready to creep into new areas and uncharted territories, we eagerly anticipate what’s next. The company is releasing its first ever North America brochure and is in talks with Colombia on possibly harvesting tourism opportunities starting with the City of Gold.

Agents can expect new brochures adopting the new company name in October, in addition to a cool viral video showcasing G staff filmed at various locations.

It looks like the G Nation is ready for the next chapter. The new name will be effective globally October 1, 2011.

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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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