On a Gap Adventures tour, passengers go trekking, biking, white-water rafting and venture off the beaten path. They take reindeer safaris and build igloos. They head for Africa’s seldom-visited villages and make a difference by helping build schools in this and other countries that need their help. They enjoy photography excursions, get up-close to wildlife and immerse themselves in different cultures.
Bruce Poon Tip started Gap Adventures in 1990 at age 23 with two credit cards and a desire to “…create an authentic, sustainable travel experience, available to all.” More than 20 years later, the company has 850 employees in 20 offices worldwide with Toronto as its base. It offers more than 750 tours to all seven continents, 100 countries and thousands of destinations. Core values include changing people’s lives, leading with service and even embracing the bizarre.
Its 100,000 annual passengers seek different things and that’s why there are 11 trip types and three service levels. Service levels of basic, standard or comfort, dictate how much structure is in the program, the type of accommodation and the amount of sightseeing—all of which impact costs. Tours are available that appeal to a wide range of ages and budgets, says Billy Connelly, spokesperson for Gap Adventures.
Carol Parsons, who hosts travel agent webinars on selling Gap Adventures, suggests agents not be overwhelmed by the 11 trip types, but pick four or five. Examples include Classic, the first program type started by the company, which is defined as an authentic travel experience, exploring landscapes, wildlife and cultures. Discovery Adventures are designed for travelers who enjoy Discovery Channel destinations, with educational and immersive activities. There are also Family, Active (with an added physical adventure component) and Independent options, as well as YOLO (You Only Live Once) for the 18 to 30 crowd.
In addition to the webinars for travel agents, Gap Adventures rolled out its online agent booking system, Sherpa, earlier this year. Here, agents are able to search for inventory; look for agent resources, order brochures, see about FAMs and book travel. Agent-only FAM trips are available, starting at $499. Agent discounts are 40 percent off for the agent and 20 percent off for companions.
who is the gap adventures traveler?
The Gap Adventures traveler is 18 to 80 and is “young at heart,” says Parsons. “It’s more about a mindset then chronological age. The defining characteristic is that they are looking for an authentic, hands-on small group experience,” she adds. More than 40 percent are returning passengers. The company also offers lifetime deposits, allowing clients who need to cancel, the chance to book at a later date or to even transfer their deposit to a friend or family member.
“A significant number of our travelers are between the ages of 18 and 29,” says Connelly. “Backpack or adventure travel traditionally targeted a younger demographic, but Gap Adventures has made this form of travel more accessible for individuals outside this age range. We’ve experienced a strong growth among travelers between the age of 20 and 45; and even have 45 to 65 year olds traveling with us as well.”
The average group size is 10, with a maximum of 16. They are led by Chief Experience Officers who are “…in charge of making sure clients have the best experience,” says Parsons. The top Gap Adventures destinations for North American passengers are Galapagos, Peru, Costa Rica, Egypt and Greece.
Gap Adventures was committed to sustainable travel before it was fashionable to do so, says Parsons. To minimize its impact on local cultures, it established in 2003 the Planeterra Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the development and support of small communities around the globe. Planeterra’s focus on voluntourism and fundraising has paid for roughly 30 development projects.
Gap Adventures’ Voluntours “are a way to learn about the people and place you are visiting on a deeper level, establish long-lasting connections, discover more about cultures around the world, and about yourself,” says Connelly. “It is most definitely a way to give back to a community you are visiting, to lend a helping hand to someone in need, to work towards a cause you believe in, or simply to find a way to make a positive impact through your travels.”
Indeed, adds Connelly, “Preserving cultural heritage and conserving and replenishing the natural environment, while improving the lives of local people, is the essence of our way of travelling and is integrated into every decision and action we take at Gap Adventures.”