Coffee Time with Industry Vets: Bruce Poon Tip

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G Adventures founder Bruce Poon Tip at the Great Wall of China.
G Adventures founder Bruce Poon Tip at the Great Wall of China.

Think you know Bruce Poon Tip, think again….

There’s more to Bruce Poon Tip, founder and owner of G Adventures, Inc. and founder of Planeterra Foundation, than meets the eye, so we decided to ask him those comical, personal and telling questions to reveal the man behind the suit.

Fueled by the desire to change the face of travel, Bruce Poon Tip realized his place in the travel industry after a transformational backpacking trip to Asia where he imagined creating a way for travelers, who, like himself, preferred more independent travel than the tourists he saw cooped up on large coach tours, in resorts and on cruises. At the tender age of 22, Bruce established G Adventures (on two maxed-out credit cards) and the rest was history.

An entrepreneur, leader and philanthropist, Bruce hasn’t rested on his laurels since then. His staggering personal achievements—venturing to one hundred countries before his thirtieth birthday, founding the nonprofit foundation Planeterra, and being inducted into the prestigious Social Venture Network Hall of Fame (joining Richard Branson of Virgin Airline and other top execs)—could fill a book, and they have. In 2013, the G Adventures founder published his first book, “Looptail: How One Company Changed the World by Reinventing Business,” a New York Times bestseller and the first business book to be endorsed by the Dalai Lama, followed by the 2015 release of his second book “Do Big Small Things.”

Now, 26 years after the founding of the world’s largest small-group adventure travel company, with 23 offices worldwide offering more than 650 tours on all seven continents, it’s time to meet the real Bruce, who is very relatable. Yes, he was awarded a Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee Medal and was named Entrepreneur of the Year in 2006 and 2002, but like most of us, he can’t travel without his smart phone and zones out to music on the plane. We’ll let him explain in this edition of Coffee Time with Industry Vets Q&A series.

Where did you go on your first trip and how old were you?
My very first trip was when I emigrated from Trinidad to Canada with my family when I was just two years old. It was a significant trip in my life’s journey, since I’ve proudly called Canada my home ever since, but I can’t say I remember it.

What is your most vivid travel memory?
That has to be March 14, 1997, the day I was in Nepal waiting for the visa to cross into Tibet. It was the day before my 30th birthday and a day I had long imagined. I had felt a strong connection with the people of Tibet since I was 10, when I asked my teacher to point it out on a map and she told me it didn’t exist. In the 20 years that followed, I grew more fascinated by the story of Tibet and its exiled, spiritual leader. So entering Tibet the next morning would mean completing a major personal goal of mine: to have visited one hundred countries before my thirtieth birthday, and meeting Tibet’s wonderful people. I will never forget that night, under a frozen sky full of stars, I was exploring and doing what I loved. The sensation was overwhelming.

What was the “Aha” moment that led you into the travel industry?
When I was in business school, I realized that I was passionate about business but not in a traditional way. I knew that whatever path I’d pursue, it would have to be different. And travel seemed like a genuine area of curiosity and passion for me. But my real ‘aha’ moment came when I was traveling around Thailand, Burma and Laos in 1989—backpacking actually. I noticed the dominance of large coach tours, resorts and cruises. I saw all these people behind windows, walls and decks and I imagined that there had to be more travelers like me, who wanted a greater degree of freedom, independence and access to meet local people, but who didn’t want to shoestring their foreign travel by backpack. That was the moment I saw a gap in the travel market, and conceived of my company, which I founded, as Gap Adventures in 1990. I wrote more about it in my 2013 book, “Looptail.”

Where did you go on your honeymoon?
My wife Roula and I married in the Amazon in Ecuador, not far from where I first began to build my tour business. My good friend Delfin, a Quichua tribal leader and partner in my company’s tours, came to the ceremony, and we hosted 60 guests from around the world. Afterward, Roula and I spent 10 special days together in the Amazon rainforest.

What was your favorite trip you took last year and why?
In 2015, my favorite trip was to Egypt for an employee event we called “The Afterparty,” which followed our annual company retreat and—like other ‘camps’ we host for employees of G Adventures—was designed to strengthen connections across our teams in different countries. It was off-season and completely empty of tourists in Egypt, since the country was dealing with security issues at the time. So we had amazing access to all the pyramids and historic sites, with no lines or crowds. It was a great way to see it.

G Adventures founder Bruce Poon Tip in Antarctica. (Photo credit: G Adventures, Inc.)
G Adventures founder Bruce Poon Tip in Antarctica. (Photo credit: G Adventures, Inc.)

Where would you like to go that you have yet to visit?
I’d love to explore the routes from Beijing to Vladivostok and Moscow in Russia. The confluence of cultures in this area, between Eastern Russia and west, and the minority tribes in between, is such an historic and fascinating place to me. In fact, if I can find an extended chunk of time to take one of G Adventures’ Rail Journeys, like the Epic Trans-Siberia Journey or the Trans-Mongolian Adventure, that would be ideal.

Do you always buy a souvenir the first time you visit a destination?
No, not always.

You can tell us – do you collect magnets from the destinations you’ve visited?
No. I’m more of a candy guy than a magnet guy.

What do you do to pass the time on the plane ride to your destination?
I want to say that I zone out, listening to my music collection. I do a fair amount of that, but I also catch up on reading and notes for work since travel affords me quiet time to focus on getting things done.

Who is your favorite travel companion?
My family’s my favorite, of course. But also, myself. I don’t have much chance to travel by myself anymore. I find I can be more fully present and open to a destination when I’m experiencing it on my own. Next year I’m hoping to go backpacking by myself for a while somewhere, to rekindle and recapture the original spirit that inspired me to start the company – perhaps to the Philippines.

If there were one hotel room in the world you could call home the rest of your life, which would it be?
Interesting question. That would have to be Raffles in Paris because it’s a beautiful hotel in the most beautiful city in the world, with elegant style, old world European charm, fantastic food and significant art. So yeah, if I had to confine myself to one hotel for the rest of my life, a comfortable hotel room in the City of Light would suit me well.

If you were a destination, which would it be and why?
I’ve never thought about that. I guess it would have to be Tristan da Cunha, a lost island in the South Atlantic that has fewer than 300 people. There’s almost no way to get on or off it without visiting ships passing through. That, and its geographic isolation, has helped it earn the reputation as the most remote, inhabited island in the world. As for why? Because I’m an island, in a way. I think differently, and enjoy being different. I’m not influenced by anything external.

What is the best food you’ve had on a trip? The strangest?
The best food and most mind-blowing meal I’ve ever experienced was at Gaagan in Bangkok, which has an Indian influenced tasting menu. I believe it’s one of the top 10 restaurants in the world, and for good reason. Try it if your travels take you to Thailand.

Strangest food? Being the owner of a global adventure travel company means I have opportunities to see and try some pretty unusual things. So I have three “strangest” foods to describe: the first was chocolate covered crickets. They weren’t bad. The second was tarantulas in Vietnam. I carefully munched on the legs, which tasted a bit lemony. The third was fire ants in the Amazon. My host explained that they would create a crackle like sensation in my mouth, which I can best describe as reminding me of the Pop Rocks candies I ate as a kid. The ant version was also kind of lemony.

What can’t you travel without?
My smart phone is my must have because that’s where I store and listen to all my music.

G Adventures founder Bruce Poon Tip shares an inspiring moment with His Holiness The Dalai Lama, during the publication of Bruce's New York Times Bestselling memoir, "Looptail" in 2013. (Photo credit: G Adventures, Inc.)
G Adventures founder Bruce Poon Tip shares an inspiring moment with His Holiness The Dalai Lama, during the publication of Bruce’s New York Times Bestselling memoir, “Looptail” in 2013. (Photo credit: G Adventures, Inc.)

Who is the most interesting person you’ve met while traveling?
It was the small, elderly stableman at the summer palace of The Dalai Lama in Tibet. He prepared the horse the night His Holiness fled in 1959, and was still caring for his stable, when I arrived 30 years later. We had a fascinating conversation about his commitment to the Dalai Lama and I discovered that he’d been living in the barn all those years, waiting for the Dalai Lama to return but doubtful he was still alive. I’ll never forget when I gave this man a sticker I was carrying, with the Dalai Lama’s image on it showing that he was not only still alive, but an old man. With that, the stableman’s eyes filled with emotion, and tears left streams in the dirt on his face.

Tropical beach or snowy mountain?
Tropical beach.

City or countryside?
Countryside, though I’m not so much about farm living as I am about remote, off the beaten track places, like the Galapagos, Antarctica, or Mongolia.

For more information, visit gadventures.com.

 

 

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