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Breaking Travel News interview: Brian Young, managing director, EMEA, G Adventures

Breaking Travel News interview: Brian Young, managing director, EMEA, G Adventures

The offices of G Adventures – situated close to ‘Silicon Roundabout’ in Old Street, London – are everything you would hope them to be.

Bright young things eat fresh popcorn from a kitsch stand, a huge screen shows the Rugby World Cup and there are apparently plans to install a ball pit in one of the conference rooms.

On arrival to meet Brian Young, managing director for the company in Europe, Middle East and Africa, I am shown to a Beatles-themed conference room – replete with framed album covers and a host of memorabilia.

Sitting down to discuss the company, Young is well drilled and firmly on message, throwing around hospitality industry buzzwords like, well, popcorn.

But there is a sincerity to his patter, with the community work the company does seemingly as important as the money it makes.

He explains: “G Adventures launched the Planeterra Foundation in 2003; this is the not-for-profit arm of the company, through which all our social enterprise and community projects run.

“When we talk about the foundation, we bucket projects into four categories – women, youth, community and environment.

“We measure the impact of these projects with something we call a ‘ripple score’.

“This is where we self-audit every part of the supply chain to see how much money stays in the local community.

“We do not contract hotels if they are not owned by the local community, nor would we necessarily use services that are not owned locally, though sometimes there is no alternative.”

He adds: “Over 58,000 people were impacted last year, for example, through all the projects that we run, so that gives you some idea of the scale of our work.

“This is just from the social enterprise element of our business, what we would call community tourism.

“The ripple score is out of 100, and we are currently at 93 – so 93 per cent of the money we use to contract services currently stays within the communities we visit.”

With a total of 750 different tours across all seven continents, there is certainly a tremendous opportunity for G Adventures to do a lot of good work.

Having been founded by Canadian Bruce Poon Tip in 1990 as Gap Adventures, the company changed its name in 2011, partially due to pressure from the Gap clothing store.

The 2017 purchase of Just You and Travelsphere led to the formation of G Touring Group, while the current portfolio of brands was completed just under a year ago with the acquisition of a majority stake in TruTravels. 

Today, trips are divided into one of nine travel style, including 18-to-30 Somethings, Classic, Active – “which is synonymous with adventure, think base camp on Everest” – Rail, Family and the recently launched Wellness.

Young explains: “Within the travel industry, from a trade perspective, we are very well-known as a brand, we are seen as the leaders in this sector – the brand has big resonance out there.

“I still think there is work for us to do to educate agents in terms of the breadth of product.

“Ultimately, we have a brilliant range of tours, so that can be great for agents, and then we work with them to understand the range of social enterprise projects around the world, those initiatives that give back to the local communities.

“We want travellers to have a great holiday, but they can also make a difference around the world – once our agent partners understand that, that is when it becomes really powerful.

“Without our customers, or the agents, we cannot have any impact.”

He adds: “To get that message out we have a sales team of ten, one of the largest in the industry, who are led by our newly appointed sales director, Tom Bell.

“Their job is to go out to our agent partners and be their support network, to develop ways for them to sell.

“A lot of their product might be city breaks or cruise holidays, but we have seen a huge growth in touring and experiential travel.

“Our job is to educate those agents about this, because they can be behind the curve, and that curve is growing very quickly.

“We have lots of assets to help with this education – working with them on who to target and how to target them.

“There is also a programme called Special Agent G where we welcome them here to the offices, for a whole day, to take them through everything – we talk about the product, how to sell it and the social work we do, which sets them up for success.”

In addition to its own brand options, G Adventures also works with National Geographic, a partnership that was recently renewed.

Young continues: “We are always changing what we offer, not least through the launch of National Geographic Journeys.

“They approached us, because we have a very similar mindset as companies in terms of the values we believe in, and the product quality we deliver.

“But we did not have a product for the broader clientele that follow their brand – that is how we ended up working together.

“G Adventures now curates a set of 91 tours in 54 countries for them.

“These have a much softer landing, with upgraded accommodation, for example, along with education around wildlife or culture.

“We have specially trained National Geographic chief experience officers, who also work with some of their people on the ground, conservationists for example, to offer a very different type of tour to some of the others we operate.

“This has brought a different demographic to us, a much older clientele.”

However, another potentially significant partnership with Thomas Cook failed to get off the ground, following the recent demise of the company.

“This was really sad – we had worked with them for a long time,” laments Young.

“They previously worked with another touring company which eventually pulled out of the UK market, leaving them to look for a replacement.

“They put it out to tender, to around a dozen companies, and we were selected to take on their tour operating business in this sector.

“But, unfortunately, the tragic situation has unfolded.

“We would have been the power behind all of their touring business.

“We created three brochure sets, for Classic, Solo and Adventure trips – but that will not now happen.”

However, the collapse of one company should be not be read as a wider malaise in the UK travel sector, argues Young.

He explains: “Something like that will have an impact, it will create a huge amount of disruption, but we have been here before.

“I started my career during the first Gulf War, which brought International Leisure Group down, then the largest tour operating company behind Thompson.

“The market moves on quickly; UK travellers are very resilient.

“ATOL protection also secures money.

“Certainly, there has been disruption, but travellers can complete their holidays and others will be rebooked – this has been a great thing from a consumer protection point of view.

“Everybody still wants to go on holiday, so the market will be resilient – there will be opportunities for sure.”

It will be service that allows G Adventures to take advantage of any such opportunities.

In 2009 founder Bruce Poon Tip relinquished the title of chief executive officer of G Adventures and transferred it to the tour guides at the company, who became ‘chief experience officers’.

While this sounds rather sickly, it does have a serious motivation.

“These are the most important people in our organisation, the forward face,” explains Young.

“Here at G Adventures we have all the bases covered – from a first-time 18-year-old holidaymaker, right the way through every demographic to somebody who is on an expedition ship in the Galapagos as a bucket list experience.

“What we see is a lot of loyalty, huge repeat business, when people join us, they stay, and it is not unusual for somebody to travel with us ten or 11 times.

“In fact, our previous sales director, Rachel Coffey, had actually travelled with G Adventures 11 times before she joined our business.

“My son is another good example; he went on his first tour to Indonesia with us last week, and is now planning his next tour – I am convinced, as he gets older, he will stay with us.”

He concludes: “To ensure we maintain this loyalty, service delivery on tour is vital.

“We have very high Net Promoter Scores, so we know we deliver great service – and it is that on tour experience, with our chief experience officers, that makes that difference.

“What we offer is different, off-the-beaten-track, culturally immersed, tasting local cuisine and being really part of the experience.

“At the same time, threaded through that, there could be some iconic landmarks, the Golden Triangle in India for example.

“Combined with our social enterprise projects, which customers can join and see they are doing good while they travel - we offer a complete package.”

More Information

G Adventures offers life-changing tours for individuals of all ages, interests and budgets.

For more information visit the official website.

Chris O’Toole