Businesses around the world are being hit hard by the pandemic lockdown, especially those in the travel industry, but G Adventures founder Bruce Poon Tip is hopeful that we’ll all benefit from this pause to build a more mindful and sustainable travel experience when the world emerges from this crisis.
Poon Tip wrote a free-to-download instabook to outline his thinking about the future of the travel industry while confined in his Toronto home during the early weeks of the lockdown. Titled Unlearn: The Year the Earth Stood Still, the book came about as he struggled to write a statement about how his international small tours company was facing the pandemic, but found that whatever he wrote would either be obsolete by the time he finished it or too trite to release.
More of an extended essay than a true book, Unlearn presents Poon Tip’s dreams of a better future for a travel industry that has grown exponentially in recent years to the point where overtourism, climate change and sustainability have all become real issues.
“I think there is also a difference between what I would like to see and what might actually be possible,” wrote Poon Tip in Unlearn. “We have a chance to reset everything. This is what this instabook is about. It’s about you, me, and every traveller in the global community having the chance to rethink, restart, and rejuvenate the idea of what travel should be and could be.”
Part of the book is Poon Tip describing the early stages of the crisis when he was travelling from country to country, a normal aspect of his life and career, when it began to dawn on him that something bad was happening. Then, all of a sudden, he found himself stuck in his home, with nowhere to go, a very strange state of affairs for a perpetual traveller like him.
Like many of us, he started to use the time for some big thinking and collected those thoughts in the rest of the book where he outlines how he thought travel could be better.
First off, says Poon Tip, travel has to be better than just be sustainable. He hopes that we become more community minded when we travel and not just jet off to nice resorts or sit on cruise ships to never interact with the people in the places we visit.
“I hope that one of the things we get from this generation-defining event is that we think more about people as individuals wherever we go and conduct ourselves accordingly,” wrote Poon Tip. “That means being as conscientious when we travel as we are at home, not only by reducing single-use plastic to help the turtles, but by travelling in ways that don’t rip people off.”
As for overtourism, rather than go where everybody else goes, Poon Tip hopes that we spread ourselves out a bit more and not all go to Venice or stand with throngs of people in Paris looking at the Mona Lisa. Instead, he offers a list of recommended destinations that few visit, but are every bit as fulfilling like Uganda, Bolivia and Albania, among others.
While some of those places may sound like rough outposts for hardy backpackers, Poon Tip writes that he believes that there are opportunities to enjoy luxury travel just about anywhere, but that we should change how we define luxury. Today, luxury experiences are virtually indistinguishable from one location to the next giving you no sense of place so why not enjoy what people in India or Serbia consider luxurious instead of some idealized Western ideal?
Poon Tip is not a fan of cruise ships or all-inclusive resorts and fully expects people to indulge in both when the Covid-19 pandemic passes, but believes that many might think twice before doing so.
“Maybe Covid will make this sort of insular travel obsolete. It’s possible. I mean, we don’t travel on Zeppelins anymore either,” he said.
Poon Tip sees a bright future for homestays where travellers embed themselves in homes in the places they visit in order to better experience how people live there. It’s something that G Adventures has been doing for years and he hopes that others travel providers embrace it because it’s not only good for visitors, but benefits hosts and their communities as well.
Having interviewed Poon Tip a few times, I’ve always been impressed by his philosophy that travel can be a force for good. Everything he writes in Unlearn is consistent with that world view and nicely crystallizes his beliefs in one quick read. I’d encourage all travellers to read what he has to say and take the time to reflect on their own travel motivations and how they can be better travellers when this is all over.
“Travel’s always done good, whether we travellers have thought about it or not. But it can do a lot more good when we know what we’re doing, and why. We’ve been doing good, but after the pandemic, let’s see if we can do better,” concludes Poon Tip.