GX 2023 was major, and plans are already in motion to make the next one even bigger.
“We have several cities bidding to bring GX to their country next…” G Adventures founder, Bruce Poon Tip said only midway through the tour operator’s biggest event to date.
If you’ve had a chat with any of the 400 lucky folks who were in Peru last month for GX, you’ve surely heard a bit (probably a lot) about how epic it was.
You’ll have heard gushing testimonials about treks through the Andes, spectacular Incan sites, infectiously joyful locals, glorious food, and a gold-themed party that featured a high-octane performance by *the* Village People.
It’d be weird if you didn’t feel a twinge of FOMO hearing about all that. But if you missed out this time around, fret not, the next GX is already in the works.
Travel Weekly was fortunate enough to be there for the inaugural GX, from the start to the finish of a jam-packed two week itinerary. It was the perfect blend of education, immersion, adventure, networking, and celebration. The event marked Planeterra’s 20th anniversary and doubled as G Adventures’ (belated) 30th birthday bash.
We’ll start our own gushing testimonial by saying we were super impressed that G Adventures were able to pull off such an ambitious feat of scheduling and coordination so seamlessly. 10/10 would recommend GX to a friend.
“With GX we delivered what we didn’t know we could,” founder, G Adventures, Bruce Poon Tip, said.
Admirable that he and his team took such a big swing, and thrilling for all of us that it paid off so fabulously well. But now they know what they’re capable of, the bar has been set at a lofty height for future GX events…
The 400+ GX 2023 attendees descended on Cusco from around the world and were assigned a group itinerary according to whether they were an agent, a supplier, a traveller, media, or a superstar G Adventures employee.
The activities began immediately. There was much to see, do, and learn, so the days were long, the pace was fast, and the vibe was electric.
While the G Adventures team are already planning the next GX (Where? When? Stay tuned) the 2023 attendees are still reflecting on the joyful experiences, the inspiring insights, the friendships forged, and – most importantly – considering how we can all contribute to positive change across the travel industry.
Key highlights & takeaways from the 2023 GX Summit
Witnessing the impact of community tourism:
Bruce Poon Tip has long said that tourism can be a highly effective method of wealth distribution to poorer communities when it’s done right. GX was the perfect way to show the industry some examples of what he’s been telling us.
GX attendees visited several of the thriving, community-owned businesses that G Adventures and Planeterra have supported in Peru’s Sacred Valley.
Note: For readers unfamiliar with Planeterra, here are the basics:
Planeterra is G Adventures’ non-profit partner which supports 100+ community-owned businesses in areas around the world where tourism and extreme poverty intersect.
That support comes in the form of funding, resources, and (most importantly) education programs that set each business up for long-term success by helping them become self-sufficient.
Each business is then integrated into one or more G Adventures itineraries so travellers have the chance to support them as customers, and connect with the locals who operate them – it’s the very essence of community tourism in practice.
The first establishment on the GX itinerary was one of the first businesses Planeterra helped set up in Peru: the Ccaccaccollo Women’s Weaving Co-Op. Eighteen years ago, it was just an idea, but now thousands of travellers visit this co-op each month, learn about traditional dyeing and weaving techniques, and purchase authentic hand-made items.
Delegates saw firsthand, and heard from the locals, how the income generated by Ccaccaccollo has benefited the surrounding villages, lifting them out of poverty. The women also spoke of how they’ve been empowered by their employment, and how that’s led to major improvements in gender equality across the region.
They also shared their passion for preserving traditional methods of dyeing, spinning and weaving alpaca, llama and vicuna fibres – techniques that were at risk of being lost until the co-op was established.
After delegates had purchased their beanies and ponchos, the next stop was Parque de la Papa (Potato Park) to visit a rural community that’s not only preserving a traditional way of life and ancient cultural practices, but also preserving 1300+ rare species of potato using centuries old farming methods. The potato-infused Pisco Sours were a surprise highlight.
Two other projects on the itinerary were Tinkuy, where guests were taught to make empanadas before learning about traditional pottery and ceramic methods, and Parwa, a must-visit restaurant that serves some of the yummiest Peruvian cuisine in the Andes.
Meeting, hugging, and dancing with individuals whose lives have been transformed by Planeterra and G Adventures was unforgettable. And witnessing the success of their businesses, particularly after such a tricky time for tourism in Peru, was inspiring.
Poon Tip himself was amazed at how much each of them had flourished, and he expressed how emotional he felt seeing the progress that’d been made. He hadn’t visited Peru since 2018, and was surprised by how much new infrastructure had been put in place in the last five years. Poon Tip gave full credit to the locals operating the establishments, because while Planeterra helped set them up, it was the locals who made the businesses soar.
Sneaking a preview of ‘Geluxe’:
This was a delightful surprise: a few of the groups at GX were unwittingly used as guinea pigs. (And when we found out, we were not mad about it).
The experiment in which we were the subjects? Testing a so-new-it-hasn’t-even-been-announced-yet Geluxe experience.
Launching in 2024, Geluxe tours will be a kind of active-luxe hybrid experience, perfect for travellers seeking thrills and adventure without sacrificing comfort.
Travel Weekly was privileged to be invited to participate in a two-day Geluxe trek to Huchuy Qosqo, a remote Incan site in the Andes, and we’re big fans already. The experience included a full day of mountaintop hiking, punctuated by gourmet three-course meals served on handmade ceramic plates (crafted at Tinkuy) in a luxe dining tent. Then, at dusk, arriving at a cosy campsite that had been set up in the middle of the stunning ancient ruins(!!), and rising with the sun the next day to hike down the side of the mountain to Parwa for another gourmet meal. Very active, very luxe.
That’s the type of premium experience Geluxe will offer: access to remote locations, with considered touches and five-star luxuries along the way. And all the guinea pigs agreed – it’s a winner.
More info about Geluxe is expected to come November 9th.
The world community tourism summit:
The climax of GX, the centrepiece, brought all 400 delegates together on World Tourism Day for the first ever Community Tourism Summit at Cusco town hall.
Bruce Poon Tip kicked off proceedings by revealing Planeterra’s ambitious new commitment: to support 300+ community-owned businesses by 2030. That announcement set an optimistic tone that resonated throughout the rest of the day’s keynote speeches and panel discussions, each of which covered a range of topics connected to sustainable, ethical tourism practices.
Some of the key themes that emerged most clearly throughout the presentations were:
Eco-friendly, ethical travel will soon tip over from niche to norm
We’ve been approaching that tipping point for decades, of course, but we’re moving towards it with greater momentum post pandemic.
More and more travellers are educating themselves and gaining greater awareness of the impact they have when they’re on vacation – positive and negative. Increasingly they’re seeking vendors and experiences that align with their values when it comes to environmental and social factors. They know they can play a part in solving problems, so they’re looking to make choices that help, rather than harm, communities and ecosystems.
Agents can play a big part in accelerating this evolution by helping to educate their clients about the practices of tour operators or vendors, and helping customers make the right choices.
In line with this theme, G Adventures revealed their newest commitment to environmental regeneration, their new Trees For Days initiative, which promises to plant more than 1.5 million trees per year. For every day of travel booked with G, a tree will be planted in the traveller’s name.
Travellers are seeking more authentic connections with locals.
Juan Sebastian Sanchez Chica, a tourism representative for Colombia, told the audience that the biggest shift they’ve noticed since the COVID-19 pandemic has been a boom in the number of international visitors seeking meaningful interactions with local communities.
Not only are these travellers looking for authentic cultural experiences that contrast their lives at home, they’re also more mindful of the ways they can contribute to the post-Covid rebound efforts in regions that rely on tourism. They’re seeking, and finding, opportunities to support local communities.
The really good news: the benefits of cultural exchanges between travellers and locals are not just financial, these interactions can be a mutually beneficial in multiple ways.
As content creator Mario Rigby put it in his keynote: “Travellers have more to offer to local communities than just their money – they can help expand their world view and bridge cultural gaps”, a lesson he learnt well on his epic two-year hike from Cape Town to Cairo.
Again, agents can play a big role in helping clients plan trips that will allow them to connect with, learn from, and support locals.
The future is bright
When asked her thoughts on the shifts happening in global tourism, the general manager for G Adventures Latin America, Sarah Miginiac, said “the future is super bright”. Miginiac shared that she’s been happy to witness steady improvement year-on-year as agents, media, and travellers all take greater responsibility for their part in improving industry practices.
That optimistic view of the future echoed a very simple, but powerful, sentiment that Jessica Nabongo shared when telling her own story early in the day. Nabongo is the first black woman to travel to every country in the world. Her message? “Most people are good”.
Jessica encouraged the audience to always remain mindful that the vast majority of people operate with good intentions. Most folks want to make good choices that lead to positive outcomes for everyone involved.
With that thought front-of-mind, collaborating across the industry to drive positive change feels… a bit easier, no?
The gold party:
There ain’t no party like a gold-themed party at an ancient Incan temple. Particularly when that gold-themed party features a midnight performance by the legendary Village People. Right?
We know it’s not always fun to hear about a party if you weren’t there, so we won’t share too much (plus some of what happens at gold parties stays at gold parties for good reason). But it must be known, the WCTS afterparty was a magnificent, joyful night.
Delegates boogied for hours with the locals who work at all the businesses we’d visited earlier in the week, marvelled at an indigenous Peruvian stilt-dancing performance, and when the headline act took the stage “things went from a 10 to an 11”, as Bruce Poon Tip put it.
And he’s correct. The party was a 10. All of GX was a 10. And the Village People concert was absolutely a moment that dialled the excitement up a notch.
The cool thing is though, it wasn’t the only “11” moment. Everyone we spoke to at GX could rattle off their own personal list of “11” moments: visiting Machu Picchu at dawn… watching the sunset over a glacier in the Andes… tasting a potato-based Pisco sour. Everyone at GX had a truly unforgettable time.
And at the end of these exceptional few weeks, Poon Tip was already getting us excited for GXII. “There will be an announcement very soon of where it’s happening next” he said.
It looks a bit like GX is set to be the travel industry’s answer to the Olympics. We don’t know how G Adventures and Planeterra are going to follow this year’s event, but do know we’re keen to be there for every second of it when they do, and we hope you can be there too.
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