Eco Tripping

Bruce Poon Tip has a basic motto for people interested in booking a vacation with his company: "If you want to travel and have all the comforts of home, I suggest you stay at home."
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This story appears in the March 2008 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

As the founder and CEO of GAP Adventures, a Toronto, Ontario, travel agency that offers more than 1,000 tours to more than 100 countries, Tip's goal is to make as little an impact as possible on the areas his tours visit.

Tip and his company had a firm grasp on ecotourism long before it became a popular practice. As he explains it, GAP Adventures has been successful by promoting unique trips to fragile areas like Antarctica, Machu Picchu and Victoria Falls while still keeping with its eco-friendly mission. "It would be irresponsible for us to think that these communities will be there forever and exist just for the amusement of our tourists," says Tip, 40. "We need to create a sustainable relationship."

The company, which had 2007 sales of $120 million, does this by following a few key rules: It keeps groups small (generally 12 to 15 people), uses local transport, employs local guides and has groups stay in locally run hotels. "While some tour companies contract out tour operators, we found that the money didn't get down to the local level," says Tip. "It's much harder to find the right local people, but we want to make sure the locals are successful."

GAP Adventures took its focus on social and environmental responsibility one step further by launching a sister nonprofit organization, the Planeterra Foundation, in 2002. "[Planeterra] ensures we're giving back to these communities," says Tip. Through the foundation, the company and its customers are able to offer funding and support for 21 programs across the globe, covering everything from health to education to environmental conservation. Tip even finds ways to blend projects: A paper project providing jobs to women in Ecuador creates the ticket jackets for GAP's tours, and a weaving project for women in Peru also serves as a unique stop on the agency's Cuzco trip.

Tip, who founded the company when he was only 22, says this is just the beginning: "Because of our philosophies, we've been able to attract and retain great people who push us further on what we can do to make a difference."

JJ Ramberg is the host of MSBNC's small-business program Your Business and co-founder of


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