HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — For the countless guides
employed by tour operators the world over, life on the road is often both the
draw and the drawback of their jobs.
While it offers an ever-changing work environment and
financial opportunity, especially for guides in developing countries, it also
means day if not weeks or months away from friends and family. Not
surprisingly, burnout is not uncommon.
For G Adventures’ global network of guides, there is another
option: to take a break from tour guiding to start a small, tourism-related
business venture using a loan from the G Values Fund.
Launched quietly two years ago with the proceeds from the 2013 book “Looptail,”
authored by G Adventures founder Bruce Poon Tip, the fund is intended to give
tour guides the opportunity to develop tourism businesses that give back to the
Zoom Zoom Dang Trung, a tour guide with whom I recently traveled
in Vietnam on a National Geographic with G Adventures itinerary here, is one of
the few guides who has already seen his business plan come to fruition through
the fund. In conjunction with two other G Adventures tour guides, the trio last
year opened a restaurant in Hanoi called Hanoi Food Culture, which serves regional cuisine and also offers street
food tours and culinary classes. One of its objectives is to employ
disadvantaged students to help them pay for their schooling and to send to
The guides’ hope is that the restaurant can do for some of
the region’s youth what education and guide work did for them, lifting them out
of a more difficult rural life in the countryside.
“We’re happy to see them flourish in their hometown,”
said Steve Lima, G Adventures’ director of marketing, USA, who also sits on the
board that decides which business plans the G Values Fund will support and who
mentors the proposers that have potential. “That’s a benefit for us. We
don’t want them to get burned out. You’re on the road sometimes 20 to 30 days
at a time.
“We saw a lot of great CEOs leaving,” Lima added,
referring to chief experience officers, what G Adventures calls its tour
guides. “This allows them to stay in the industry.”
According to Lima, Poon Tip’s hope was that by supporting
the next generation of entrepreneurs and tourism business owners who share G
Adventures’ values, the company will be able to spread the notion of tourism
for local good through trusted partners and build those experiences directly
into G Adventures itineraries so that they can gain immediate market access and
In other words, G Adventures helps these tourism start-ups
get off the ground, and then G Adventure travelers engage with them on their
tours, further sustaining that support. This is the case with Hanoi Food
Culture, which G Adventures groups visit while in Hanoi.
Another example of a project that is up and running because
of the G Values Fund is Best Bite Peru (bestbiteperu.com), a company that
offers culinary tours of Lima and other parts of Peru, founded by a former G
Adventures tour guide.
G’s growing outreach
The G Values Fund runs parallel to G Adventures’ 50 in 5
campaign, a separate initiative launched in 2015 with the mandate of raising $4
million in order to integrate 50 new social enterprise projects into G
Adventures trips between 2015 and 2020. The projects supported by the G Values
Fund, while similar in premise to the 50 in 5 campaign, are not included in the
In 2016, the first full year of the 50 in 5 campaign, G
Adventures reported that it partnered with 11 new projects in eight countries
where Planeterra, G Adventures’ philanthropic arm, had never invested before:
Mexico, Belize, Austria, Kenya, Java, Indonesia, Australia and Antarctica.
“Once a social enterprise is part of the tourism supply
chain, the impacts begin to multiply within the community,” G Adventures
stated in the Planeterra Impact Report 2016. “We believe that tourism can
be the greatest method of wealth distribution in the world, and we’re out to
While in Vietnam, I experienced two of the social enterprise
projects G Adventures supports there: an Oodles of Noodles food tour and market
visit hosted by the nonprofit organization Streets International, and a
lantern-making class that provides funding for the not-for-profit charity
Lifestart Foundation, both of which are based in Hoi An.
At Oodles of Noodles, my fellow travelers and I were greeted
by a group of eager trainees who are nearing the end of their 18-month training
program, during which time they learn skills such as cooking, waiting tables
and general hospitality as well as learning to speak English. Most of them have
the goal of ultimately working in the large resorts cropping up along the coast
in nearby Da Nang.
The Lifestart Foundation is a craft-making workshop and
storefront that provides jobs to disabled women and scholarships to poor
children with academic potential. To generate revenue for the association,
there are classes in lantern-making and painting, and fair trade items are sold
“By the end of 2020, 80% to 90% of all trips will visit
a G For Good project,” said Lima, referring to what G Adventures calls the
various nonprofit initiatives it supports.
He added, “The amount of trips that will actually visit
these Planeterra projects, that’s the most influential part of it … because
if we didn’t support the business and didn’t provide them with enough
travelers, then the project would fail.”
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