In case you missed it (and I was away for the big event, unfortunately), there’s been a pretty major development in the travel biz here in Canada.
The folks at National Geographic, who’ve been quietly adding a TON of travel trips and excursions to their well-respected portfolio, have joined forces with Toronto-based G Adventures to offer a wide package of enticing trips to historic and unusual parts of the world under the name National Geographic Journeys with G Adventures.
It’s a pretty interesting mix, as G Adventures provides a younger, more vibrant audience than an established group like National Geographic might otherwise attract.
G Adventures president and founder Bruce Poon Tip said he’s flattered that National Geographic approached them, and not the other way around.
“They are such an iconic brand and one that is also very protective, so you can imagine how selective they are when choosing a partner to collaborate with,” he wrote in an email. “It’s important for their partners to match their values and passion for exploration and changing the world. From the very beginning it was evident that we both share the same values and commitment to tourism being a force for good.”
“We saw an opportunity offer a more accessibly priced product from an organization that offers immersive, authentic travel experiences,” National Geographic vice president of travel Lynn Cutter told me at recently at the Skift travel conference in New York. “They have a younger and more international market than National Geographic. We’ve changed all the program and reviewed and tweaked things.”
“National Geographic already had a travel program but it wasn’t accessible to a large portion of the population due to its high price point,” said Poon Tip. “The new National Geographic Journeys with G Adventures lineup will change that and we have the honour of being storytellers for the National Geographic brand. Together we created the first 70 trips to the world’s most iconic destinations which will soon be available to their customers, fans and loyal followers. They combine National Geographic’s more than 125 years of global exploration, science and storytelling with the fun, authentic experiences we’re recognized for. Through our global network, National Geographic Journeys with G Adventures will also be available through every major travel agent chain in the world that we work with.
“National Geographic Journeys with G Adventures is a new vertical for both companies. It gives us a united voice to achieve some pretty exciting things through our commitment to social enterprise,” he said.
“We’ve both invested a lot of time and resources to make everything happen,” said Poon Tip. “There are new people and a lot of work behind the scenes to create a seamless brand experience that represents both companies. We don’t want to do ordinary tours so to do extraordinary things we need a commitment from both sides. Both organizations came together and collectively started thinking of the vast possibilities and as a result it changed a lot of our thinking.
I can’t help thinking that some G Adventure die-hards might worry their cherished company will change with the new affiliation. Poon Tip said it’s not an issue.
“Nothing will change. In addition to the new National Geographic Journeys with G Adventures’ 70 itineraries, we offer a variety of travel styles. Yes, our fans are very protective of our brand and are rightfully very tough on us to keep our aggressive brand promise. Change is sometimes hard but in this case I don’t think a lot will change. We will certainly have a bigger voice and a larger platform which National Geographic provides, but it will only strengthen our resolve to deliver what we’ve been doing for 25 years to a bigger audience. It’s pretty exciting. We have a purpose at G Adventures and we cannot be averse to being disruptive if we truly want to change the world! We were all skeptical of how this partnership would deliver on our purpose but we are confident this is going to be one of the best decisions and new directions for G Adventures. I don’t think this would have been possible if we didn’t stand for what we do for the last 25 years.”
National Geographic has been in the business of providing travel since 1999. They offer a variety of products under labels such as Expeditions and Adventures. They also have trips for students and families. These are operated separately from G Adventures but are still quite interesting.
Cutter says the Expeditions category “is our flagship, if you will. You can stay in unique lodges or the best available and set your own dates. You can take the trip you want when you want and move dates around. There’s built-in free time and it’s fully customized.”
New this year is their Unique Lodges of the World program.
“These all are unique lodges around the world offering exceptional experiences,” Cutter said. “They offer outstanding service and, quite importantly for us, are leaders in sustainability.”
I’ve stayed in one of their unique lodges, Longitude 131 in the Australian Outback. They had locals working as guides and a great cultural program, as well as outstanding “glamping” units with posh furnishings and fabulous cuisine.
“We want to shine the spotlight on properties doing great things in their regions,” Cutter said. “For the lodges, we bring a brand with global recognition and one that’s very well regarded around the world. We also have distribution channels and social media and our travel programs.”
Costas Christ is a global sustainable tourism expert and an editor at large at National Geographic Traveler. He’s helping oversee the unique lodges program to ensure they’re up to snuff.
“These are all environmentally friendly lodges that support cultural and natural heritage and support the social and economic well-being of the local community. This gives people the power to travel and help transform things in positive ways. They can have a great bottle of wine in their room with a view but also feel they’ve done something good for the planet.”
“Look at Fogo Island in Newfoundland,” he said. “They work very closely with the cod industry and with the locals to make things sustainable. And they have an incredible guest experience.”
It sounds rather posh, but Christ said National Geographic’s program also are affordable for the average Joe.
“We want to educate everyone,” he said. “Everybody wants their children to grow up learning about important things.
“We think authenticity is the new luxury. When we take people to France we show them the human history with a guy who discovered the famous Lucy skeleton. We travel with teams of experts; naturalists, botanists, biologists; often a National Geographic photographer. We take small ships so people can experience places like the Galapagos and Antarctica.”
In other words, don’t take a National Geographic tour if one of your ultimate bucket list entries is trying the frozen margarita at the Senor Frog’s outlet in St. Thomas.