A Brand With a Higher Purpose

How G Adventures used "social enterprise" to stand way out from its rivals

Written by As told to Jim McElgunn


Founder, G Adventures

We began selling adventure travel outside Canada after I realized that there are countries where people get a lot more weeks of holidays than we do here. But as the number of adventure-travel companies grew into the thousands, we had to answer this question: why would a German book an African safari through a Canadian company rather than one of the 100 adventure-travel companies in Germany?

We looked for ways to engage customers beyond the product, through a company culture focusing on social enterprise. We set out to redefine how people view social enterprise, which traditionally was limited to non-profit organizations. In 2003, we set up the Planeterra Foundation, which now runs about 30 projects that help empower local people to develop their communities, conserve their environment and solve local problems.

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In Peru, we’re by far the largest tour operator on the Inca Trail, with tens of thousands of travelers per year. We realized we were doing damage to the local communities, because younger people were moving to the cities to serve our customers. Through Planeterra, we developed a women’s weaving co-op, and our customers now visit the co-op, learn how to weave, meet local people and buy their woven products. So many companies now run Inca Trail trips that it’s a commoditized product, but this created an obvious differentiation between ours and everyone else’s.

We’ve elevated our brand above our product and our industry. We’ve engaged customers to a much higher purpose and differentiated our brand based on our culture. There’s a social revolution upon us, and if two products are equal, the company that’s more social will always win. We’ve now grown to the No. 1 adventure-travel company in the world, with $170 million in revenue and customers from 160 countries.

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