When I started G Adventures in 1990, the travel industry looked quite different than it does now. “Packaged” experiences were the norm and travel companies went out of their way to ensure that westerners would be awarded all of the comforts of home while in exotic locations around the world.
This was the farthest thing from what I wanted to do with my business. I’ve always maintained that if you want the comforts of home while travelling, you should probably just stay at home.
I wanted to build sustainable travel experiences for travellers who were not content with seeing the world from the back of a tour bus. I wanted to immerse people with other cultures to provide truly life-changing experiences, without western influence. At the time that we started our business, we were the pioneers of ecotourism and sustainability.
The beginning of my Looptail came in 1997.
I was leading a trip through Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan, which wasn’t uncommon for me at that time. During this particular trip, my adventure travel company was facing certain doom. With mounting debt exceeding our assets and payroll not being met, we were edging dangerously close to bankruptcy. Needless to say, these were troubling time for me personally as well as my business.
At a hostel on the trip, I traded in my copy of the notorious John Belushi biography Wired for a copy of Great Ocean, the authorized biography of the great fourteenth Dalai Lama. This would prove to be a game changer for me, both in business and life.
I had read about Tibet and His Holiness the Dalai Lama prior to the trip but hadn’t really studied or absorbed the full impact that he had on his people, or the violence and pain that his community had experienced over the years.
For me, reading Great Ocean and meeting and bonding with exiled Tibetans on this trip provided an object lesson in what passion and purpose really means. Looking back, it helped set me on my way to what I wanted to achieve as a business leader.
As an entrepreneur, I consider myself a (mostly) logical person who makes decisions based on evidence, but what happened when I returned to Canada defies logic.
Despite the fact that at the time, we were perilously close to bankruptcy, which was obviously not known at the time, a popular Canadian business magazine had sent me a letter to tell me that we had been nominated for a feature article on “Canada’s 100 Fastest Growing Companies.” At an event to launch the issue, I discovered that I was going to be on the cover and we had placed fourth on the list of 100 companies. I was absolutely blown away and inspired to lead our company to be even bigger and better. My Looptail had started. At the time, I had no idea how big this moment would prove to be for me or G Adventures.
Fast forward 18 years to today - G Adventures has grown to become the worlds most successful adventure travel company, operating in more than 100 countries, on all seven continents, serving more than 100,000 customers every year. We’ve also got more than 1,500 employees globally. Revenue has typically grown by 30% each year and in recent years, that figure has grown closer to 40%.
Why is this happening? I’ve been quoted many times as saying that there is a glass ceiling on how well a company can run a trip – there are only so many ways that one can see Machu Picchu in Peru or the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.
What truly differentiates us from our competition is our people and our company culture. Happy people love what they do and deliver the best customer service. Passionate people derive their happiness through creating happiness for others and it is our job to help people discover more passion, purpose and happiness.
Our culture IS our brand at G Adventures. Embracing the entrepreneurial spirit and allowing autonomy amongst our employees creates innovation and happiness and the results have been staggering from this approach.
One of my biggest “holes” as a leader is the fact that I have never really had a traditional job, as I founded G Adventures at a young age. I’ve been told that this has also allowed me to think in untraditional ways and not be stymied by established leadership methods and techniques.
I have always been driven to put a large focus on innovation, allowing our company to grow in new and unique ways without the influence of what has been done in the past.
An example of things that we have done that I write about extensively in my book Looptail: How One Company Changed the World by Reinventing Business is the evolution of our business model. It’s not only about the bottom-line. We choose to focus on happiness, freedom, culture, karma and community.
Another key moment for G Adventures success and evolution to a social enterprise was the launch of our NGO arm, Planeterra in 2003. In addition to running amazing trips and creating life-changing experiences for our customers, we were now helping to solve social problems and find business solutions in the local communities that our travellers visit. Planeterra now has more than 40 life-changing projects on the go.
We’re building sustainable business solutions around the world -With the creation of Planeterra we have found a differentiator for our business – something that makes us stand out amongst our competitors. Please visit planeterra.org to learn more about our social enterprise at work.
My motivation in writing Looptail is to inspire people to greatness in business and to show the world that the old way of doing business is over. Now is the time to embrace the global community created by tools like social media and join the modern social revolution. Simply caring about profit is not enough for businesses anymore.
All of this happiness and paying-it-forward has Looptailed once again - His Holiness the Dalai Lama has recently agreed to write the foreword for my book. This is the first time that His Holiness has endorsed a business book that is not directly related to his teachings. To say that I am humbled and thrilled would be an understatement.
I hope that Looptail will be a starting point for many readers to find success and happiness. I believe that in order to truly be happy, one needs to find their passion and purpose in their work and life.