July 26, 2006 - In 2002, when Will Matthews was hired as Office & Systems Manager at G Adventures, the travel company’s Toronto headquarters had just 25 employees. Today — with an explosion of interest in the company’s off-the-beaten-path journeys focused on culture and nature — that number has grown to 100, with another 200 employees scattered across the globe in offices in Argentina, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, England, Barbados, and Kenya. Plus tour leaders taking small groups on adventures that span all seven continents — from hiking Inca trails in Peru, to biking the European countryside, to exploring the wilds of Patagonia and Antarctica.
“What’s unique about G Adventures is that, in the grand scheme of things, we’re still a fairly small company — but we have the same challenges as a typical multinational because we’ve got offices all over the world,” says Will, who until very recently was the sole IT support person on the payroll.
How does one man keep such a far-flung organization connected, communicating, and collaborating? “The one-word answer is: Mac,” he says. We asked him to elaborate:
Ease of use. “Rather than develop a culture of fear of pushing the wrong button, I’ve always encouraged our people to play around with the Mac platform. With Mac OS X in particular, it’s easy to grant people that kind of liberty. System administration issues can be tucked safely out of the way, leaving all the fun stuff for people to noodle with. They quickly gain the confidence to take care of their own technical issues. That makes my life a lot easier.”
Carefree training. “Even if they’ve never used a Mac before, I can train people quickly because none of the applications are particularly complicated. I’m just finishing up my second week of lunch-and-learn classes for Keynote 3. Everybody has been delighted by how easy it is to put together a very slick and professional presentation, with little or no technical skill. Once you have that positive experience, you’re inspired to tackle whatever else you need to do — to the point where Mac technology has become a core part of the culture here.”
Reliability. “There’s no question that you get a better ROI with the Mac platform. There’s certainly less time spent on troubleshooting and repairing things. Less time spent setting things up and putting networks together. In most cases, it’s plug and play. So ultimately we’ve spent more money on growing the business — as opposed to growing the infrastructure required to support the technology.”
After four years managing G Adventures’ rapid growth, Will has finally hired his first IT Support assistant. “Now that I have a little help, I’m hoping to travel more,” he says. “I’d love to see more of South America this year.”
“It’s one of the cardinal rules of the travel industry: You can’t convince somebody to go somewhere unless you’ve been there yourself,” says Will Matthews of G Adventures. “Almost every one of our staffers has been on a number of our trips, so they can speak knowledgeably when they’re describing the experience to customers. We have people in the office who haven’t turned 30 yet — but they’ve been to all seven continents.”
G Adventures’ globetrotters use Mac technology, and its iLife and iWork media tools, to package their experiences in compelling presentations that blend pictures, sound, video and more. A few examples:
iPhoto. “iPhoto is so utterly simple, virtually everyone in the organization has learned it. Some staff shoot upwards of 2,000 digital photos on a given trip, so they’ll travel with an iBook or PowerBook to organize their shots. By the time they get off their flight home, they’ve already crafted a great-looking slide show, completely automated and set to music. Then they export the entire thing to CD, for use by our wandering sales reps when they visit travel agencies in various cities.”
Keynote. “These days, a lot of our people are crafting their own Keynote presentations. The ability of Keynote 3 to import media directly from iPhoto and iTunes, and to pull multiple media together — It takes the slide show concept to the next level. Many of them are creating very persuasive presentations, almost immediately after their trips.”
iMovie and iDVD. “Similarly, people are taking compact video cameras on expeditions, and using iMovie to cut together videos for promotional proposes afterwards. Our UK sales rep took a trip to Antarctica last year, and — with no technical help whatsoever — he used iMovie and iDVD to create an impressive DVD of his experiences, for use by all our sales reps. He took care of the entire thing from start to finish. And it’s become a pretty big part of our whole marketing suite.”
iWeb. “We’re planning to use iWeb to set up passenger blogs ,so that customers can keep their friends and family informed of their adventures, day to day. Text, photos, whatever the local bandwidth will allow — we’ll publish that information right to the Web, so everybody at home can see how their loved ones are doing. And if potential travelers can follow a trip to Antarctica or Africa, it’s bound to get word-of-mouth buzz going.”
With over 300 employees promoting and managing 1000 adventures in 100 countries, it makes eminent sense that the people of G Adventures would take full advantage of Mac OS X Tiger — to conquer time zones, increase productivity, automate processes, and reach consensus across continents.
iChat AV. “Everyone in our office is addicted to iChat as an important business communication tool,” says G Adventures’ Will Matthews. “With Bonjour networking built into Mac OS X Tiger, it’s by far one of the easiest ways to communicate. We’ve also got everybody in our remote office set up with an iChat account, so they can chat amongst themselves and with people in the Toronto headquarters.
“We’re starting to do more and more audio chats — they really cut down on long-distance bills. Ultimately, we plan to do iChat AV videoconferences, certainly within Canada between our Toronto and Vancouver offices. Virtual face-to-face meetings create more cohesion among colleagues on different coasts.”
Dashboard Widgets. “I’ll be building some Dashboard Widgets that tie directly into our reservation system. So that our phone sales agents — who really need to use their time efficiently — have as much information, at a glance, as they can possibly get. Widgets are fairly easy to build, and the product that you get is instantly useful.”
Automator. “I’m already building simple Automator workflows for things like commonly-occurring support issues. Now, rather than calling me for support, folks can browse a list of my little automated tools, and double-click on the one that they need. They’re up and running again without waiting for any support.
“Automator can put that power in the hands of other supervisors and managers, too. With just a little training, they can create Automator workflows for common tasks in their various departments. They tailor them to their own needs, send them out to their people, and presto — improve their department’s productivity.”
The Mac Legacy
G Adventures founder and CEO Bruce Poon Tip produced the company’s first brochure on a Mac Plus in 1991. For the next eight years, he was essentially a one-man shop: cranking out bigger brochures, managing IT, and running his entire company on Mac computers.
The company has been using Mac to realize its vision — and spur its growth — ever since. Today, G Adventures has been honored as one of Canada’s 50 best-managed companies, one of Profit Magazine’s 50 fastest growing companies, and one of National Geographic’s 25 best new adventures for the last three years.
“Mac has always given us the ability to focus on what’s important, focus on the business as opposed to the intricacies of the business tool,” says G Adventures’s Will Matthews. “Today, across the board, we have people focusing on getting their jobs done using a Mac, rather than figuring out how to use it in the first place.”
Real World Encounters
From the start, G Adventures has been committed to offering low-impact tours that benefit traveller and host alike. They work with local communities, businesses and individuals to develop sustainable tourism opportunities that help local economies while minimizing negative environmental and cultural impacts.
From treks through Ethiopian mountains to yachting excursions through the Greek islands, the company’s unique and varied styles of award-winning trips are ideal for people with a sense of adventure — who want to travel off the beaten path, immerse themselves in the local culture and environment, and experience the real world. This could mean traveling with local people on public buses rather than looking at them through the window of a private tour bus; or staying at a small, locally-owned guesthouse rather than a large, foreign-owned hotel. It also means travelling in small groups — often a dozen people or less — that are less intrusive and offer more opportunity for local interaction.
G Adventures is the proud owner of the M/S Explorer, an expedition ship that cruises to Antarctica, the Arctic, and various destinations. Through its commitment to responsible tourism, G Adventures has also developed the Planeterra Foundation as a way for travelers to give back to the communities they visit. Planeterra supports community projects, local non-profit organizations, and international charities that work in the places where G Adventures. operates. They focus on the areas of health, education, community development, environmental conservation, and employment skills training.
By David Levy