The 'Ripple Score' Ranks How Many Tourist Dollars Stay in a Local Economy

Its creator, G Adventures, hopes it will become an industry standard.

a lesson in making Sri Lankan tea
The author gets a lesson in making sweet tea from a man named Faro in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka.

K Martinko 

G Adventures is a Canadian travel company that has been trying to turn tourism into a force for good since its creation 30 years ago. It is known for small-group tours that adhere to strict animal welfare policies and partner with indigenous communities that are usually excluded from conventional tourism. The company follows a social enterprise model that strives to leave the places it visits better off than they were before. 

Starting in 2018, G Adventures took its commitment to social betterment a step further, introducing something called a "Ripple Score" to each of its tours. This number indicates what percentage of the money spent on the tour remains within the local economy. While the scores could obviously range from 1 to 100, the average number is 93, meaning that "93 percent of the money G Adventures spends in destination to operate our tours goes to local businesses and services."

As company founder Bruce Poon Tip told Fast Company, it was a massive four-year undertaking to examine every aspect of the company's supply chain and to figure out where money was going – and staying. "Once we opened that Pandora’s box," he said, "it was a nightmare, because we found out all kinds of things we didn’t know about the companies we work with." Since then, G Adventures has continued to tweak its suppliers and partnerships in order to bring up its standards. And because the Ripple Score is gauged by a third-party organization, G Adventures hopes it can become a global standard someday that other tour operators will adopt, as well.

Why Does This Matter?

Because so little of the money tourists spend abroad actually stays in the places they visit! This is an enormous problem to which most people are oblivious. In a 2017 post called "How to Avoid Being Another Annoying Tourist," I cited a United Nations Environment Program statistic that found "out of every $100 spent on a vacation tour by a tourist from a developed country, about $5 stays in the developing country’s economy, or, rather, that country’s tourism board or its politicians’ pockets." 

I was informed by Bani Amor's excellent piece, "A Vacation Is Not Activism," that 80 percent of what travelers spend on all-inclusive package tours "go to the airlines, hotels, and other international companies (who often have their headquarters in the travelers’ home countries), and not to local businesses or workers."

In other words, just because you've wracked up a massive credit card bill while on an exotic holiday does not mean that locals are suddenly feeling flush with cash. No, they're still earning their meager, barely-living wages, while the corporations that hired them (probably seasonally, non-unionized, with no benefits) rejoice in their earnings.

drinks in Machne Yehuda, Jerusalem
Shots of green Yemeni juice served at Machne Yehuda market in Jerusalem. K Martinko

G Adventures' Ripple Score promises something different. It strives for better wealth distribution that benefits the same people who have worked hard to make your trip wonderful, such as India's Women on Wheels, a company of female-only chauffeurs, and the Lusumpuko Women's Club that has a catering business near Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. As VP Jamie Sweeting said when the Ripple Score was launch, "When travellers use local businesses it has a positive economic and social impact on communities, and we seek to encourage more of this." 

The more we understand about travel's negative impact on the planet and local residents, the more crucial it is to take steps to mitigate that impact. Thanks to progressive tour operators like G Adventures, it's now possible to satisfy the human instinct to see the world while actually knowing you're doing some good for it.