GoAbroad Interview

Tim Douglas - Head of Group Travel

Tim Douglas - Head of Group Travel

Tim has been in the field of international education and volunteering for over 10 years, and has worked with schools all over the world. During that time, he has led students on service learning programs and expedition trips to numerous countries, including Tanzania, Uganda, Morocco, Vietnam and Thailand. He believes “it has never been more important for young people to be given the opportunity to explore the world.” He also believes traveling and experiencing new cultures is the key to “our next generation be[ing] equipped to understand and try and solve the issues our world needs to address.” Motivated by a clear passion to share the world with others, Tim serves at Head of Group Travel for GVI.

Phang Nga Break Time!
Phang Nga Break Time!

As Head of Group Travel for GVI, where are you located?

I am lucky enough to be based in the beautiful city of Cape Town at GVI HQ.

What inspired you to join GVI?

GVI is a very entrepreneurial, dynamic, and fun place to work and we are very focused on responsible travel, which is so important. Commercially, and ethically, travel companies need to demonstrate their responsibility to the indigenous communities in which they operate as today’s consumer is educated about responsible tourism – which is great for the industry. I believe that GVI sets the standard in this sector. We were set up 17 years ago with the specific focus on ensuring our work supports long term development in communities and that still very much drives the company today. 

GVI has a wide variety of programs across the world, from wildlife and environmental conservation to community development. What makes your program and location unique?

Our community and conservation program in Phang Nga, Thailand is unique as high schools and universities are able to get involved with sea turtle conservation, teaching, orphanage, and community work from the same base so the diversity is fantastic.

We started work in this region after the horrendous Tsunami in 2004 of which this area suffered more than most. We are working with communities in Phang Nga in an ongoing effort to rebuild after the devastation of the tsunami and to better understand the effects of changing environmental climates on local communities.

Our goal is to sustain the long term conservation of the area and aid in the preservation of the natural environment. By adopting a holistic conservation approach we are educating the community on local environmental issues and dealing with the social and economic pressures that are leading to the destruction of reefs, fish, coral, and turtle populations. 

What characteristics does an ideal GVI participant possess?

Enthusiastic, inquisitive, open minded and hard working!

What is the most important thing participants should know about Phang Nga before joining your program?

It is an authentic, eye opening, humbling, and potentially life changing experience living and working in a small Thai town. Our accommodation is comfortable but don’t expect all the home comforts. 

If there is one thing that a volunteer should bring with them to your location, what is it? What is the one thing they should leave at home?

A sense of humour and a sense of adventure! Leave behind? Mobile phones, Ipad etc…..to ensure students can the most from their experience I would encourage them to immerse themselves totally in the program.

What is a typical day like for a participant in GVI’s Conservation Program in Thailand?

On our conservation program the students will be up early to clean the turtles, get involved in a beach clean, or head to the national parks. They will finish after lunch and head back to learn more about any species they identified in the parks, record their data, and learn more about the local environmental issues in order to plan lessons for their conservation educational lessons at the school the next day. It’s a busy day! 

How do you help volunteers understand the local culture?

On arrival we will talk through local customs, cultures, and give them some key Thai phrases to use. We immerse our students in the local culture – they live and work in the village, eat at local cafes and work with the local community and teach in schools. Each day we will review their interaction to help them understand what they’ve seen and heard and to aid their understanding of the local culture.

Aside from the actual experience, what is the most important thing you want participants to bring home with them from your program?

At GVI we are looking to develop global citizens who are passionate. So, we want people to bring home a passion and an attitude that they can make a difference in the world.

What component of GVI’s programs do you feel set them apart from programs offered by other providers in your location?

We run this and all our programs full time, year round which enables us to ensure the sustainability of our work and the quality of experience for the students. They can be sure that they are contributing to a worthwhile project and that we will still be working here in years to come. They will be contributing to our clear, long term goals which have been agreed with the local community and our partners.

Additionally via GVI Live – GVI’s online community – students can engage with the project long before they arrive by seeing what is happening today/now on the project and it also enables them to stay connected with the community long after they return home.