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Global Sustainable Tourism Organization Planeterra Taps Ecotourism Visionary Megan Epler Wood as Director

Associate Director Paula Vlamings (left) and Director Megan Epler Wood (right)

TORONTO, ON – Gap Adventures founder Bruce Poon Tip announced today the appointment of ecotourism industry veteran Megan Epler Wood as Director of Planeterra, the global non-profit dedicated to sustainable community development through travel and voluntourism. Epler Wood will share duties with newly named Associate Director Paula Vlamings.

“I have known Megan for many years and have such deep respect for her and for her commitment and leadership in defining and building on her vision for sustainable travel,” says Poon Tip. “She is the best person on Earth to lead Planeterra and expand its programs’ influence,” he adds.

A pioneer in the field of sustainable travel and founder and past-president of the prestigious The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), Epler Wood has devoted her life to helping governments, travelers, and businesses throughout the world understand how tourism can be a tool to conserve threatened natural areas and help alleviate poverty. TIES launched the development of sustainability frameworks for tourism businesses operating in natural areas and communities worldwide, achieving broad consensus through collaboration with government, non-profits, and business.

“Gap Adventures and Planeterra are clearly thought leaders in the world of travel. Their dynamic, global teams make sustainability a major part of their daily operations, so to be invited to be their director is such a thrill for me,” said Epler Wood.

Her decade of seminal work in the 1990’s directing TIES helped to create and define ecotourism, a field that continues to evolve today. In recent years, Epler Wood has increasingly focused on the economics of tourism as a tactic to combat poverty, demonstrating how tourist dollars can help countries to ethically and sustainably develop even in the most challenging circumstances.

Founded by Poon Tip in 2003, Planeterra evolved from Gap Adventures’ commitment to give back to the people and places its travelers visit. The organization supports projects throughout the world in health, education, and community development and arranges sustainable voluntour travel programs.

Epler Wood takes over duties from Richard G. Edwards, who led Planeterra through a two-year period that saw the organization double in both size and in its resulting impact on communities around the world. In his new role heading the marketing department for Gap Adventures, Edwards will oversee the relationship between Gap Adventures and Planeterra.

Epler Wood shares her vision for Planeterra’s future, “We will continue to touch people and communities via our volunteer travelers. Working hand-in-hand with local communities is a true form of cultural exchange that really changes people’s lives. Building on the work Planeterra has done we will continue to develop projects and tours that bring mutual understanding and respect between our travelers and host communities.”

Joining Epler Wood in directorship duties will be Paula Vlamings, Program Development Consultant at the Institute at the Golden Gate, an environmental organization whose mission is to promote dialogue, collaboration, and action for a more sustainable world.

“Planeterra brought in a talented associate director in Paula,” says Epler Wood. “We’ve collaborated on various projects during the past several years. We know each others’ strengths and talents, so this is a rewarding opportunity to be involved in something we both are quite passionate about,” says Epler Wood.

A frequent speaker at conferences throughout the world, Epler Wood presently lectures at the University of Vermont and Harvard University Extension on the management and development of sustainable tourism. She has extensively published on ecotourism, including her book “Ecotourism: Principles, Policies, and Practices” for UNEP in 2002.

Planeterra just released its 2011 portfolio of 26 voluntour opportunities worldwide including eight new programs. The non-profit also recently announced a strategic new partnership with UK-based STA Travel, the world’s largest student, youth, and budget travel organization. For information on Planeterra’s year-round voluntourism programs please visit http://www.planeterra.org/pages/voluntours/4.php.

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