James Thornton, CEO of Intrepid Travel, shares the values that drive the company.
Intrepid Travel have been undertaking sustainable travel for 33 years since it was founded in 1989 when that attitude wasn’t trendy. I joined in 2005 called the approach was called responsible travel. Our ethos* has upheld the notion of doing good in a destination and benefitting it by travellers visiting: doing no harm and having a positive impact on the destination.
Sustainable and community based travel (CBT)
This has evolved hugely in last 10/15 years, as a result of over tourism. Sustainable and regenerative travel works in partnership with local communities to ensure no damage is done to the environment. Intrepid has steered away from staying in chain hotels, preferring to use local properties. And also to use local transport. On our trips we try to eat local food, interacting with and meeting local people, recognising that people worldwide share far more similarities than differences, acknowledging that despite difference of race and religion, we’re fundamentally similar at the core. Travelling allows us to realise this. And this attitude is now relatively trendy, rather than a niche.
Intrepid has 33 years of experience in creating partnerships with local communities. We are not just ticking a box, it’s been at heart of what we’ve always done. Way back on the first trips in Northern Thailand, we were staying in local accommodation, eating local food, using different types of transport on an explorative itinerary. We own and run our own destination management companies, so we have local control and all our leaders have been locals for the last 15 years. There’s no sense in having Brits and Australians leading tours made up of Brits and Australians. They simply can’t know a country as well as a local tour leader, who has the innate knowledge of their home.
Who travels with Intrepid? And how?
Our small touring groups average 10 people with the maximum on a trip being 16, apart from in Africa where groups are slightly larger. Intrepid offers unique experiences staying in smaller boutique properties or even in home stays which you can’t do with a bigger group. We even have home cooked meals in places. This needs to be managed well: we initially made the mistake of just using one family in Delhi for our local cooking experiences, which resulted in a disproportionate increase in income for that family, so we changed to use five or six families to run those experiences.
The members of the groups are aged 18 to 80, it’s not really about age, rather about a mindset and way of thinking. Typically, our travellers are from Australia, New Zealand, North America, Europe and the UK, University educated, single females in their late 30s/mid-40s, who have limited time so want to get out in a group to travel. Our groups also include empty nesters with free time who want to travel and enjoy, either as couples or with groups of friends. And Intrepid attracts the traveller venturing to more exotic realms for the first time, who wants a little hand holding, and of course, we now have family trips too.
Our new Premium Tours evolved as team got older, we’re now in our 40s/50s, still wanting to have unique immersive experiences and loving the Intrepid style but looking for a softer landing at night, with a G&T and hot shower. We have a successful Comfort range rated 3/3.5*and we’ve recently created 4* Premium Tours with more inclusions, more first class travel, more comfortable seats, and unique hotels. These are proving very popular in the US and UK markets.
Women Only Tours
This idea came from our female product manager in the Middle East. As a women-only group in Iran, Jordan and Morocco you can enjoy experiences and gain insights into how female lives are led that a mixed group simply cannot do. These trips are incredibly popular, with many more itineraries than in 2019, taking groups of friends as well as single women. Since 2017 Intrepid has doubled the number of female group leaders as in many places it was culturally unacceptable for women to have these roles leading and interacting with tours of mixed international guests. Before this only 10% of leaders were women, despite 65% of guests being female. We got a real campaign going for this in India and Zina Bencheikh, our Managing Director EMEA, lobbied the Moroccan government for this, changing the industry and females’ rights in these countries.
Empowerment of women has also come through Intrepid Foundation projects since 2002: we’ve raised A$ 12M for around 75 international and local NGOs. This goes to show it’s possible to be a full profit entity and do good, make a difference, even though we’re not an NGO.
B Corp status and the environment
Intrepid Travel Group is the world’s largest travel industry Certified B Corp. This is a way of doing business that is transparent and fully accountable to our three key shareholders, 57 staff shareholders and also all stakeholders: the environment, our people, workers, community plus the shareholders. If we get it right, the more we do good things in the purpose space that helps us grow so we get a decent, increasing return which then let’s us do more purpose activities. Companies can be a commercial success and make a positive material difference.
B Corp companies have to abide by stringent social and responsible business standards, as well as being totally open and transparent around their activities. The concept was created by B Lab about 15 years ago, working to new business methods where profit is balanced with purpose. Companies such as Body Shop, Innocent, Ben & Jerry’s and Patagonia are all signed up.
These days customers want to know where their money is going and if companies are doing good things. B Corps stand for something and are independently verified to rigorous standards so customers can have faith in them. As can employees, which is important today for recruiting and retaining staff.
Travelling often involves flying, we can’t deny that. However, Intrepid is working to improve and has signed up for Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), to reduce carbon emissions in line with 1.5 degrees at the Paris Agreement 2015. Currently three out of our 25 offices use renewable energy sources, we want them all to be doing this by 2025. We are removing short flights from our itineraries and using alternative transport. We continually challenge ourselves to be better, for our customers and for the environment.
These will now stay for ever at Intrepid and provide opportunities for customers to travel in their own countries. Climate change is real and happening now, so we need to act. It is likely that travel may become more expensive, indeed governments could be forced to act to make that happen. So far away trips will become longer and extended, rather than a lengthy flight for a short break. However, people may have more of their adventures and active experiences domestically, in the UK, the USA and Australia, locally to where our customers come from. This trend to staycation is absolutely here to stay, initially given full throttle due to the pandemic as there was no choice, however people are now keen explore their own backyard further. There’s also a desire to support local businesses and local producers. In fact, sustainable travel is now trendy!
Intrepid Travel Group’s Ethos
*Our purpose is to ‘create positive change through the joy of travel’. We believe travel can be a force for good, and we design all our trips to benefit people and the planet. Whether these are trips that support Indigenous communities around the world or community-based tourism experiences, we’ve been reviewing our itineraries to dial down the carbon emissions and dial up the positive impact.