Food for Thought: Five Lessons from Intrepid Travel
Intrepid Travel spoke at a 2011 VicSuper Food for Thought Series event
Australians made a staggering 6.8 million overseas trips in 2010*, three times the number of trips just two decades before. It seems we've become a nation of dedicated travellers.
How we choose to travel is more than a choice of airline or destination. Increasingly people want more 'experiences' on their holidays. They want to understand different cultures, consider their impact and visit places that haven't been 'spoiled' by tourism.
Intrepid Travel was formed to tap into this emerging spirit of adventure, providing the benefits of independent travel without the hassles whilst also being kind on the people and places visited. The idea was hatched in 1989 as a group of friends bounced across the Sahara in a converted Nunawading Council Truck. When they arrived home in Australia, Geoff Manchester and Darrell Wade bought a second hand typewriter, borrowed a dining room table - and Intrepid was born.
Intrepid now takes around 90,000 travellers to over 100 countries worldwide each year. Whilst it has over 350 staff across the globe, the head office is here in Melbourne.
So what can we learn from Intrepid Travel's own journey?
1. Sustainability must be truly ingrained to create a sustainable business
One of Intrepid's early employees, Sally Goldstraw, prepared the first 'Low Impact' guidelines with a focus on the impacts of their travel operations in local communities. This document evolved to form the basis of Intrepid's more comprehensive Responsible Travel guidelines, practiced in all destinations.
Intrepid Travel measures its responsible travel performance through passenger feedback on each trip. In the 2010 financial year it reached its highest responsible travel rating in three years of 4.53 out of 5 average across all of it trips.
In 2010 Intrepid Travel achieved a major landmark in addressing climate change by achieving carbon neutrality. In addition to measuring, reducing and auditing its carbon emissions at 30 global offices, Intrepid Travel also introduced Carbon Offset Trips where the cost of carbon offsetting is included in the cost of the trip.
2. Practice what you preach
Intrepid choose small-scale locally owned accommodation and homestays where available and local restaurants and markets for dining, retaining revenue in local communities.
Group leaders facilitate communication of Intrepid's values to travellers and local communities, educating them in sustainable tourism practices.
Intrepid employs local group leaders to aid travellers' understanding of local culture and etiquette. More than 90% of leading staff are local to the regions where Intrepid travels.
Small groups (on average only 10 people) allow travellers to experience cultures first hand, offering greater opportunity for cross-cultural understanding.
3. Give back
Increasing interest from travellers wanting to donate money for the various projects they were visiting and supporting, led Intrepid to examine the ways it could facilitate a combined effort of travellers and Intrepid Travel giving back. Travellers were literally entrusting hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars that they wanted sent back over to the clinic, school or other facility they visited on their trip. To do this well and be more transparent, effective and consistent The Intrepid Foundation was established in 2002 (with a donation of $200,000 from Intrepid Travel) as an entirely separate entity to Intrepid Travel.
Since then, over AUD $2.6 million has been donated through the Intrepid Foundation to support health care, education, human rights, child welfare, and sustainable development in the areas Intrepid Travel visits.
4. Work with your staff to get through tough times
In December 2009 as the travel industry was hit by the global financial crisis, Intrepid Travel's founders asked staff to consider a 10% pay cut or take leave without pay to save jobs. Management had already agreed to cuts of up to 20% before going to the rest of the team.
70% of staff agreed to the 10% pay cut, others took leave without pay. This minimised the number of redundancies required to 12 staff.
In July 2010, wages were returned to full level and staff were paid back what they had sacrificed plus a 25% bonus.
5. Victoria is a great place to do business
Intrepid remains based in Melbourne as they have found a safe, secure and stable environment with reliable services and within a financially stable economy. Victoria has sound laws that enable Intrepid to minimise risks. There is also a fair and relatively equitable taxation system.
When it comes to employment, Melbourne and surrounds provides a strong pool of talent to choose from. Victorians are multi-cultural in their make-up and interests and generally love to travel - and a high number of Intrepid customers come from Victoria.
Intrepid's top 12 responsible travel tips
- Before leaving home learn as much as possible about the countries you are visiting - the religion and culture, the local rules and values.
- Learn some language and don't be afraid to use it - simple pleasantries will help break the ice. Keep practising.
- Learn what's appropriate behaviour and body language. Like the concept of "saving face" in Asia or giving the thumbs up in western or central Europe.
- Support locally owned businesses, hotels, restaurants and other services. Eat local food and drink local brands and brews. Use public transport, hire a bike or walk where convenient - you'll meet local people and get to know the place.
- Think first. It's best not to eat in restaurants, shop in stores or visit local shows, markets or zoos that promote cruelty or exploitation of endangered species.
- Shop from traditional artisans and for locally made products, helping keep traditional crafts alive and favour local products over imported items. Bargain if that is a local practice, but bear in mind that a small amount to you could be extremely important to the seller.
- Dress respectfully with an awareness of local standards. Dress modestly at religious sites and check what swim wear is suitable for pools and the beach.
- Always ask first before photographing or videoing people. Send them back copies of photos to help make it a two-way exchange.
- Be wary of giving gifts or money to beggars, children and people you have just met. Supporting the community through a local school, clinic or development project may be more constructive.
- Leave only footprints... take care of the environment as you would your own home. Take out all you take in, to areas away from the cities. Use alternatives to plastic and say 'No' to plastic bags. For cigarette butts, an empty film container makes a perfect portable container.
- After returning home think how you can support programs and organisations that are working to protect the welfare, culture and environment of where you've been lucky to visit.
- Smile - The traveller who wishes to have a happy and successful trip should keep as calm, cheerful and friendly as humanly possible. And have fun!
*ABS - 12 months to June 2010. Source: 4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, Sep 2010