Independently owned by its founders, Intrepid is a collection of three tour operator brands and 25 destination management companies united by the vision of Changing the Way People See the World. For more than 30 years, Intrepid has been taking small groups to travel the local way, on real life experiences that give back to the places and people we visit. As this style of travel has caught on, Intrepid has grown to now offer more than 2,700 trips to more than 120 countries and on all seven continents. We cater for all ages, budgets, and appetites for adventure through Intrepid Travel, Peregrine Adventures, and Urban Adventures. Globally renowned as a leader in responsible travel, in 2018 Intrepid became the world’s largest travel business to be certified B-Corp, joining a growing community of businesses looking beyond the bottom line. We have been a carbon-neutral business since 2010, carbon offsetting our trips on behalf of customers. In 2020, we aim to become climate positive. That means we’ll be removing more carbon from the atmosphere than we create as a business. By doing this, we will create greater environmental benefits by removing even more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while continuing to decarbonize through reductions in emissions from our trips and operations. Our not-for-profit, The Intrepid Foundation has raised over AUD $9M for more than 130 charities around the world by matching traveler donations dollar-for-dollar.
When and why did you begin your impact tourism program?
Responsible travel has always been at the heart of who we are as a business. Over the years we have instigated many different responsible travel initiatives including focuses on animal welfare, gender equality, child protection, responsible production, consumption & supply chain, and climate action.
One of key areas of focus when it comes to responsible travel is that of community-based tourism (CBT). CBT ensures community ownership and management of the tourism experience and ensures that the economic benefits of tourism stay within the community. CBT products showcase a local community’s heritage, cultural practices, and natural resources, and in this way offers an immersive and authentic experience for travelers. While we have included CBT experiences like homestays since Intrepid began, over the last five years we have made a commitment to not only working with existing CBT providers, but in playing a more active role in developing new CBT enterprises to benefit local communities.
We actively work with communities and a range of local partners to support the development of new CBT experiences in destinations that otherwise wouldn’t see the benefits of tourism. Then, when we visit the communities on our itineraries, our travelers have the opportunity to connect with the local people and make a positive impact.
Please provide brief examples of some of your most impactful projects.
Our CBT lodge in Myaing, Myanmar, exemplars our new approach to CBT. A joint project between Intrepid Group and the nonprofit organization ActionAid Myanmar, the CBT lodge was the first of its kind in Myanmar, created to give communities living in poverty from villages near Myaing the opportunity to earn an alternative income and grow as a community, while giving travelers from around the world a genuine insight into rural living in Myanmar.
Our teams, along with ActionAid, helped shape the design of the lodge, identify tourism activities like hikes and cycle routes, source local guides and provide health and safety training.
The lodge is also ideally situated, as tourists are able to visit all four villages by bicycle to gain insight into the life of local people and hear firsthand from a female leader from the village why the CBT project is so valuable to the community.
Travelers also get to experience traditional cuisine made by local hands with local produce and contribute to preserving the environment by planting their own tree as a way of marking the memory of their visit.
We include a two-night stay at the lodge on our signature Myanmar itinerary, Best of Myanmar. Since our travellers began staying there in January 2017, we have contributed over $150,000 USD in revenue.
The success of Myanmar inspired our business to seek out new opportunities to develop CBT around the world. In Vietnam, our team worked with the nonprofit Action on Poverty to create CBT in Da Bac, where we now include an overnight stay on four of our best-selling Vietnam itineraries. In Nepal, we worked with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and WWF to build a homestay network in the Madi Valley region.
Has your impact tourism program helped, hurt, or had no impact on your business?
At Intrepid our strategy is to grow with purpose. While impact tourism in some form has been part of our business since the very beginning, since we formalized our commitment to creating purpose beyond profit by becoming a certified B-Corp in 2018, we have had two record years of growth–in 2018 we saw 17 percent growth in revenue and in 2019 reported 21 percent growth in Total Transaction Value (TTV).
How do you select projects?
There are many different factors that we take into consideration when embarking on a new CBT project. We are very aware that we’re a tour operator–small group adventure travel is our area of expertise, not community development–so we need to partner with the right organizations who have the appropriate expertise in this area. When we’re selecting projects, the suitability of the partner organization–what their existing relationship is with the community, what their values are, what role they’ll play in the implementation–is vital for success.
In looking at the viability of the project, our primary aim is to include the CBT initiative on our itineraries so we’re supporting them with revenue over the long-term and it’s imperative that it’s a great experience for the traveler. To determine whether it’s suitable, we need to assess the location – is it in an area where we already operate trips and where we expect demand to increase in the future? Does it complement the other experiences we already offer on that itinerary? Does it showcase the natural resources of that area? If it’s not a good experience for our travelers, then we are not able to include it on our itineraries as we will not be able to support the project over the long-term.
At the heart of the CBT model is community empowerment and decision making when it comes to tourism. Of the most important factors is creating shared value and meeting the community’s needs and objectives. They need to have a genuine desire to welcome visitors. In terms of the community benefits, these can vary from project to project, but what’s generally common to all is providing an alternative source of income through tourism (and therefore helping to stop forced urban migration), empowering women and other disadvantaged groups, and preserving cultural practices and traditions.
What is the structure to ensure ongoing accountability?
Part of the requirements of our partnership agreements with the local NGO is the submission of regular reports, usually submitted quarterly, which allows us to see the progress made. Another important accountability mechanism is our travelers and tour leaders, who are regularly visiting these projects on our trips. They will provide feedback after every visit, which we’ll then communicate to the CBT enterprise to ensure continuous learning and improvement.
How are your employees and your company involved in the projects?
There are a few different mechanisms through which our employees and company are involved in the projects:
- Our local operations staff in-destination are heavily involved throughout the whole process, from initial research right through to training community members and monitoring.
- Our Global Responsible Team, including a dedicated CBT Manager, oversees our CBT initiatives on a global level, including vetting projects and monitoring and evaluation.
- Our tour leaders bring the positive benefits of CBT alive for our customers while they’re on a trip by telling the story of why Intrepid believes in CBT and how their stay makes a difference to local people.
- Our marketing and PR teams tell the story more broadly through press releases and media familiarization trips where journalists can experience the trip for themselves.
What have been staff reactions?
Staff reactions have been hugely positive. Our values and commitment to responsible travel are some of the main reasons listed by our employees as what they most enjoy about working for Intrepid.
Have you provided staff training to support your impact tourism program?
In February 2019, we took 13 different staff members from our offices around the world (Costa Rica, Sri Lanka, Croatia, China, Australia, Canada) to our CBT lodge in Myaing in order to help them learn about the model and better understand our approach. We also do extensive training with our tour leaders about CBT and our responsible travel ethos more generally, so they can communicate this to our customers on the ground.
How are funds raised from travelers?
Our CBT projects are not reliant upon raising funds from our travelers but are usually funded by a combination of a direct donation from our business, plus often additional funding from an NGO or government partner. Of course, once travelers have visited our CBT enterprises and seen the community benefits for themselves, they do often wish to donate which we encourage to do through The Intrepid Foundation.
How do you solicit donations?
Our tour leaders receive extensive training and how to talk to our travelers about what community-based tourism is and how they can be part of supporting these important initiatives. We also include information about donating on our website and in email communications to our customers.
Are donations tax deductible?
As an Australian-registered foundation, we are able to offer tax-deductible donations to Australian donors, but this is only applicable to certain projects – as many are small grassroots organizations that are not recognized in Australia as international charities.
Do project funds go into a separate account or to a foundation to ensure transparency and separation from business revenue? If not, what is your process to ensure financial accountability of donated funds?
Yes– any fundraising goes via The Intrepid Foundation which is a registered charity in Australia.
Do travelers visit the project sites? Why or why not?
Yes – our travelers visiting our CBT sites is how we create impact, through bringing much-needed revenue to communities that are far off the typical tourist trails. Central to our initial analysis of any project is how accessible it is, what existing itineraries we might be able to include it on, and therefore how many customers we can bring there. While we are always sensitive to get the balance right in terms of how many travelers the CBT enterprise can host per week, month and year, in order for it to be successful we need to have a regular stream of visitors.
Being able to have a CBT experience on a trip is a wonderful way for us to illustrate our responsible travel ethos in a tangible way to our customers, while giving back to the communities where the CBT is based.
Do you offer opportunities for voluntourism and/or material donations? Why or why not?
Intrepid does not offer voluntourism programs for customers. Intrepid Travel is primarily a travel operator, and we believe that’s our strength. While we have some very long-standing and rich relationships with local communities, we believe communities seeking volunteers are best served by specialist agencies.
How is the impact tourism promoted or marketed to guests?
Community-based tourism forms part of our broader responsible travel program & policies. This is communicated during trips via tour leaders and through social media, blog posts, on our trip pages, and through PR activity.
What type of educational opportunities and/or materials do you give to travelers?
Via our tour leaders, we provide our customers with lots of information about the dos and don’ts of responsible travel. This is conveyed during the trip so that customers can learn on the ground and it is a continual educational piece for the customer.
We also have a wealth of material on our website and through blog posts about this topic, which we share through social media and other digital channels, including emails pre-trip and post-trip.
How do you ensure that your values and approach align with the community supported?
Our local operations team will visit the community and spend time with the local people there before we agree to a project. As we usually will work with a nonprofit partner, we also significantly rely on their expertise and experience in the community. Making sure that the community understands our objectives and has a genuine desire to welcome travelers into their lives is absolutely critical for the success of the project. We also want to ensure the community shares our values, for example our commitment to female empowerment and gender equality.
How are you ensuring that your projects meet the most relevant needs of the community?
We absolutely rely on our nonprofit partners, for example ActionAid Myanmar, to work closely with us in shaping the CBT initiative to ensure it meets the needs of the community. While we will of course spend a significant amount of time in the community consulting with the local people, often the nonprofit has been working there for years previously, so they are in the best position to make sure the CBT fulfils the community’s needs.
Do you engage in ongoing dialogue with the local community? If so, how?
Yes – primarily through visits by our local operations (DMC) staff and our tour leaders when on trips.
Has there ever been a time when adjustments to your approach or project have needed to be made as a result of community feedback? Please explain how you were able to adapt.
In 2018, we saw a significant decline in our customer numbers to Myanmar overall as a result of the country’s ongoing Rohingya crisis, with a subsequent decline in the revenue we were able to supply to the CBT lodge.
In 2019, in order to better support the community we decided to increase the number of nights customers stay at the lodge from one to two nights which not only meant more revenue for the community, but a better customer experience with more time to relax and enjoy time spent there.
Why do you feel your impact tourism program has been so successful?
Measuring success can be done in a number of different ways. From an impact point of view, we don’t just look at metrics like the number of livelihoods we support through CBT, or the amount of additional income that tourism brings to households. The qualitative data is also really important, which is not easy to capture in facts and figures – for example, the empowerment felt by the female CBT Lodge staff members. Customer feedback is also an essential element of what constitutes success, as CBT can only be sustainable over the long-term if its also a great customer experience and can sustain demand. Usually the CBT experiences we include on our trips are listed by our customers as the highlight of their trip with us.
What challenges has your company faced in developing a successful program?
Our key challenge has been finding the right partners – those who offer complementary skills to our own, and who work in areas with a high tourism potential. We often come across opportunities to develop tourism in incredibly remote areas, which while we believe the end product and experience will be incredible for customers, we can’t guarantee the volume of travelers required to really drive significant revenue and therefore impact into the community.
Why do you feel it is important for the tourism industry to not only promote a produce but to provide environmental and community support?
Traveling responsibly by providing environmental and community support is crucial for long-term sustainability – it just makes good business sense. If local people don’t see the benefits from tourism, they will push back. As travel companies, we profit from taking our customers to beautiful destinations all over the world, so we also have a responsibility to protect these destinations from harm. Thankfully, the concept of sustainable tourism is becoming increasingly mainstream due to customer demand.
What would your advice be to another company that is hoping to establish a successful impact tourism program?
There are so many different avenues in which to pursue impact tourism, so it’s important to think about where your expertise lies – where can you add value through what you already do. Partnerships are crucial in terms of complementing your skill set. We would also suggest considering your destinations – what are the key issues there, and how might your product work to help solve them?
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Awards & Recognition: Our Myaing CBT Lodge in Myanmar was a finalist in the WTTC Tourism for Tomorrow Awards in 2019 and has been certified by ASEAN as a ‘Gold Standard’ CBT enterprise.