Interview with Natalie Kidd, the Managing Director Asia, Intrepid Travel about the socio-economic impacts of travel and what Intrepid does to maximise the benefits for the local communities .
This article is part of the interview series with speakers of the GSTC2023 Sustainable Tourism Conference in Antalya, Türkiye, taking place in May 2023.
Anula: For those who don’t know Intrepid, please explain what your company does and how it is different from other tour operators out there.
Intrepid is the world’s largest adventure travel company, and we’ve been taking travellers to discover the world’s most amazing destinations for more than 30 years. We operate more than 1,150 trips on every continent with each one designed to truly explore local culture. Our mission is to create positive change through the joy of travel.
What separates Intrepid apart from other tour operators is our commitment to sustainable experience-rich travel and to playing our part to give back to people and planet. In 2018, we became the world’s largest travel company to be a certified B Corp, and in 2020, the only global tour operator with verified science-based emissions targets. This backs up over two decades of industry leadership on climate change and sustainability, which is at the heart of everything we do.
Anula: What is the role of tour operators in promoting and developing sustainable tourism? How does Intrepid do it?
Natalie: Sustainable tourism has many different aspects, but for us at Intrepid, we view it through the lens of people and places. As a global operator, we fundamentally believe we (and other tour operators) have a responsibility to protect and give back to the destinations and local communities we’re lucky enough to visit.
We do this in many different ways – from community-based tourism to experiences that support First Nations communities around the world, we’re all about designing itineraries to dial back the footprint and dial up the positive impact.
We recognise that overtourism is a major issue in many places. That’s why we’ve been expanding our product offering to promote sustainable development in less visited global destinations. For example, Pakistan, Bhutan, Timor Leste and Bosnia and Herzegovina are all countries where we have new tours on offer.
We also integrate local social enterprises and businesses, often women-led, into both our supply chain and trip itineraries to funnel tourism spend into the most impactful areas.
Anula: When talking about sustainability in tourism, people tend to focus on the environmental aspects. Is this the right approach? Why shouldn’t we forget about the socio-economic impacts of travel?
Natalie: The environment is massively important when talking about sustainability in tourism. We’re in a climate emergency, and travel and tourism as a sector contributes 11% to global greenhouse gas emissions, largely through transportation. The climate crisis also impacts biodiversity and nature, which are core aspects of tourism. We still have a lot of work to do to accelerate industry action in this space, so that focus is understandable.
Equally, there are other social and economic issues that are just as central to tourism. For example, there is a huge opportunity for more women to build careers in travel and tourism, particularly in emerging economies, and this has been a big focus for Intrepid over the past few years. In 2017, we set ourselves a goal to double the number of female tour leaders in our business, as we recognised that wasn’t seen as a sustainable career for women in many countries. That is work that we continue to do.
It’s also important to recognise that all of these issues are interconnected. Take supporting First Nations tourism – this not only supports cultural preservation and economic stimulation, but simultaneously elevate climate conversations, as First Nations communities hold deep connections to the natural world.
Anula: From the socio-economic impacts of travel, which are the most important for Intrepid?
Natalie: We are strong believers that when done right, First Nations tourism has the power to honour customs while paving a new path for peace and reconciliation, and we draw on our close working partnerships with First Nations groups around the world to design culturally sensitive tourism products. We are proud to offer more than 100 Indigenous experiences worldwide.
Gender equality and ensuring we continue to support women to have careers in travel as well as investing in local female-run businesses is also a key focus for us, as is creating products that support sustainable development in emerging destinations.
Anula: Please tell us about some of your initiatives aimed at maximising the positive impacts of travel on people and cultures.
Natalie: Our mission is to create positive change through the joy of travel. That guides everything we do – from our tours to how we run our business.
Our popular women’s expeditions are a great example of just one initiative aimed at maximising the positive impact of travel. Through these female-only adventures, which are led by female tour leaders, we connect travellers with often unseen parts of a destination, which are typically off-limits. These tours also provide local women and female-owned businesses with economic opportunities.
Our ethical marketing guidelines – a first for the entire global travel industry – are designed to hold us accountable to being a more inclusive brand. They enable us to have a positive impact by diversifying the face of traditional travel marketing.
Our not-for-profit, the Intrepid Foundation, connects travellers directly with community-led sustainable development.. We work with partners such as Vun Art in Vietnam, which supports people with disabilities with vocational training and employment, Education For All in Morocco ensures young girls in the Atlas Mountains can continue their education, while in Nepal Eden Reforestation Projects is empowering local communities while restoring forests. With our travellers’ help, it’s contributed more than AU $12 million to over 130 community organisations since 2002.
Anula: How do you communicate these initiatives to your customers? Which aspects do travellers care more about?
Natalie: We recognize that most of our customers only travel with us on a trip about once a year. Our small group adventures are all about connecting with other people, so we use other touchpoints, such as social media, our website, emails and more as opportunities for our community to continue to connect on issues that are important to them, as well as us as a brand.
There are so many social issues that travellers care about. We gather feedback from every trip we run and issues that are consistently mentioned include child protection, protection of cultural heritage and female empowerment. Travellers are also increasingly climate-conscious and choosing to put their dollars towards sustainable, experience-rich adventures.
Anula: You’re one of the speakers at the GSTC conference in Antalya. What will you be talking about, and why people should join your session?
Natalie: At the GSTC conference in Antalya I’m lucky to be moderating a very impressive panel discussing Inclusivity in Tourism. One of the benefits of tourism should be creating connection and breaking down barriers between people, but if travel isn’t inclusive or accessible then it creates additional barriers.
The panel will share a range of examples of how people are breaking down these barriers to make tourism more accessible and inclusive for all.
One way Intrepid is trying to make travel more inclusive is by showing more diversity of travellers through our marketing and storytelling. Showing more Bipoc, LGBTQIA+ and plus size travellers in our advertising and as content creators, is one way of showing that our style of travel is for everyone.
Read more about Intrepid’s impact in its “2022 Integrated Report”