As part of its 30th anniversary celebrations, Intrepid took 30 agents on three trips to Asia.
The tour operator invited 30 travel agents on three different Asia fam trips visiting Bali, Thailand and Cambodia.
The group was split into three, with 10 agents hosted in each destination, culminating in a party in Bangkok.
The agents were able to travel to some of the first destinations the operator ever launched, experiencing the brand’s sustainable and responsible ethos along the way.
Andrew Turner, head of industry sales EMEA at Intrepid Group, explains: “Each itinerary visited projects the Intrepid Foundation supports. In Siem Reap, for example, we visited a project called Rehash Trash that helps get local women into employment. They collect used plastic bags and crochet them into cool products such as handbags or rugs that can be purchased. The fam group also got to join in.”
Turner believes the operator’s responsible focus is a real USP for conscious travellers, with clients often staying in guesthouses, dining at family-owned restaurants and travelling by local transport wherever possible. He adds sustainability is becoming ever more important to clients.
“It’s key for agents to talk more about sustainability to their clients – more and more customers are in search of it, rather than price being a deciding factor when purchasing a holiday.”
Still going strong
The company has been flying the flag for responsible tourism for the past 30 years, says Darrell Wade, one of the company’s two founders.
“Travel agents’ eyes would glaze over if you talked about responsible tourism 30 years ago. That’s changed completely. They are now starting to understand we have a responsibility as an industry to take better care of our planet,” he says.
With growth on the horizon, and turnover for 2019 standing at $400 million so far, Wade predicts an important time ahead for the operator.
“Growth generally brings challenges, such as upskilling and sourcing fresh talent. We started with just the two of us [founders]. Now we operate in 35 countries around the world and are just shy of 3,000 staff, and we plan to be twice the size we currently are in five years’ time.”
The plan for 2020 and beyond is to continue to invest in the trade, says Wade.
“Travel agents play a huge role in our business and that’s why over the next six to nine months we will be hosting more large fam trips for agents.”
Turner has hinted at a few possibilities for upcoming fams.
“We might look at doing a Women’s Expedition trip, a family trip – they’re becoming more popular as families want to get beyond the beach and see the world – or perhaps a vegan food tour.
Laura Toll, senior sales consultant at Premier Travel, visited Cambodia: “My favourite part of the trip was the homestay with the local guide and his family. We ate dinner with them and the villagers let us borrow their bikes so we could watch the sun set across the rice paddies.
“As there were no phones or TVs, we spent time just chatting. I’d tell clients not to be put off by the group travel element. You’re not herded like cattle, and you visit places that other mainstream tours don’t.”
Ed Texier, group marketing manager at Meon Valley Travel, visited Thailand: “The idea of the fam was to understand responsible travel- themed holidays and to live through what the customer would. I’m a cycling enthusiast so I loved biking through untouched villages and seeing how people live, and I also took a cooking class.
“One of the USPs of the trip is the sustainability aspect, which gives you the sense of travelling in a responsible way.”
Edward Cox, company director and owner at Island Travel, visited Bali: “Sustainability was a massive factor on this trip, and it’s greatly supported by Intrepid. It was nice to get off the beaten track and see real places and visit real families.
“Mount Batur was one of the hardest physical things I have ever done – up at 3am ready for a two-hour climb! The views were worth every aching muscle though.
“After seeing what this destination has to offer, it really isn’t difficult to sell – it will sell itself. Since coming back, I’ve been working with Intrepid and I am organising our first escorted tour to Bali.”