Intrepid Sails to Significant Growth on Wave of Sustainable Tourismby David Cogswell /
Is there a bottom line beyond the bottom line?
James Thornton, CEO of the Melbourne, Australia-based Intrepid Group, believes that the company’s dedication to responsible tourism is one of the main drivers of its stunning growth in recent years.
Intrepid Group, which claims to be “the world’s largest provider of adventure travel experiences,” is riding a wave of robust growth, with a 17 percent increase in revenue in 2018 globally and 29 percent growth in North America. The increase brought the company’s global revenue in 2018 to $280 million.
Thornton’s commitment to responsible tourism is consistent with a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that showed that 66 percent of Americans now say they've seen enough evidence to justify action on climate change, up from 51 percent two decades ago. That includes 85 percent of Democrats, 79 percent of independents, 71 percent of women, 61 percent of men, and strong majorities of all racial groups.
Driving profitability with sustainability
Now celebrating its 30th year in business, Intrepid Group offers more than 2,700 trips in 120 countries on seven continents under four tour operator brands: Intrepid Travel, Peregrine Adventures, Urban Adventures, and Adventure Tours Australia. The company also has ownership stakes in 21 destination management companies around the world.
Thornton believes Intrepid’s growth is, in part, a result of rising demand for sustainable travel and the company’s commitment to what it calls “purpose beyond profit.”
The brand has worked hard to establish itself as a leader in responsible travel. It is a certified B Corp and has been a carbon-neutral business since 2010. The company’s not-for-profit philanthropic arm, the Intrepid Foundation, has raised more than $4 million for more than 100 charities matching traveler donations dollar-for-dollar.
To be a B Corp, a company must qualify for a private certification issued to for-profit companies by B Lab, a global nonprofit organization with offices in the U.S., Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand; and in partnership in Latin America with Sistema B.
To maintain B Corp status, companies must receive a minimum score in an assessment for “social and environmental performance”; integrate B Lab commitments to stakeholders into the company’s governing documents; and pay an annual fee of $500 to $50,000. As of August 2018, there are more than 2,600 certified B Corporations across 150 industries in 60 countries.
“Diversification and our commitment to being a business with a purpose beyond profit are driving our growth,” Thornton told Travel Market Report. “As the world’s largest certified B Corp travel company — recently topping Fast Company's list of Most Innovative Travel Companies in 2019 for our commitment to minimum-impact travel — responsible practices permeate our business. As the demand for ethical and sustainable travel continues to rise globally, our responsible travel practices and purpose-forward actions continue to attract customers.”
Responsibility meets commerciality
Thornton believes the company’s financial results are strong evidence that the company’s investment in sustainable travel attracts customers.
“People are looking to businesses to help solve environmental and social issues,” he said. “Customers are seeking products with purpose at their core. The success of Intrepid and other purpose-led businesses, like Patagonia, are based on the acknowledgement that customers want to give back to the planet they inhabit and the people they share it with through their purchasing habits.”
Intrepid’s practices of responsible tourism in no way inhibit its foot-to-the-floor celebration of global travel. On the contrary, global travel trends increasingly support Intrepid’s philosophy, even as travel continues to grow.
“The world is becoming more accessible than ever before,” said Thornton. “A growing awareness of overtourism means travelers are seeking out remote areas of the world, or ways to avoid the crowds in popular locations. Women-only travel experiences are becoming more popular as travelers understand the impact they can have on the communities they visit. Culinary travel continues to soar in popularity, and with that, more dietary inclusive and innovative experiences are in demand.”
With the Millennial generation coming up fast and Millennials transforming every arena they touch, the trends toward sustainable travel are accelerating.
“Intrepid travelers have always cared about sustainable travel,” said Thornton, “but this next generation is even more socially conscious. Many of them do want to travel with people their own age, which is why we’ve launched a range of trips that are just for 18- to 29-year-olds. We’re also seeing a growing interest in our family trips from this generation of well-traveled and socially-conscious parents, who are choosing to buy travel rather than things for their children, to give them an amazing real-life education of the world.”
Thornton also believes the company’s success is driven by its policies of caring for both its customers and its employees. It achieved an employee engagement score of 82 percent and a record customer feedback score of 4.7 out of 5 for the year.
Traveling the local way
It seems the world is catching up with the philosophy upon which Intrepid Group was built 30 years ago. Thornton said: “Intrepid was founded 30 years ago on the idea that a travel company could have a positive impact on communities by traveling the local way — using local leaders, local accommodations, eating in local restaurants. Fast-forward to now, and sustainable travel and experiential travel have become buzzwords in the industry.”
Thornton wants Intrepid to not only follow trends, but to lead them. “We’ll continue to respond to trends,” he said, “but we hope also to be able to inspire trends and make change. We have grown to become a complex global business, but at the heart of it all is our goal to grow the market for sustainable travel, so that we can change the way people see the world.”