Over the past two years, the tourism industry has been one of the sectors hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Countless trips and events have been cancelled, borders closed and travel restrictions enforced both domestically and internationally, creating immediate and ongoing pressure not only on this industry, but also on local economies and livelihoods. people. James Thornton, CEO of Intrepid Travel, the world’s largest certified B Corp travel agency, told me the pandemic has presented the toughest years the company has endured in its 32-year history.
Yet despite these unprecedented setbacks to the global tourism industry as a whole, Thornton also told me that Intrepid Travel has been able to grow, invest and further demonstrate that doing good for the world is also good for deals.
For example, earlier this year the company achieved recertification as a B Corp and unveiled a new vision and renewed purpose focused on empowering communities, protecting the planet and creating a better experience. fair for all travelers. Thornton shared that in line with its new mission, Intrepid Travel has focused on creating over 200 new trips around the world with a renewed focus on wildlife and environmental conservation, supporting people with disabilities , preservation of indigenous and minority cultural traditions, gender equality and empowerment, and skills. Training and education.
More details of my online conversation with Thornton are below.
Christopher Marquis: I see that Intrepid Travel is over 30 years old and is the “World’s Largest Goal-Driven Adventure Travel Brand”. Can you tell us about the creation and evolution of the company and its objective?
James Thorton: Our founders Darrell Wade and Geoff ‘Manch’ Manchester didn’t start with plans to create the world’s biggest adventure travel brand. In 1989, they had just returned from a trip with a group of friends across Africa in a converted garbage truck. During their adventure, they came up with the idea for a new style of small-group travel. From the start, they believed travel could benefit both travelers and the communities they visited: using local accommodations and transportation, eating at neighborhood restaurants, and traveling with local leaders ensured more authentic experiences. and meant that more money generated by tourism stayed where it belonged: in local pockets.
Manch was the company’s only guide and Thailand was his only destination. There were 46 travelers in that first year. As the appetite for this authentic and immersive style of travel grew, so did Intrepid Travel’s product offering. And with that growth, Darrell and Manch recognized that they had a responsibility beyond the product. They always believed that Intrepid Travel would be more than just a travel agency.
Then and now, we believe that our company as a whole can be a force for good. We exist to inspire, create, share and lead the best travel experiences ever – both for people and for the planet. Over the years, we have championed issues such as climate action, vaccine equity, human rights, animal welfare, child protection and gender equality. We were the first global tour operator to end elephant rides – it was a risky move at the time, but getting it right has not only helped grow our business, it has changed the industry . We seek partnerships that truly empower communities. The Intrepid Foundation has raised AU$11.66 million for over 130 communities around the world since 2002.
Intrepid Travel has been following our carbon journey for over 15 years. In 2008, we became signatories to the world’s largest sustainability initiative, the United Nations Global Compact. Two years later, we became a carbon neutral travel agency. We realized in 2019 that being carbon neutral was no longer enough. At the beginning of 2020, we declared a Climate emergency as a founding member of Declared Tourism, a collective of companies, organizations and individuals concerned by the climate crisis. In this context, we have adopted our seven-point climate commitment planwhich includes setting science-based carbon emissions targets and creating a positive climate by actually creating an environmental benefit by removing additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Although 2020 has been a devastating year for travel, Intrepid has become the world’s leading tour operator with verifiable science-based goals across the Science-Based Targets (SBTi). It independently assesses companies’ emission reduction targets in line with what climate scientists believe is needed to meet the Paris Agreement targets for a 1.5°C future. From a practical perspective, this means we will transform our business for a low-carbon future by reducing emissions from our operations and travel over the next 15 years.
We achieved B Corp certification in 2018 and recertified in 2022, which means we are part of a global community of companies that are redefining success in business to build a more inclusive and long-term sustainable economy. Being a B Corp means we are committed to achieving our purpose beyond profit: using travel as a force for good in the world.
Marquis: What does it mean to be a “purpose-driven adventure travel brand?” (Obviously, something will have to be said about the carbon, but I’m particularly interested in the effects on the communities visited). What should travelers expect from such an experience that they wouldn’t get from a conventional tour operator?
Thornton: We believe that a great trip involves a great responsibility. We really want to be the best travel company not only in the world, but for the world. Our responsible travel policy outlines our commitment to preserving the environment, supporting local communities, protecting the vulnerable and giving back to the places we travel. Being driven by purpose means we make decisions with people, planet and profit in mind. Purpose for us is not a buzzword; it’s the lens through which we approach everything in our business. From Community tourism to experiences that support First Nations and Indigenous communities, we want to create a meaningful experience for everyone that brings joy to both hosts and our travelers. We are truly connected and invested in the places we go, the people we meet along the way, and the communities at the heart of every experience.
Marquis: Over the past two years, COVID-19 has had a devastating global impact on the travel industry. How has Intrepid Travel been able to remain resilient and maintain its standards as a responsible business during this time?
Thornton: We have seen many challenges in the world over the past 30 years; global recessions, natural disasters, political strife, but the impacts of Covid-19 are unlike anything we’ve seen before. In these times, it is important to remember who we are, what our values are and why we do what we do. Intrepid was launched because we wanted to change the way we see the world. It’s never been clearer that being a responsible travel company is an ongoing commitment to being a company that is a force for good. We will not be immune to the economic impacts of a global pandemic, but as a community of travelers, we are using this time to rebuild responsibly. We have always found a way to overcome these challenges, supporting those around us and coming out stronger on the other side.
Marquis: I see Intrepid Travel in 2022 recertified as a B Corp. Why is B Corp certification important to the Intrepid Travel brand and the industry in general? What has Intrepid Travel done to maintain its B harvest status? For example, have you taken any new initiatives or launched any activations?
Thornton: Last year, when it came time to recertify as a B Corp, we recognized that putting our business under the microscope during its darkest hours had never been more important. Following a comprehensive audit in 2021, Intrepid was recertified as the world’s largest travel B Corp, achieving a new score of 91.2 in the B Corp Impact Assessment, up from compared to our 2018 score of 82.7. This is a 10% improvement over the past three years. Going through this rigorous process has helped us become a stronger company when we are on the other side of this pandemic. The certification focuses on five categories – governance, workers, community, environment and customers – that help us become a better company. (The complete editorial by James Thornton here) While today we hold the title of the world’s largest travel B Corp, the real success will be the day we pass the torch. We would like to see all travel companies meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, and we hope that other larger players in tourism will begin to seek B Corp certification for themselves. We encourage travel companies interested in learning more about the B Corp process and how to start their own journey to message us: [email protected]
Marquis: What advice would you give to companies trying to achieve a similar status/mission? Where do they start?
Thorton: I tell businesses to 1) Always start with your “why?” » Is your reason genuine? Are you a force for good for the right reasons? 2) Think about the unique areas your business can influence. For example, Frontiers North, a B Corp based in Manitoba, Canada, owns a Tundra Buggy electric vehicle that provides a completely quiet, non-intrusive touring experience and reduces environmental impact through zero-emission vehicle technology; 3) Although the certification process varies depending on the size and complexity of your business, all businesses have to work hard. It takes honest reflection and assessment of your whole business. It takes a lot of time and a commitment to improve; 4) Join the network of B Lab organizations around the world to support the collective vision of an inclusive, equitable and regenerative economy.