This year Intrepid celebrates 25 years of offering people real life, experiential travel opportunities all over the world. The company that started out arranging tours to Thailand back in the late 1980s today offers trips to more than 100 countries and counting – next, they’re planning tours of Taiwan and Cuba. The Intrepid travel mode ranges from Basix to Original and Comfort style tours.
They cater to travellers on a budget who want free time to plan their own activities; to those who desire some planned activities and hotel accommodation; and to anyone who seeks a higher standard of travel with more inclusions.
The company’s co-founders, Geoff Manchester and Darrell Wade, elected James Thornton to the role of Managing Director of the company back in 2012 at the age of 31. We recently had the pleasure of talking to James about what makes Intrepid so special, the rise of 'Food Tourism' and where the most sought travel destinations on the globe are.
What sets Intrepid apart from other adventure tour providers?
"Experience and longevity. We’re celebrating our 25th anniversary this year; we’ve being doing it longer than the vast majority of others in the business and with that comes a vast degree of experience.
In our first year back in 1989 we ran trips to Thailand carrying a total of 47 people. We’ve grown over time and this year the group will carry over 100,000 people around the world. People want the security of travelling with a group who know what they are talking about, and have experience in different markets at different times."
You offer focused, dedicated destination tours instead of quick coach style tours across large regions – why is that?
"The key reason people want to travel with Intrepid is for that local experience, and the only way to get the local experience is to spend some time in the destination. The core values of Intrepid have always been: responsible and sustainable travel, grassroots travel in small groups, and to deliver the best travel experience ever.
For those three things to happen, we believe you need to spend time in the destination getting to know it – by travelling on the local transport, staying in local accommodation, trying the local food and getting the opportunity to meet the local people as opposed to almost ‘box-ticking’ and rushing through countries and across a continent. Of course we want to go to key sights and see the iconic venues along the way but, for us, it’s really important to dig beneath the surface of the country we’re travelling in."
This style of travel must attract a certain kind of traveller then?
"We attract all travellers from 18-80 years old. We attract lots of young people keen for adventure, but we also have a great range of family trips on offer too. For us, it’s not about the age, the demographic or even the gender of the traveller – it’s much more about the mindset of the traveller.
We tend to find the type of person who travels with us is the type of person who wants to get in and investigate the local country and get to meet the local people. It’s much more of a state of mind; we market ourselves under the small group adventure travel, but really it’s about experience – living and breathing that country."
Intrepid covers just about every region in the world, which would you say is the most popular?
"It’s always different – everyone has their personal favourites. Intrepid started in Thailand and for the first 15 years of its inception we focused on Asia. Asia is the home of Intrepid and it’s where we still carry our most passengers to date. Vietnam is our best selling destination; but equally, newer destinations we’ve only been operating in for shorter periods of times are also very popular.
For instance, our most popular in terms of numbers is actually Australia – we carry more people on our three-day Red Centre tour than we do on any other trip globally. It’s interesting to see how travellers shift over the course of time, dictated by political or financial instability in different parts of the world. However, generally people always want to travel – and to experience our style of travel – which is why we offer such a broad width and depth of travelling."
What’s the ‘newest’ destination people are interested in?
"Destinations that have had political instability in the past are now growing with interest – places like Sri Lanka and Colombia are growing in popularity. These countries have previously been quite inaccessible, but now people can go and experience them, and they are both absolutely beautiful countries.
Another country that’s been going off over the last two years is Burma. A traveller might have already experienced Thailand or Cambodia and now Burma is hot on everyone lips and people want to get there before real development takes hold. One of our most popular trips right now is our Burma sailing trip that travels from Thailand up through the Burmese archipelago. We’ve had to double our departures this year, because it’s such a unique and popular trip in terms of mixing the sailing style of travel, but then also arriving at a destination that is relatively untouched."
Why should people book with intrepid?
"Intrepid offer real life experiences. We believe adventure is a mindset – some people view that as hanging off the side of a mountain, camping under the stars and the like, and while you can do all that with Intrepid, the vast majority of our trips are just simply about travelling through a region and enjoying getting to know about real life in that country. It’s an experiential approach to travel. If passengers are open to that way of thinking, they’ll have a brilliant time."
Where is the most remote place you’ve travelled to with Intrepid?
"Easter Island – right in the middle of the Pacific, it’s one of the most remote inhabited places on Earth – a four- to five-hour flight from Tahiti or Santiago, it's part of Chile. The Island has such a wide history and variety – the Moai statues are unreal – and it’s the most beautiful location going. It really, really is!
I was lucky enough to spend a few days there 10 years ago, but in terms of the best place I’ve been? Hands down, seeing the gorillas in the face to face in the Volcanos National Park in Rwanda is by far my most amazing Intrepid trip to date. Next month I’m off to the Arctic to test out one of our land-based tours, so if I get the chance to come face to face with a polar bear maybe that will change my mind!"
Where’s the last place you visited with Intrepid?
"Last place on a trip was Russia. I was lucky enough to experience the Intrepid tour from Moscow up to St Petersburg, which was a sensational trip. It covered being in both the cities, which are very, very different: St Petersburg has amazing history and Moscow is the great political and economic centre of Russia. But we also got out and visited the old imperial capital of Suzdal and spent some time living with a local family, trying the local food. It was really awesome to get to Russia and experience the country like that."
What is the most inspiring feedback you've ever had from an Intrepid customer?
"Our style of travel is pretty amazing, and being able to carry over 100,000 people a year on Intrepid trips with 98% of them saying they would travel with us again, you get some pretty amazing feedback. Over the last six months, we've been working on a process called 'Investment in Customers', getting to know our customers better.
One of the great pieces of feedback that came back to us recently was a customer who had a wonderful booking experience. She’d had some personal difficulties with her health and we were able to override our fees and work around her personal situation to make sure she could travel in the comfortable way. The week after she returned from her trip I received a big box of chocolates from her, thanking us for being able to make the arrangements for her – that kind of feedback is very rewarding."
You cover so many destinations all over the world. Is there a destination you have your sights set, but on you haven’t got products for yet?
"Yes, good question! We do run a vast majority of accessible tours, but next year we are adding a new country to our roster: we’ll be travelling to Taiwan for the first time, which is something a little different. And we’ll be expanding our sailing trips, taking them into Cuba and France’s Cote d'Azur, as well as a bunch of winter trips throughout Europe.
How are the Intrepid Food Adventure tours going, with the increased popularity in ‘foodies’ these days?
"Food is one of the main drivers for people to want to travel. We identified this two or three years ago when we were doing some research for product development, so we decided to build a style of travel around it and it has been our fastest growing style of travel to date.
We’ll carry up to 3,000 people on food adventures this year and that will only continue to grow – pretty impressive for a new style that only started two years ago. It’s especially a driver for Australians who are so into their food and wine."
Check out Intrepid’s range of eclectic and inspiring destinations and adopt the adventure mindset today! Who knows where Intrepid can take you next!