With so much competition in the world of tour operators, companies seem willing to try any gimmick that might distinguish them from the pack. So when you hear about Intrepid Travel’s green initiatives, it’s tempting to think they’re just hopping onto the latest trend. In fact, the truth is exactly the reverse: Intrepid has been dedicated to improving the world through travel for decades—a philosophy that also improves vacations for clients, and agents’ bottom lines.
standing out Operating over 500 trips to Asia, South America, Africa and Europe, Intrepid’s scope of destinations is anything but boutique. But the small group adventure tour operator is dedicated to remaining exactly that—for small groups only. “Our maximum group size is 12,” says Steven Larkin, president of Intrepid Travel North America. “Truly, traveling with such a small group is like traveling with your friends.” That is, he says, if your friends represent a diverse cross-section of nationalities and cultures. “We sell internationally, so chances are that you’ll be traveling with someone from Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Germany or Scandinavia, in addition to the U.S. and Canada.”
Among Intrepid’s top tours is Best of China, a 14-day excursion to one of the regions the tour operator knows best. Along the way, clients will go sightseeing in Shanghai; learn about Ming history in Nanjing; marvel at the spectacular Three Gorges; and visit the Yangzi River, plus stops to see the terra cotta warriors, Tiananmen Square, the Great Wall and other attractions. Rates start at $1,735 pp.
The newest innovation in Intrepid’s itineraries is its lineup of Urban Adventures, short trips ranging from two hours to one day designed to introduce clients to some of the world’s most fascinating cities. These quick turnarounds are “ideal for time-crunched travelers who want to get a real sense of the town,” Larkin explains. Urban Adventures range from domestic trips to cities like Los Angeles, where clients embark on shopping adventures, to Istanbul, where clients dine at a local eatery with spectacular views of the Marmara Sea.
And diversity of product is just one of the ways Intrepid sets itself apart. “There is quite a bit of competition in the adventure travel segment,” Larkin acknowledges, saying that Intrepid has set out to distinguish itself as a reliable partner in selling travel. “First of all,” he explains, “we offer guaranteed departures. As soon as someone books onto one of our trips, that trip is guaranteed to go. Agents don’t have to worry about getting a call 60 days before the trip about a cancellation. As soon as they’re booked with us, they can match them up with international airfare, sell insurance and they’re good to go.”
going green If there’s an area of particular expertise for Intrepid, Larkin says, it’s Asia. “Intrepid grew up around Asia, so that’s a specialty of ours. Certainly in years past we’ve expanded Thailand, India, China and Indochina,” he explains. But as time moved on and the company grew, Intrepid’s offerings expanded to cover much of the globe. “As the years progressed, customers demanded a wider product range. So we developed into areas like Africa and Latin America—Latin America is particularly strong for us,” he continues, noting that Peru, Costa Rica and Mexico are all big sellers.
In many of these areas, locals live in third-world conditions, and Intrepid acknowledges the opportunity it has to improve their lives. “We’ve always operated in this manner,” Larkin says. “As the world has evolved, people have started to demand more from their travel. They don’t just want the beach—they want a more authentic experience. So at the core of each Intrepid trip, the underlying factors remain consistent regardless of the destination. We’re going to stay at small, locally owned hotels, so the money stays in the community. We want to support the hotels, the families, the local people.”
In the coming year, Intrepid will go one step further. “All of our 2010 trips will be carbon offset as well,” Larkin pledges. “We recognize the cost to the environment in travel, so we will offset those emissions by supporting environmental initiatives like wind projects in India or China.” That’s a pledge that’s good for both the earth and for your sales pitch. “In the economic crisis, people are thinking twice about where they travel and how they travel and how important the environment is. Intrepid took the position that it was important as a travel company to look beyond the crisis. It differentiates the product from the competition. Nobody else had the foresight,” Larkin says.