Big Interview: How Intrepid plan to pave the way for more sustainable travel firms

Big Interview: How Intrepid plan to pave the way for more sustainable travel firms

James Thornton, CEO of Intrepid, explains that action on climate change shouldn’t be a competitive advantage as it requires the whole industry to act and what it’s done to tackle this

As many organisations compete to be the quickest at adopting more sustainable practices, one that needs no introduction or to take part in the race is Australian-based adventure travel company Intrepid Travel.

Since its inception, Intrepid has been on a mission to create positive change through its sustainable, experience rich travel business.

One of its goals is to grow the market for experiences like the ones it provides that are off the beaten track and uses local suppliers to deliver its experiences.

James Thornton, CEO of Intrepid, said the firm balances having a “really strong purpose while also delivering a healthy commercial return”.

Thorton believes sustainability is the future of business, not just of travel, and hopes that more and more people hopefully want to buy from and work with companies that are “truly” sustainable.

Though Intrepid is the world’s largest certified travel B Corp company, Thornton said there’s more to being sustainable that just being independently verified.

He said: “Action on climate change shouldn’t be a competitive advantage, it requires the whole industry.”

Which is why the travel firm set up two key initiatives, to share its learnings with the sector.

The first is Intrepid’s 10 steps on how to decarbonise your travel business guide, downloadable for free from its website.

The second is its guide to animal welfare, also downloadable for free via its website.

These two open-source toolkits aren’t the only things the firm has worked on to tackle this paramount issue.

It’s also working on carbon labelling for all of its products and has introduced it on over 500 of its trips so far.

The labelling which accounts for the average CO2 per traveller per day is made up of the activities from your transport, the activities from your accommodation, activites on the trip itself, the waste you produce and the emissions from the local office in the destination.

It’s then topped off with an added 15%, due to the fact it is still an “inexact science” which helps average it out.

“Hopefully it will give customers more awareness about the impact of their travel,” said Thornton.

This third toolkit was worked by Intrepid’s climate science team as well as an external consultancy with a view to be rolled out in full later in the year.

Thornton warned: “I think one of the things that’s coming is carbon accounting.”

He said: “I just think for the travel industry and for progressive global travel companies, you don’t want to site on the sidelines and watch this happen.

“You want to be proactive because if you have to be forced into doing it can be quite disruptive to your operations”.

In a bid to tackle sustainability head on, Thornton also called for more price transparency around the real costs of a low-cost flight to a destination vs a more sustainable option.

“If you see a £29 flight from Nuermberg to Seville, it doesn’t factor in I’ve got to get to the airport, the food Im buying at the airport, the time it takes to check in etc.

“There’s lots of hidden costs like the baggage costs, picking my seat, whereas you know often, the train price is the train price.

He opined that changes in the way financial markets reward and recognise companies needs to change as well.

“At the moment companies get rewarded and recognises based on growth and profitability delivery. So, until financial markets start recognising the ESG component, it’s very hard to really bake that into measurement of companies and also how board of directors incentivise its key personnel.

Advancements being made aren’t just sustainability related, though. In fact, Intrepid are currently exploring new technologies that could be implemented for more seamless customer experience.

“Technology plays a really critical role because of live chat so we’re investing putting a bot through our call centre to listen to the live chats that take place and actually you can probably replicate 70-80% of them through putting AI bot on and just making that consumer experience much more seamless from post booking to pre-travel.”

As it’s “always looking at ways to deep the relationship” it has with customers or find ways to attract new customers, Intrepid owns 28 destination management companies.

Its next move sees the travel company branch out into accommodation as well.

In the last year, Intrepid has made a 50% investment in a Cabn, a portfolio of 50 off grid cabins in South Australia as well as an investment in the 15-room Daintree Eco Lodge in Northern Queensland.

“We’re now able to offer Intrepid accommodation and Intrepid experiences to both our existing customers but also new customers.

“You’ll see us move into more accommodation opportunities outside of Australia next and particularly into some of the core destinations that we operate in.”