Intrepid Travel is a certified B Corporation and a leading small group adventure travel company, offering over 1,100 escorted tours worldwide with an average of 10 travelers per tour. Their tours are guided by local tour guides, emphasize the use of public transport, and support locally owned accommodations. As a B Corporation, Intrepid is committed to social and environmental responsibility, balancing profit with purpose.
They operate their own tours and also provide destination management services to other companies. The Intrepid Foundation, their non-profit organization, has raised over A$12 million to support communities in the places they travel. With headquarters in Melbourne and over 30 offices globally, Intrepid Travel is majority-owned by its co-founders and staff through a company share scheme.
Geoff Manchester aka Manch, the co-founder of Intrepid Travel, and I sat down for an exclusive interview to share the remarkable journey of Intrepid and shed light on the company’s purpose, mission, and commitment to responsible travel. From its humble beginnings in the 1980s when Manch himself was a backpacker with a vision, to become a global leader in a small group, experience-rich travel, Intrepid has always been driven by a passion for authentic cultural exchange and a deep sense of responsibility towards the communities it visits.
Manch fondly recalled the genesis of Intrepid Travel, which originated from his life-changing adventure across Africa in a converted rubbish truck with his friends, “We camped along the way, visited villages, and met the locals. All of this made us start thinking about a new way to travel – a way that put real experiences and interactions front and center and worked in step with local communities. We thought, hey, maybe other people might like to travel in a similar way. So, Darrell Wade (my co-founder) and I decided to give it a go, and we built Intrepid Travel on the foundations of cultural exchange and a sense of responsibility to the people and places we were visiting.”
This insight formed the foundation of Intrepid’s ethos and guided its evolution into a company that caters to people who aspire to be travelers, not mere tourists. In its first year, 47 travelers explored just one country – Thailand. From there, the company grew, and today its style of small-group, experience-rich travel is enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of travelers across all seven continents.
Manch summed up Intrepid Travel’s purpose and mission in a simple yet powerful statement, “We exist to create positive change through the joy of travel. That’s why we don’t want to be the best travel company in the world; we want to be the best travel company for the world.”
Over the years, Intrepid has continually evolved to be a better business. A notable example of this commitment is the transformation of their approach to tour leading. “The first Intrepid trips were hosted by mostly Western guides – including me! – who were parachuted into a destination. But we quickly recognized this didn’t align with the style of responsible travel we wanted to offer, so Intrepid became one of the first global companies to employ and train local guides to lead our trips. Having local people sharing their own country with travelers’ results in a far better experience for our customers and ensures tourism can have a more positive economic impact in local communities,” he added.
Manch highlighted Intrepid’s long-standing support for nonprofits, even during the company’s early stages when he and his co-founder were not yet drawing salaries. Recognizing the importance of working with local partners to address community needs effectively; they established the Intrepid Foundation in 2002. The foundation collaborates with on-the-ground teams to identify vital issues in local communities and selects appropriate local partners to address those challenges.
These projects are integrated into Intrepid’s trips, raising travelers’ awareness and encouraging support. “Our foundation has raised more than $AUD13.3 million for 136 organizations and social enterprises all over the world. Causes are as wide-ranging as reforestation in Kenya and Nepal (Eden Reforestation Projects) to supporting remote communities across the world access critical services and supplies through increased mobility (World Bicycle Relief),” Manch mentioned.
Sustainability has been a cornerstone of Intrepid’s journey, driven by a profound realization of the industry’s role in the climate emergency. Seventeen years ago, prompted by the book “The Weather Makers” by Tim Flannery, the leadership team embarked on a deep introspection. Manch recollected, “This made us think long and hard about the future of our industry – and our planet – and our responsibility to it. Because at the end of the day, as one of the most globalized industries in the world, we truly have a front row seat to the effects of the climate emergency.”
Intrepid became carbon-neutral in 2010, a pioneering move at the time. However, they soon recognized the need to do more, leading to hiring Dr. Susanne Etti, a climate scientist, to accelerate their decarbonization journey. In 2020, Intrepid became the first global tour operator with verifiable science-based emission reduction targets at the pace and scale that science tells us is necessary. Manch acknowledged, “This is just a small sample of our work to become a more climate-conscious business. We’re proud of our climate plan, but we know we still have a long way to go, and we’re also encouraged to see many more travel businesses starting to act on climate.”
Intrepid’s unique business structure, with local teams and offices worldwide, has been instrumental in cultivating a fairer and more authentic travel experience. By employing local staff and tour leaders who understand their respective countries intimately, Intrepid ensures that their trips truly reflect the local culture and address local issues. “We’re also committed to giving back to the communities we travel to by buying locally and investing in community projects. And the outcome isn’t just that we get to ‘feel good’ about ourselves. This is also good for business because the outcome is a better product (our trips). We attract staff and travelers because they support this concept of responsible business – they tell us that all the time,” Manch added.
He then further elaborated on the decision to seek B Corp certification, “Balancing purpose and profit has always underpinned our business model, but by seeking an independent certification, we knew we’d be held more accountable to the highest standards of responsible business than ever.” Becoming a certified B Corp meant subjecting themselves to rigorous independent evaluation and holding themselves to the highest standards of responsible business. Intrepid took their existing work to the next level by achieving B Corp status, ensuring accountability and continuous improvement. The results speak for themselves. “Within three years of being certified in 2018, we increased our score from 82.7 in 2018 to 91.2 in 2021. It’s more than numbers, but that’s 10% better for people, communities, and the planet,” he noted.
Among Intrepid’s recent initiatives, Manch expressed particular pride in their range of women’s expeditions. These expeditions were developed as part of the company’s broader objective to promote gender equity in travel. He explained, “Female tour guides lead these tours and provide women travelers a unique opportunity to experience the country they’re visiting through a female lens. Travelers visit places typically off-limits in mixed-gender groups in countries like Pakistan, Nepal and India, and these trips elevate female voices in the communities we visit. This range quickly became a bestseller – a testament to the demand for these kinds of products geared towards inclusivity.”
From its humble origins as a backpacker’s vision, Intrepid has grown into a global leader in sustainable tourism. The company’s commitment to creating positive change, supporting local communities, mitigating climate change, and fostering inclusivity sets a new standard for the travel industry.