Ahead of the trend: World Expeditions’ CEO discusses over-tourism, thriving itineraries and respectful travel

Ahead of the trend: World Expeditions’ CEO discusses over-tourism, thriving itineraries and respectful travel

Nestled on the back of a bus on the way to the first e-biking tour of the Blue Mountains, Travel Weekly got the chance to have a chat with the CEO of World Expeditions, Sue Badyari.

Badyari, an industry veteran with a passion for responsible travel, has decades of experience that have moulded her philosophy on responsibly operating a travel company. From fostering connections with great clients and agents to avoiding over-tourism, she takes a strong stance in crafting a respectful relationship between the traveller, destination and experience.

From discovering new spots for exploration to connecting with the land, Badyari ensures World Expeditions prioritises the notion of authentic travel and crafts journeys to benefit local communities.

Sue Badyari (front) and hikers in Blue Mountains (Credit: Mike Ellott)

So with this philosophy guiding the industry vet, Badyari joined us to shed some light on sustainability, changing demographics of travellers, her own favourite itinerary and so much more.

First of all, we wanted to know what’s back on the menu for World Expeditions in the current world of travel.

“Overseas, Europe, Japan, Nepal!” Badyari told Travel Weekly.

“They’re the big ones at the moment. We’re seeing a slower burn with some of the more traditionally ‘out-there’ destinations like South America, which has obviously had issues with Peru. But it is coming back.”

Other spots hitting the ground running (or hiking, depending on the traveller’s preference) are the ‘Stan’ areas, which were very popular prior to the onset of COVID, and Georgia and Armenia, while Asia and Africa are taking a bit longer than expected.

When asked a bit further about Japan, which has boomed among Aussie tour groups and wholesalers, Badyari said the active walking trips had seen immense growth.

“The Nakasendo hikes, the Kumana Kodo hikes, the Backroads of Japan trip, they are all just sell-outs and a lot of self-guided travellers are wanting to do those hiking trips; they’ve really flourished this year as well,” she said.

Nakasendo trail (iStock/visualspace)

And they’ve flourished equally among direct and agent sales, the latter of which has seen Europe fly in droves. There has been quite the return of agent sales, Badyari said, and she praised the clients who returned not only to World Expeditions but travellers who went back through their agents and used travel credits.

Switching gears to sustainability, Badyari highlighted World Expeditions’ commitment to positive change through its pillars for regenerative travel. The goal of World Expeditions is to have regenerative programs operating in every region by 2030, with the aim of leaving a positive impact on the world and minimising their environmental footprint.

“We obviously want to do good in the world and make sure that we have a light footprint, but we want to take as many steps forward and leave them placed in a better situation,” Badyari said.

And leaving these spots in a better place is incredibly important for Australian destinations that have millions of years of extraordinary history behind them; namely, Badyari’s personal favourite – The Larapinta Trail.

“I love the Larapinta,” Badyari told Travel Weekly.

“(I love) the big skies out there (and) walking along the ancient West MacDonnell Ranges that’s a 45-million-years-old mountain range that was once under the sea. On top of this mountain range you find fossils that have come from the sea which shows the age of it.

Ellery Creek Big Hole waterhole in West MacDonnell Ranges (iStock/bennymarty)

“There’s something really spiritual about the centre of Australia in the Larapinta.”

It’s not just Badyari with a taste for The Larapinta, as it’s become one of World Expeditions’ signature domestic walks. It completely sold out last year and the wholesaler is running four departures on the trail every week between April and October, with the trips filling fast.

The wholesaler’s tours find themselves filling fast due to its 37 per cent repeat customer rate and Badyari’s leading philosophy of a pioneering spirit that draws customers back.

“We’re often the ones to broker itineraries for the first time,” Badyari said.

“With that comes a real sense of responsibility because when you go into an emerging area, you’re coming in touch with new cultures or environments that really haven’t had any tourism, we try and keep them secret for as long as possible.

“We don’t do that because of commercial pressure. It’s because we also want to be part of the sustainability environment.”

Badyari continued: “The reason (customers) do come to our system is because they know they’re going to get itineraries that are new and cutting edge, and they’re not cookie cutter. They’re not following what everyone else is doing and they don’t contribute to over-tourism.”

Elaborating on over-tourism, Badyari highlighted the concern that she has for the issue, both as a traveller and an industry stalwart.

Badyari trekking through Mont Blanc, Italy (Supplied)

“Just in terms of the sheer numbers of people in any one destination – it changes the face of that place,” Badyari said.

“In some cases, it’s going to have really positive impacts. But in other cases, it’s going to have really negative impacts. It’s understanding where that tipping point is.”

A particular impact of over-tourism Badyari highlighted was the westernisation of a destination that can remove the individual character of a spot as it tries to meet the requirements of Western travellers.

“(The destinations) then start westernising and I think it’s a really important issue today in tourism that we must lean into these cultures and tell them that they should be the pinup for Western culture, not the other way around. We do not want the world to become a monoculture.

“As a tourism industry, we need to really champion that change of not aspiring to Western cultures and values but retaining their own.

“It’s about recognising what destinations need and not what tourists want. 

“So ultimately, that really drives a lot of our decision-making about new itineraries, because, we’ll know that there’s a great adventure to be had out there. We know the positive impact because no one’s out there. If we do it in a really respectful and light way, it means that it’s going to be a win-win for everybody.”

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