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Exclusive with Intrepid’s CEO: How sustainability led to $350M in revenue for 2017

Daisy Doctor

Intrepid Group has gone from strength to strength in recent years, and yes, we know that phrase is completely cliche, but there’s really no other way to put it.

According to the latest figures, Intrepid’s revenue was up by 17 per cent to $350M in 2017, and the company’s charity, Intrepid Foundation, has now raised more than $5.6 million since it began in 2002.

James Thornton, who started as a sales manager at Intrepid in 2005 in London has climbed his way up the ranks and now finds himself at the helm of this rapidly growing company, and we sat down with him to find out what their secret recipe of success is.

Sadly, it was not excessive margaritas like we’d hoped.

Instead, it’s about putting in the hard yards and having a finger firmly on the pulse, especially with regards to tourism sustainability, one of the company’s biggest focuses.

Intrepid was the first tour company to ban elephant riding on tours and were one of the first to cull orphanage tourism from their offering.

As well as this, Intrepid became a ‘carbon-neutral’ company in 2010, meaning they counteract all emissions they put out through different environmental efforts.

For Thornton, the company really began making headway in the sustainability space when they split from TUI in 2015.

“We took our business back for two main reasons, one for sustainable rich travel and the second to really become ‘Purpose beyond profit’,” he said.

“We were primarily profit focused for a while, and when we broke away we were ready to change this.”

“As an independent company, we can make things happen very quickly. We’re still owned by original founders of Intrepid Travel,” he added.

As well as being able to have a quick turnaround on decision making, Thornton said the other luxury of independence is being free of constraints to speak out about “issues we strongly believe in”.

“During the course of 2017, we made a point of commenting on Trump’s travel ban, climate change and same-sex marriage, they’re things that some businesses would steer away from.”

“We take an alternative approach that as a strong purpose led company, we want to align ourselves as such.”

“We recognise not everyone will agree with what we think, but to be honest it’s completely conritbuted to our overall growth.”

“Some people believe taking strong views around sustainability and climate change could have a cost implication, people get concerned about short-term profitability, but what we find is that taking a long-term view around issues of purpose helps bring more customers.”

In August, the Intrepid Group announced that it was investing in Chimu Adventures, taking a 50 per cent stake in the company, with Polar charters a key priority for the partnership.

The deal which will make Chimu and Intrepid Group the largest seller of Antarctica trips in Australia and one of the largest globally, was funded through Intrepid’s cash reserves.

The year also saw Intrepid Group’s launch its first season of Adventure Cruising, with 94 per cent trip fill on charters giving the company confidence to expand the range in 2018; the opening of new destination management companies in Japan and Central America; day tour company Urban Adventures almost double its passenger numbers; as well as record levels of customer enjoyment.

“It’s become increasingly evident to us that having a Purpose Beyond Profit can actually be profitable,” said Thornton.

 “Growth is nice on its own, but it’s this sense of Purpose that has us excited about the future because it means the more we grow, the more we can do”.


Do you have something to say on this? Get in touch with Travel Weekly Editor Daisy Doctor here to share your thoughts. 

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