TD Conversations: Peter J. Bates in conversation with Darrell Wade, Chairman & Co-founder, Intrepid Group

He shares his learnings from starting up and being at the helm of one of the world’s largest and most respected providers of small-group travel experiences.

The Intrepid Group is known as largest small group adventure travel company in the world. It offers more than 1,000 escorted tours worldwide, including everything from vegan tours to virtual experiences. The Melbourne-based Darrell Wade, one of the company’s co-founders, spearheaded Intrepid’s journey to becoming a leader in sustainable experience-rich travel.

The company’s CEO for more than 20 years, he has seen the business grow and the tourist profile change. The man, who started Intrepid with his college mate Geoff Manchester, in 1989, admits, “When we started, we thought it would be young travellers. They were, but they grew up and many have travelled 40-50 times with us. Today, the age-range, gender, nationality has diversified enormously.”

Intrepid, travel. Morocco
Wade believes that the ideal Intrepid traveller, doesn’t fit into any demographic, but is of a typical state of mind. “Travellers who are after certain things in life. Those who are after more experiences, more involvement in the destination, who want to learn, meet people, be social, have fun, but, at the same time, be respectful to the destination. We just have to curate the brand around the set of values as a business and attract the right people that those values resonate with,” he avers. Image: Courtesy Intrepid Travel.

He speaks about the last 17 months and how Intrepid has worked behind the scenes, boosting the team’s morale, staying in touch with their customer base without overwhelming them with too much content, carrying out dipstick surveys to gauge engagement, and doubling down on their sustainability efforts.

Heading a company that has been a carbon neutral business since 2010, despite operating in an industry that is terribly carbon intensive, Wade discusses the importance of pushing sustainability in his role as Vice Chairman of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). The global organisation has almost 180 members from multi-billion-dollar companies, of which 40 members are already specifically engaged with climate change experts to not just decarbonise, but also eliminate plastics, etc as well. The goal is for the travel industry to be carbon net zero by 2050 but to also set interim targets for 2030.

Speaking of upcoming travel trends, Wade says, “Domestic and regional travel will arguably be higher than they’ve ever been before.” He gives the example of their US business, which is actually higher than it was in 2019. “So, it’s not a New Yorker going to Kenya but exploring Utah instead,” he explains. He believes that travel companies that have the ability to flex their product mix will do okay. Reinvention is key and Intrepid, which has undergone a digital transformation in recent times, is certainly riding the wave.

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