Intrepid Group has decided to stop sending its customers to child orphanages and vowed to increase the number of female tour leaders on its itineraries.
New chief executive James Thornton has signed-off the changes after his promotion from managing director saying it reaffirms the company’s position as having a “purpose behind profitability”.
Intrepid Group, the parent of Intrepid Travel, has looked into the issue of child orphanages, and says travellers visiting or volunteering can perpetuate a system in which it claims children are separated from parents and, in some cases, abused.
Thornton told Travel Weekly: “We believe in long-term innovation and changing the way people see the world.
“The way I think about it is that you wouldn’t go to an orphanage in the UK, Australia or the US, so we shouldn’t be doing it in other countries where there’s more deprivation.
Thornton referred to research by organisations such as UNICEF which shows that as many as 80% of ‘orphans’ have a living relative and that being in an orphanage significantly increases the chances of children in need ending up involved in crime or prostitution.
“We should focus our efforts on helping the families in those situations,” he added, and urged other tour operators to follow suit and the industry to join Intrepid in taking a stance led by the group’s not-for-profit arm the Intrepid Foundation.
Thornton also vowed to double the number of female tour leaders on Intrepid’s books by 2020.
He said: “Currently, 65 of our office staff are female, 65% of our travellers are female but only 21% of our tour leaders are female.”
He said this was in part because of social customs in some countries where the woman’s role is considered more as a home-maker rather than bread winner.
“We want to create more opportunities for females to be tour leaders on the ground.”
He used the example of when Intrepid became the first tour operator to ban elephant rides as a commercial risk but said it has instead set a benchmark in the industry.
“It could’ve been a commercially bad decision,” he said. “Especially when 40% of our business is in South East Asia, but you have to be brave. Now, it’s socially unacceptable to go on elephant rides.
“We want to prove that business can be a power for good. That taking a stance can lead to real change.”
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