Special Report: Intrepid aims to tap into experiential travel demand

Special Report: Intrepid aims to tap into experiential travel demand

Adventure operator reveals ambition to double size of its UK business over the next three years under new regional director Aaron Hockling. Ben Ireland reports

Intrepid Travel is aiming to double the size of its UK business in the next three years as customers “move away from package holidays and demand more experiential travel”.

The adventure and small-groups operator has seen record growth in the last two years, with 2017 sales 17% up on 2016.

The operator recently restructured its senior team. Aaron Hocking stepped into the role of regional director for the EMEA region in March as predecessor Michael Edwards switched to the newly-created position of chief growth officer.

“We are a pretty big business now,” Edwards said. “We believe we are easily the biggest [adventure operator] globally.”

Intrepid said it carries 350,000 customers a year globally. It declined to reveal UK passenger numbers but said the market accounted for “25% and growing” of its total revenue.

“Customers are demanding more experiential travel and because we’ve been doing the hard work on the ground it’s worked out really well,” he added.

Edwards put the growth down to the trend among independent agents focusing on complex trips rather than package holidays.

“Talking about meaningful trips helps agents add value,” he said, adding that the trade accounts for about 50% of sales – a split Intrepid is “comfortable” with.

In his new role, Hocking plans to meet as many agents as he can and has guaranteed a “strong” fam trip programme.

He will lead a team of five business development managers and two dedicated UK marketers.

Hocking has spent the last five years at Intrepid based in Australia in a contracting role for the Asia-Pacific region before moving into destination management.

“Australia has similarities and we will look to find product gaps and ways to evolve,” Hocking said.

Operator plans to court mainstream holidaymakers

Intrepid Travel is aiming to woo customers away from the mainstream holiday market and welcomes competition from within the adventure sector.

The operator, a member of the Association of Touring & Adventure Suppliers (Atas), believes adventure can replicate the cruise sector by competing against mainstream holidays rather than rival small‑group operators.

Chief growth officer Michael Edwards said: “Adventure tourism is experience-rich travel, and that’s why it has grown massively in recent years. You need strong competitors to help you raise awareness. Where you win is on your product, price and innovation.

“I welcome things like Atas for that reason. It’s putting what we do in front of agents, which is something a single company can’t do on its own.

“Our competitors are anyone who flogs mainstream holidays. Their customers are missing out on experiential holidays.

“We don’t want to become mainstream but we want to appeal to that market.”

‘We have a duty to travel sustainably’

Small-group operators have a responsibility to grow sustainably to help combat overtourism, says Intrepid’s Michael Edwards.

The operator’s chief growth officer said: “There’s a point where what you do as an operator benefits the community, and there’s a point where it starts to impinge. We should travel sustainably, not putting mass tourism through communities.”

Aaron Hocking, Intrepid’s new regional director for the EMEA region, said community-based tourism can be a force for good.

In Peru’s Sacred Valley, Intrepid helped set up a firm that makes and sells local food while teaching tourists about Incan history.

“We help create jobs and then step away,” he said. “We vet businesses to make sure they are setting up sustainably. People often tell us these things are the biggest highlights of their trip.”

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