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Darrell Wade, Intrepid Founder: Travel to change the world

With sustainable tourism fast climbing the travel and tourism agenda, we’re discussing the topic with travel industry leaders and change makers and asking them how they think we can #Traveltochangetheworld.

With sustainable tourism fast climbing the travel and tourism agenda, we’re discussing the topic with travel industry leaders and change makers and asking them how they think we can #Traveltochangetheworld.

In our latest ‘Travel to change the world’ interview, Darrell Wade, executive chair of Intrepid Travel Group, shares his thoughts and ideas on how we can all do our bit to sustain the industry and leave a legacy of goodness.


What was it that inspired you to join the travel industry?

Manch (left) Darrell (right)

I’d had two jobs prior to starting Intrepid and three extended periods of travelling. To be honest, I decided I liked travelling much more than I liked work! So I figured if I could start a business in travel I might be able to do more travel and less work, and that’s pretty much what happened!


What concerns you about the industry today in terms of its long-term viability?


On the one hand the future of our industry is extremely bright: people all over the world are travelling more than ever and see travel as a core part of their lifestyle.  This is not going to change.

For us at Intrepid it is even brighter because as people travel more, they get more demanding about what they want to do when they travel, and their demand of original, impacting experiences grows unabated. This is the space we’ve been in for more than 25 years and now have real capability in delivering experience-rich travel through our brands, but also on a B2B basis direct from our global network of DMC’s.

On the other hand though, I do worry about the environmental sustainability of our industry. The impacts of climate change are accelerating and the travel and tourism industry is not doing enough to respond in a systematic way – especially to reduce carbon emissions.

The industry has a vested interest for two reasons, apart from the moral imperative. Firstly carbon change puts at risk the very assets our industry sells: beaches, coral reefs and ski fields are all under that from global warming and rising sea levels.

Secondly as other industries respond and manage their carbon emissions in a systematic way, we are notable for our lack of action. I believe the industry has a real reputation risk as a result of this inaction – we may become a pariah industry the subject of significant negative media and NGO attention. 11 years ago Intrepid set out on a path to become carbon neutral and 7 years ago we achieved that goal. Sure there has been time and money involved in getting us there – but the reality is we are a 10 times bigger company than we were 10 years ago, so our actions have not come at the expense of growth!

If only others would see that responsibility and growth are not mutually exclusive.


Do you think travel can change the world?

AAMyanmar_Thanakha Application

Not only do I think travel can change the world, I think it is one of the few industries beyond education and health that can. Travel and tourism employ one in 10 people around the world, and account for 10% of global GDP – often more in developing countries. This directly leads to a transfer of wealth from wealthier countries to poorer ones – it’s like foreign aid but where the donors also literally get a holiday as a part of the deal!

Beyond the economic impacts, travel also builds cultural bridges between people. As we travel we meet people, learn of their ways and grow in our understanding.  We realise that while there are different faiths, cultures and lifestyles, people at the end of the day aren’t so very different from each other.  This understanding builds respect and peace.


Are you seeing positive change happening in the industry that you really admire?


In fact, there are many examples of positive change in our industry. I am a judge for the World Travel and Tourism Council’s Tourism for Tomorrow Awards, and last week we awarded the five winners for different categories out of over 200 applications. The breadth and depth of applications was extraordinary, as was the success and scale of some.  It’s also gratifying to see that travellers are increasingly choosing travel products that highlight positive change.

For example, last year our own Urban Adventures released a range of day tours that featured innovative social enterprises. In no time these In Focus trips have become some of the bestselling trips that we operate and we’re looking to expand the range considerably this year.  The traveller is getting a great product they clearly love, while marginalised communities and special interest groups get access to funds and a “mouthpiece” they wouldn’t otherwise.  Everyone wins!


What projects is Intrepid undertaking in this space?


A couple of years ago I did a course at Harvard University on the topic of Shared Value and this has really captivated me ever since. Essentially the idea is to look at a project or idea in the eyes of all stakeholders to ensure that everyone comes out a winner.

In our case those stakeholders might be a local community, perhaps an NGO, our business and of course of travellers.  One example we are working on at the moment is in Nepal, where we are working with a series of communities that currently get very little tourism and to be honest have few opportunities outside subsistence farming. The Australian government identified this area as one that would benefit from foreign aid. Meanwhile the WWF has identified the region as an important wildlife corridor for elephants and tigers.

The solution?  Taking a multi-stakeholder partnership approach, we are building a series of small lodges, walking trails and wildlife hides in conjunction with the local communities.

The result? We’re thrilled because we get to take our Intrepid groups to this area and offer them innovative new product that will give us a competitive advantage in the market. The community will get opportunities, employment and wealth they couldn’t possibly get access to otherwise.

The WWF will achieve their aim of environmental protection and species preservation, and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade fulfils its mission around poverty alleviation.  Meanwhile the traveller gets a great holiday! Everyone is a winner – that’s shared value.


What do you think is the biggest challenge the industry faces in terms of the issue of ’sustaining’ itself?


Climate change – no question!

If the world can’t keep global temperatures from increasing well under 2 degrees, then we have a very, very big problem on our hands. Every flight, every hotel room, every kilometre of transport adds to the problem and we just aren’t doing enough about it.

Do you think travel can change the world? Share your comments below.