Urban Adventures general manager Tony Carne says he has been blown away by the positive impact and popularity of the operator’s recently introduced In Focus tours.
The Intrepid brand introduced the new experiences which see it collaborate with social enterprises, NGOs and not-for-profits in January 2016.
Although UA, now seven years old, has always incorporated the idea of responsible travel, the In Focus offering represents a “real concerted effort” to incorporate some more “focused” product as part of that philosophy, Carne explained.
“In our opinion, a lot of those businesses were involved in some of the best stories that could be told in the cities in which they were working – hyper local positive message stories with people trying to make a difference,” he said.
“We wanted to help those guys tell those stories to a new audience, to create an alternative revenue stream for their projects and move them away from having to rely on charity.”
Projects include a collaboration with NGO One Horizon in Kenya which creates community spaces for marginalised people on the outskirts of Nairobi where a variety of programs aim to break them out of a cycle of poverty.
Groups of grandmothers are given assistance to start a small piggery or hatchery within their communities. As part of the program, UA takes its customers to a market to buy piglets or chicks, then takes them into the community where they meet the grandmothers and have some lunch with them.
Eventually, the operation develops to the point that it no longer needs that help and support, creating similar opportunities for the next “pod” of grandmothers.
In Bangalore in India, UA is working with another NGO which is helping people move from kerosene lighting to solar lighting.
The feedback from travellers shows they “really appreciate” these types of “amazingly positive” experiences, Carne revealed.
“I backpacked around in the mid-90s and I always liked to get off the beaten track and meet people wherever I went,” he said.
“But it’s getting increasingly difficult to have those really genuinely authentic experiences where people take you into their home and there’s a lot of trust there – through these programs, travellers are able to have those experiences again.”
The travel industry has also been “super supportive” of the fledgling range, according to Carne – from retail chains like Flight Centre to online players like Viatour.
“Everyone who reads about the tours is blown away by the content and can see the travel value to their customers,” he said.
“Even though at first glance, you might not think they’re going to be huge sellers.”
Next on the cards is the expansion of the range and a decision on whether to keep discounting these itineraries for UA customers to continue growing interest in them, or to start reaping a profit from them in order to invest more funds into the range. Conversations with its partners will also help the brand determine whether the itineraries are effective or are actually more disruptive to their operations.
“The last thing we want is for these efforts to be more work and to takeaway from their core mission,” Carne said.
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