Intrepid Travel Focusing on a Renewed Nepal
Photos by Violet Baron
What do you get when you cross a classic, contained group tour with a freewheeling backpacker jaunt? Perhaps it’s a trip with Intrepid Travel, an adventure company that includes freedom of choice in its immersive itineraries.
This Australian-based company is the original arm of Intrepid Group, founded in 1989 by Geoffrey Manchester and Darrell Wade. Longtime budget travelers, Manchester and Wade sought a way for would-be world nomads to enjoy experiential travel without taking on the headache-inducing details such a far-flung trip requires. Now the leading global adventure travel company, Intrepid Group serves young travelers, retirees, family groups and die-hard adventurers with six tour operator brands. Groups are small, averaging about 10-12 people, to decrease the impact on the country.
Intrepid’s core standard is a commitment to responsible travel and sustainable tourism, and its nonprofit Intrepid Foundation makes this happen through support for local NGOs in its destinations. Accommodations and dining establishments are mostly locally owned and operated, while the majority of Intrepid staff is local to their destination. The company also prioritizes having minimal impact on an economy’s imports by using local transit systems and products.
This dedication to ethical travel is paired with the benefits of a package tour; organizational details like domestic flights, itineraries, and transportation are scheduled and in advance, plus most fees are included in the booking price.
This may be why Intrepid’s trips appeal to a “wide demographic,” according to Manchester; guests range from 12-80 years old, while the biggest group is 25-45 years old. Part of what attracts these travelers is the company’s original itinerary model: groups stay a day or two in each location in a nod to “slow travel,” and accommodations are comfortable but often minimal, keeping costs on budget and allowing the trip’s focus to stay on the destination.
Intrepid also packs in plenty of free time to allow guests to experience the place for themselves and customize their time spent dining, shopping and sightseeing. This middle ground approach means a guide may suggest sites or restaurants of interest for this free time, or may accompany guests for an impromptu hike or wander.
A main priority for the company right now is directing travelers back to Nepal after its magnitude 7.8 earthquake in April, and assuring them that it is safe — and advisable — to return.
Although those tourist regions hit hard by the quake are, in large part, back in business, reports of avalanches in the Everest trekking region and the collapse of many of Kathmandu’s cultural sites have been great challenges for a country that relies on tourism for a great deal of its economy.
By the beginning of the prime trekking region, from September to November, tourism had only returned to 50 percent of last year’s numbers, according to a local guide. As part of Intrepid’s Namaste Nepal campaign, all profits from Nepal trips between September 2015 and May 2016 will go toward the country’s efforts to rebuild and recover.
Intrepid offers tours in the Everest and Annapurna trekking regions, as well as in tourist hotspots like the tropical city of Pokhara, the ancient capital Kathmandu and Chitwan National Park, a jungle region still full of rare wildlife.
A recent visit to the Kathmandu-based NGO Seven Women demonstrated what might be most unique for a well-established tour company: the relaxed and honest tone that Intrepid has retained from its immersive origins. Conversations between tour guides, guests and NGO partners led to forthright discussions about Nepal’s political, social and economic challenges. Intrepid representatives discussed topics like limitations for women in Nepal, risks for children living in poverty, and the pervasive ways that caste still plays a role in Nepal’s government and social structure.
According to staff at Seven Women (which supports socially isolated women by teaching basic labor skills, literacy and numeracy and offering housing), the country’s culture is changing, due in part to Western influence through the media and the internet, and in part to its own progressive social movements. The average Nepali family size is shrinking, and traditional roles of children are transforming along with it. At the same time, while Nepalis are recognizing the value of giving women an education for families and for the country as a whole, the cultural shift is gradual even as the laws become progressive.
Manchester says these conversations inevitably happen on trips, when guests ask guides about challenges in the destinations and when itineraries include visits to NGOs that Intrepid supports. Intrepid’s commitment to supporting and improving life in its countries encourages these open conversations, and allows guests to learn the realities of the destinations they visit.
Intrepid trips include meals organized by the tour; in-country transport and flights; accommodation and visits to NGOs in Kathmandu that Intrepid supports. Commission is generally 10 percent for travel agents, except for preferred partner arrangement. The entire price of the trip is commissionable, not including flights.
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