Last updated: 10:30 AM ET, Fri January 13 2017

Strong Growth Brings Intrepid Travel Back to USTOA

Tour Operator David Cogswell January 13, 2017

Strong Growth Brings Intrepid Travel Back to USTOA

Small ship cruising among the Greek Islands on the Galileo. (photo courtesy of Intrepid Travel)

Intrepid Travel, the small group tour operator originally based in Melbourne, Australia, has re-joined U.S. Tour Operator Association after an absence of 18 months.

The company had previously been part of the tour operator trade association through its strategic partnership with TUI Travel. But a through a reorganization of Tui in July 2015, the joint venture Peak Adventures Travel was dissolved and Intrepid went off on its own.

Now after experiencing the strongest year in its history last year, Intrepid Travel has come roaring back to rejoin the elite tour operator association, which requires each tour operator member place a $1 million bond with the organization as proof of its financial strength.

Each active member of the association becomes part of the USTOA $1 Million Dollar Travelers Assistance program, which helps to bolster its reputation for reliability in the eyes of consumers.

Joining USTOA is part of the company’s larger efforts to “double down” on its entry into the U.S. market. The USTOA logo not only helps to bolster the brand, membership in the association brings the strength of many networking and marketing opportunities.

A period of strong, sustained growth has brought the company back to USTOA.

Growth: Long, Strong and Varied

Intrepid markets a portfolio of adventure travel brands, including its flagship brand Intrepid Travel, as well as Peregrine Adventures, Geckos Adventures and 17 destination management companies.

The company has seen 20 percent growth rates year over year internationally for each of the last two years, according to Leigh Barnes, the regional director of Intrepid Group, based in Toronto and Petaluma, Calif.

The company has been in business about 27 years and entered the U.S. market more than 10 years ago. The company now moves 300,000 travelers a year on tours to more than 100 countries.

Known for its more adventurous trips to exotic destinations, such as trekking in Nepal, the company also offers trips to more mainstream destinations, such as Western Europe, culinary-focused trips to Italy, cultural tours to Canada, Vietnam and Mexico.

Market Trends

Among Intrepid’s strongest areas of growth are its culinary tours, which are growing at 40 percent year over year in the American market, stronger than the company in general. The company now offers 33 food adventures and demand continues to rise.

For 2017, the company is augmenting its selection of food adventures with a new Real Food Adventure to South Korea and one to Portugal.

“We’re going to see that brand continue to grow and keep adding new products,” said Barnes. “Food, across the board, is a travel trend we will continue to see on the way up.”  

The company expects Canada to be especially popular in 2017, during the country’s 150th anniversary as a country.

Another big trend for Intrepid is through its Peregrine Adventures brand, a series of premium adventures, which has launched a series of small ship adventure cruising programs.

“We’ve got 10 new small ship itineraries visiting places like Croatia, Cuba, Iceland and the Greek Islands,” said Barnes. “This is a providing a very sustainable way of cruising. All of our trips are carbon offset, and we’re really focusing on providing that sustainable component to cruising.”

Intrepid is also seeing strong growth in demand for travel to Cuba, especially from the U.S. market.

“Another big focus of Intrepid Travel is our Purpose Beyond Profit, focusing on responsible travel and projects that will really drive change,” said Barnes. “In December we ran a Travel for Good campaign where 10 percent of our profits went back into projects. We raised more than $150,000 in December that went to a range of projects. That will continue to be a big focus for us. We’re going to continue to look at ways to help people travel responsibly, and also find projects and ways to help make the world a better place.”

Intrepid is also seeing strong growth in its Geckos Adventure brand, which targets the millennial generation, ages 18 through 29. The company is developing new programs, such as African safaris priced under $1,000.

Solo travel is also increasing, with a 40 percent increase year over year. “We’re seeing more people who want to travel and see the world by themselves or within a group,” said Barnes.

“Having that sweep of brands is really good for our customers,” said Barnes. “There’s a brand and a style of travel for everyone.”