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Intrepid Travel’s introduction of a premium product in 2020 has led not only to an increase in sales but to closer relationships with travel advisors, according to Matt Berna, president and managing director, the Americas.
And while the global tour operator has made changes to its product in the last few years, including the growth of Intrepid Premium to 30 percent of its business and increasing, all the changes at the company, he said, revolve around “the rise of the conscious traveler who is aware that a trip has impact, who is culturally aware and who is climate aware.” The “conscious traveler” approach seems to be working as revenues are 80 percent higher than in 2019 with no signs of slowing down. The operator, said Berna, is proud to be the largest adventure travel B Corporation, a third-party accreditation that considers issues like employee rights, paying fair wages, paying local taxes and generally achieving a rigorously high standard of business operations. And continuing with its “travel with purpose” mission said Berna, the marketing message revolves around the idea of “good” travel–good for the environment and good for people–“good in the best sense of the word,” he said. With the introduction of the higher-end tours–what Berna calls “four-star experiences at a three-star price”–Intrepid’s customer base has grown and evolved, now appealing to a large market segment between 60 and 70 years old–complementing its traditional 25-35-year-old demographic.
Aside from providing a higher level of accommodation, the most experienced local leaders and more immersive experiences, said Berna, these trips also provide private or first-class local transportation and have “perfectly paced itineraries.” However, one thing that remains the same is the small group size of 8-10 with a maximum of 12.
Also trending for the operator are lesser-known destinations with new excursions to Comoros (Comoros Wildlife Expedition) in Africa, Pakistan (Women’s Expedition and Hiking Expedition), Timor-Leste (a new Asian nation), Albania and the Great Inca Road in Peru. Not only is the company going to less visited places but also venturing to less crowded areas within highly trafficked destinations like the Amalfi coast–aiming to spread out travel spending into different communities.
And Intrepid has added many women’s only and women-led expeditions, including to countries like Morocco, Pakistan, Iran, Nepal, Peru and India, places that are ordinarily off limits for women on regular group departures. These programs provide local women employment through locally-led experiences while also supporting women-owned and operated businesses.
Matt Berna, Intrepid Travel. (Photo Credit: Intrepid Travel)
The U.S., said Berna, is the company’s fastest-growing market, as Americans seek a more immersive style of travel with more meaningful and sustainable experiences.
The operator works to hold on to both its older and younger clients by being “really welcoming.” Part of that is having a “truly vertical” structure with 27 offices around the world, operating about 1,000 itineraries in over 120 countries. In fact, said Berna, during the pandemic, Intrepid kept many of its employees on the payroll with reduced hours rather than shutting down entirely.
Recognizing consumer trends coming out of the pandemic, Intrepid is offering more trips led by people of color and indigenous people. For instance, a Gullah Geechee trip to South Carolina employs local suppliers and uses black-owned businesses, including restaurants, hotels and transportation.
With the growth of more active travel, said Berna, Intrepid Premium will be moving into other trip styles–like walking and cycling. “There is definitely an older, more active traveler who has time and money,” he says.
The success of Intrepid Premium has allowed the operator to be more active in working with travel advisors, including being part of more consortia. Already a member of Virtuoso, the company joined Ensemble last year and is also now affiliated with Travel Leaders Network. In addition, there is now a significant partnership with AAA.
As a result, year-to-date industry sales in the U.S. are up 63 percent from 2022 and 76 percent from 2019. The operator has expanded its North American partnerships team from one to four people since September 2022, to be able to better handle the increased demand and needs of agency partners.
Intrepid currently has a Specialist Program where advisors can watch pre-recorded training and receive an Intrepid Specialist certificate, which will be getting a refresh this year. Additionally, there are plans for a separate Intrepid Polar Specialist certification. There is also a planned overhaul of the Advisor Resource Center with more updated and relevant training and content coming over the next few months.
The premium product creates opportunities for higher commissions, said Berna, and advisors are eligible for 50 percent off any trip. The operator, he said, is also thinking of selling air and other peripheries to make transactions more user-friendly. Airport transfers and travel insurance will be available through the website soon.
While advisors had always seen the company as a youth or adventure supplier, said Berna, "they now see the great value of a product that competes with luxury brands but at half the price."
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Harvey Chipkin is a freelance writer for TravelPulse and AGENT@HOME magazine.
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