Stories of Conscious Business: Spotlight on Intrepid Travel

Photo Credits: Intrepid Travel

Why and how did you become a ‘Conscious’ business? And tell us about your journey to becoming a certified BCorp?

Since its very early days, Intrepid Travel has promoted and offered a responsible style of travel, which we describe as sustainable experience-rich travel. A responsible approach was always important to us and as we grew, it became even more important.

Over the past 15 years we continued to increase our commitment to responsible business activities – for instance, we became a carbon neutral business in 2010, and in 2014 we became the first tour operator to cease offering elephant rides.

Becoming a B Corp was the natural next step for us and we wanted to do it for many reasons. These included obtaining external and independent endorsement that what we do actually is good for the world. We also wanted to protect Intrepid’s mission for the long term, engage our people and become part of a global movement around business being a force for good.

We became a certified B Corp in 2018 after satisfying a rigorous accreditation process that assessed our governance and disclosure, our employment practices, community engagement, environmental practices and stakeholder impact.

The process took three years, which seems like a long time. But we have many businesses in different countries around the world, which meant we effectively undertook the accreditation process 23 times! Our certification meant we also became the first accredited B Corp in Cambodia, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.

What is your business purpose?

Our Purpose is to give our travellers the


How do you instill this purpose through the business, internally and externally?

Our purpose is much more focused internally than externally. Our people learn Intrepid’s history, our Vision, Purpose and Values, they experience our culture and they see the appreciation our travellers have for the trips we operate. They want to be part of this and do their part to ensure we continue to achieve our purpose.

The company is very transparent in communications with staff and we empower them with a high level of personal responsibility and offer opportunities for development.

Externally, our vision is to Change the Way People See the World. We truly believe that travel can positively benefit humanity. This drives our ethical, responsible approach to exploring the planet.

We try to ensure everyone benefits from tourism, including local communities. On an Intrepid trip travellers are guided by a local leader who is from that country or city and they will eat at neighbourhood restaurants, stay in small locally owned hotels and visit projects that give back to communities. We also minimise our environmental footprint in various ways, including carbon offsetting all trips.

Why should businesses be a force for good?

Capitalism has allowed business to become hugely successful and influential on our way of life. Corporations are an important part of our society and, as such, should be responsible members of society, not be in a position to just ‘take’ from us and take from the world we live in.

Business needs to contribute to the long-term sustainability of our society, our resources and the environment. Being a ‘force for good’ is not actually detrimental to business. In fact, it improves the way a business operates in many ways and makes the business more successful in the longer term.

At Intrepid, we’ve seen that being a responsible business and has actually helped us grow in every aspect of business, including financially.

BCorp and Conscious Capitalism both stand for a shift from shareholder capitalism to stakeholder capitalism. How do you bring this ethos alive in your business?

Stakeholder capitalism is about ensuring that all stakeholders in a business benefit from the business’ activities. This means considering each of these groups, setting goals for improving the benefit they receive from doing business with you and then, importantly, measuring performance. One of the ways we report on our performance is via our integrated annual report, which provides a transparent view of all aspects of our business.

We are also a member of UN Global Compact and we’ve adopted eight sustainable development goals (SDGs) that are relevant to our business. We work to contribute, not to diminish, their wealth and value.

As a B Corp, we balance profit and purpose. Tools like the integrated annual report are useful ways to ensure we get the balance right and on a practical level we do a lot to ensure we’re living this stakeholder ethos.

We invest in our people, such as through offering access to training that they need to fulfill their job role. We also provide opportunities for them to broaden their skills to enable them to move into new roles – we have many senior people who have progressed through a number of different roles over the years.

Another stakeholder is the communities that we visit on trips and we have a dedicated responsible business team that considers communities, wildlife and more. An example of where we lived our ethos is the stand we took on orphanage tourism. After studying the implications of orphanage tourism, we understood that it is a form of slavery and is not something we wanted to support. We now work with other organisations to raise awareness about orphanage tourism.

Our customers, of course, are a stakeholder group that naturally warrants plenty of attention. We want to give them the best possible value not only during a trip but in all their interactions with Intrepid. We want them to be safe and secure, to have unique experiences and to come away with a better understanding of the place and people that they visited. Our customers also told us that they wanted to give back to the countries they visited, so to support that we set up our not-for-profit arm in 2002. We cover all administration costs to ensure donations go back to communities.

Do you ever experience a “mission-market tension”? How do you navigate this? And what advice do you have for others facing the same?

For us, there is not a zero-sum game between purpose and profit. Time after time, purposeful activities lead to building the brand, increasing sales and improving profitability. Remember that any sales or marketing activity also has a risk of not contributing to profitability and/or can have a delayed benefit. Sometimes expenditure or effort around purpose may have a delayed financial benefit, but would still be building your brand. In our experience, our purposeful activities virtually always result in a financial benefit, especially in the long run.

What are you working on or most proud of?

Intrepid has become the world’s largest adventure travel tour operator. In 2019 more than 460,000 travellers experienced our style of sustainable, experience-rich travel. I’m proud that so many people have experienced what we set out to achieve in 1989 – that is unique trips and experiences that give back to the local communities, places and the planet.

What was the journey to BCorp certification like? Any words of advice?

The journey to B Corp certification is enlightening as it exposes a number of ways that your business can be improved. Some can be done immediately, others may take a year or two, and some will take a longer.

My advice is don’t try to improve every facet of the assessment immediately – identify the low-hanging fruit, the easiest changes to implement. B Corp certification is not about a one-off accreditation. It enables a long-term approach of continuous improvement, which you can plan and implement to suit your business and the times.

What would you say to other businesses who want to become a BCorp?

I would encourage others to go through the assessment process, whether or not you believe you can achieve certification. You will find the process is inherently valuable and will assist you to improve the way in which you operate.

If you do commit to the certification process, you will need to dedicate some resources to it. This investment will be repaid many times as the B Corp certification becomes more well known. Your people will be more proud to work for you and your customers will be more engaged. In fact, all your stakeholders will benefit.

What is your future focus as a BCorp and Conscious Capitalist? What goals have you set for your business for the coming short term and long term? And how are you planning to get there?

The Covid-19 crisis is having a deep impact on the travel industry, so in the short-term our goals are about survival of the business and ensuring our people’s well being.

We know that international travel will not recover for six to 12 months, so we have a dual strategy involving putting some parts of the business into hibernation mode, while innovating with new products – our Closer to Home trips.

This is a range of trips on which our customers can travel within their own country or region. While travellers might not need a long-haul flight or get a visa for these trips, they still feature all the things that are important to us, including insider knowledge and guidance from a local, support for local communities and access to experiences you can’t have on your own.

Despite the challenges of Covid-19, we are still thinking about the long term and acting to ensure we are good for the world.

Intrepid has been carbon neutral since 2010 and in the future we aim to become ‘carbon positive’. We also helped to fund the production of the documentary 2040 (if you haven’t seen it yet, you must), which features technologies that are available now that help with limiting global warming. One project that is featured in the film is an innovative marine permaculture pilot off the coast of Tasmania that regenerates seaweed. Seaweed is very efficient in absorbing carbon and helps to re-establish marine ecosystems. The Intrepid Foundation is supporting this research, in partnership with the University of Tasmania and The Climate Foundation.

And in July, we published our Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), which has been endorsed by Reconciliation Australia, This outlines the actions we will take to reduce inequalities between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. As an Australian business, this is very important to us and our RAP will guide us over the next two years.

The theme for BCorp month is “Better Together for a Better World”. What do you see as the opportunity for businesses to “build back better” in a post-COVID world? And what collaborations could help achieve it?

The Thomas Friedman (economist) dogma around businesses existing to maximise their profit has done huge damage to our society and is now losing credibility. Business needs to understand that it is part of society and must contribute positively. This is best done by considering all stakeholders.

Perhaps this crisis will make businesses and their people realise that they need to take a holistic approach and that being orientated towards all stakeholders does not damage business performance. Aligning yourself with organisations like B Corp, which help reframe your approach, can, in fact, help your business perform better.

BCorps aim to be best for the world, not just best in the world. Tell us how this inspires and shapes your business. Do you have a story or case study that shows this?

Almost a decade ago, our not-for-profit arm, The Intrepid Foundation funded research with the NGO World Animal Protection (WAP) to study the use of animals in tourism in Asia. As a result,Intrepid decided to stop offering elephant riding on our trips. (There are many reasons for this).

Subsequent campaigns by Intrepid and WAP have convinced about 250 other tour operators to also cease offering elephant riding. As a result there is increased awareness of the negative aspects of not only elephant riding, but also the unnecessary use of all wild animals in tourism.

In addition, there is a growing industry of elephant ‘free-range’ sanctuaries that enable elephants to be protected, to live freely and not be abused, while tourists are able to observe them from close quarters but without physical interaction.

What has been most helpful for moving the conscious dial in your business?

Being a conscious business is now part of the DNA of Intrepid. However, any business can improve how it operates. For us, it is all about transparent communication. Having our people understand our purpose and our vision and why we have the responsible business approach that we do, enables them to carry out their roles to the standard the company would expect and it also gives them the confidence that they can call us out on any missteps or suggest where we could do better.

An example is an employee who identified as LBGTQI+, who had the confidence to show us that our practices were not adequate and lead us into having better policies and to train our people to improve their understanding of the issues.

Anything else you’d like to add?

All businesses need to identify why they exist. What is your purpose? Not just your ‘core purpose’, which is why you come to work each day. What’s your ‘higher purpose’? What do you want to contribute to the world? For Intrepid it is ‘To Change the Way People See the World’. That higher purpose will enable you to see beyond short-term profit and find a pathway to doing good for the world.