'Intrepid' operator sets sights on U.S. market

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NEW YORK -- Australian tour operator Intrepid Travel plans to plant both feet in U.S. soil next month.

The Melbourne-based Asia specialist has had one foot in the U.S. market for about a dozen years, selling its Intrepid Small Group Adventures through Emeryville, Calif.-based Adventure Center under that firm's brand.

"Twenty percent of our customers are American without us doing any marketing, so we thought we should see how well we do if we market ourselves here," said Sally Johnson, Intrepid's marketing manager.

The operator will open its first U.S. office in Torrance, Calif., on Jan. 2.

Intrepid Travel was founded in 1989 by two Aussies, Darrell Wade and Geoff Manchester, who still head it.

According to company legend, the idea for the company hatched as Wade and Manchester were walking across the Sahara Desert with a group of friends they had organized for travel to Africa.

"They decided, 'We can do this' " said Jen Bird, international marketing manager of Intrepid.

The Grand Palace Temple in Bangkok manifests a mixture of Asian and European architecture. Their first destinations were Thailand and Turkey, but Turkey soon was dropped, and they began to expand their base in Southeast Asia.

Today, Intrepid operates trips to 19 countries, having expanded as far as India, Russia, Japan, the "stans" of Central Asia, Mongolia, Nepal and Tibet. This year the company initiated programs to Egypt and is considering re-entering Turkey.

What sets Intrepid apart?

"Real life experiences, without the hassle," Johnson said. "With us, you can get to the heart of a country. You come face-to-face with it.

"You travel with like-minded people who also want to get beyond the surface of things. We are very honest with people about what we offer. That's how we attract like-minded people."

Co-founder Darrell Wade said the company was founded "with a passion to get travelers off the beaten path in Asia."

"We wanted to develop a style of travel that was altogether different, where, as travelers, we became a part of a country and not just tourists looking in," he said.

Johnson said the company keeps its profit margin low, which results in a good value for the money.

For example, a 14-night China trip with 10 nights in hotels, two on a boat on the Yangtze and two on a train is priced $1,100 for the land portion. No meals are included. The cost of meals is estimated to total $225.

See www.intrepidtravel.com for the complete product listing. After January, travel agents can call Intrepid Travel's reservations number at (866) 944-3900. Until January, tours still can be booked through Adventure Center at (800) 228-8747.

Intrepid: Six degrees of exploration

NEW YORK -- Intrepid offers six styles of travel, beginning with its primary product, the Intrepid Original, which offers a variety of destinations, activities, modes of transportation, social interaction with the locals and plenty of free time for exploration.

The company has expanded its product range with five alternative styles, including:

• Intrepid Premium, which includes a higher standard of accommodations and more inclusions.

• Intrepid Independent, the company's independent package product.

• Exploratory Adventures, for the "hard core" of expedition travelers who want to go to the edge and experience the unexpected at every turn.

• Roam Basix, a no-frills travel package with the security of a group tour leader. These tours were originally for the 18- to 35-year-old group but now are open to all ages.

• Oxfam Journeys, trips taken in concert with Oxfam, a humanitarian organization. Some of the revenue from each Oxfam tour is donated to Oxfam, according to Sally Johnson, Intrepid's marketing manager.

And every traveler gets to participate in some of the organization's community development projects. Some of the projects in the past included the building of schools and wells. -- D.C.

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