The travel industry has seen a rise in the interest in close-to-home travel amid the Covid-19 pandemic, a fact that isn't lost on Intrepid Travel.
The company, which has reported a 747% increase in bookings for domestic travel by residents of the U.S. and Canada in 2021 compared with 2019, has tripled its tour offerings in the U.S., going from 19 to 57 stateside tours in 2022.
"We've had an ambition to grow the range of these trips for U.S. consumers -- to get under the skin of their own home destination -- and the pandemic has forced us to turn even more focus and attention to that," said CEO James Thornton.
Intrepid, which is headquartered in Melbourne, Australia, has opened a U.S. operations unit in California as part of its domestic travel expansion.
Thornton said he hopes to partner with a tour operator in North America that would support Intrepid's indigenous tourism offerings within the U.S., similarly to what it did recently with its acquisition of a majority stake in Haka Tours, a New Zealand operator.
"Using our own destination management companies rather than farming that out to a third party means the customer experience is going to be more consistent, and we're able to provide better, more unique experiences from local experts," Thornton said, noting the company has 25 of these destination management outfits worldwide.
Among the indigenous experiences that are being offered on these new tours is a visit to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument on Intrepid's South Dakota to Montana Parks Explorer tour. Guests are joined at the monument by a Crow Nation tribal historian who provides a native perspective on the battle.
On the Portland to San Francisco Discovery tour, a "river to table" picnic lunch with the First Nations people of Warm Springs gives guests a chance to learn about the importance salmon has played in their tribal history.
Both trips are six days, accounting for the limited vacation time of U.S. travelers, and tour groups average 10 people.
The expansion of Intrepid's U.S. tour offerings and its ties to indigenous communities within the states align with travel trends but also with the company's recent rebranding.
As Thornton sees it: "A broader range of U.S. tours allows Americans to see their own country through an authentic and diverse lens."
Intrepid is also wary of its carbon footprint, eliminating very short trips and flights of an hour or less for alternate means of transportation. Intrepid has been operating with a carbon offset program since 2010 and has referred to itself as the world's largest carbon-neutral travel company for over a decade.
Intrepid's Covid-era response
Thornton mentioned that although there has been an overall rebound in bookings, more customers are seeking intimate group settings with custom itineraries, and Intrepid does have teams that offer tailor-made programs to agents or customers looking for private, personalized tour experiences.
An increase in requests for more active pursuits, like biking and kayaking, is also a potential side effect of the more sedentary life many experienced during the pandemic.
As for concerns regarding Covid-19 and the impact of potential last-minute travel restrictions, Intrepid offers a very flexible cancellation policy right up to the departure date that includes a full refund or future travel credit, with few exceptions.
All Intrepid Travel tour participants must be vaccinated. Right now, family departures are not running, but when children (younger than 18) are included on tours going forward, Thornton said, Intrepid will follow the legal guidance of the destinations they are traveling in regarding the vaccination status of children.