TORONTO — Intrepid Group’s co-founder Darrell Wade sat down with Travelweek during a whirlwind trip to Toronto last week to discuss the company’s split with TUI, what’s next for its adventure-travel brands in Canada and why it’s resuming operations in Nepal.
In July, Intrepid Group announced it would split from TUI after a four-year partnership, effectively putting an end to its PEAK Adventure Travel Group strategic venture. Intrepid’s co-founders Darrell Wade and Geoff Manchester took back full ownership of the brand they founded in 1989 — along with a few others.
And so far, the company has experienced an 8% increase in business globally (across brands) under the new private structure.
“Over time we realized there were some strategic differences in the way we approached markets,” Wade told Travelweek regarding Intrepid’s split from TUI.
“We historically have been very friendly in terms of wanting to engage travel agents,” he said. “TUI preferred not to. In the UK and Europe they’re already No. 1 and they’re vertically integrated, so it’s about (using their) own distribution — and fair enough. Because we’re smaller, we’d like to deal with as many people as we can.”
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As time went on, they discovered more of these philosophical differences. “It’s not as if there was fighting in the corridors or anything like that,” he laughed. “It was amicable, but ultimately we just thought we’re probably going our own two ways, so we split it up.”
But Intrepid Group isn’t coming out the same way it went in. It has gained a number of new businesses, such as Peregrine Adventures and Geckos Adventures. “That’s largely because those businesses are domiciled in Australia and always were and they’re utterly integrated into the Intrepid side,” said Wade. “It would be way too hard to pull them apart.”
While those brands are not new to Canada, they’re not as recognizable as they should be, he said. Over the next year or two, Intrepid Group will focus on differentiating those brands and promoting them in Canada.
Peregrine Adventures is more premium and up-market than it was five years ago and attracts a different market than Intrepid Travel. Conversely, Geckos Adventures is targeted at the youth and student markets.
Another reason for the split with TUI is that Intrepid’s founders believe in purpose beyond profit. Now that the company is privately owned, its first big initiative is to become a B Corp. Companies that are B Corp certified voluntarily meet higher standards of transparency, accountability and performance; the certification process measures the impact of the business on workers, communities and the environment.
In keeping with its purpose beyond profit philosophy, Intrepid Group made the decision to donate all profits from its Nepal trips for the 2015/16 trekking season back into rebuilding efforts as part of the Return Nepal campaign.
In Nepal, the tourism industry is vital to its economy. Wade visited the country in June to see first-hand the effects of the April earthquake that left 9,000 dead, flattening entire villages and destroying UNESCO World Heritage sites. “There’s a fear that if people stay away it’s almost worse than the earthquake,” he said.
Intrepid Group has announced it will resume trips in Nepal at the start of the trekking season in October. The Everest and Annapurna safety reports are out, said Wade, and both have the green light. While bookings to Nepal are down about 60% from last year, the company is starting to see more bookings trickle in. Its goal is to raise AUS$1 million — and it’s almost halfway there with $400,000 in funds that will be invested back into the country.