TORONTO — Intrepid Travel’s brand new General Manager for North America, Tom Smith, starts his new position here in Toronto as bookings out of Canada and the U.S. continue to soar with post-pandemic demand.
If Smith has anything to say about it, those bookings will just keep going up, up, up.
Typically – and of course ‘typically’ means ‘pre-pandemic’ – bookings from North American markets would account for about 25% of Intrepid’s global mix. Another 25% normally comes from Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), and 50% from Australia, where the company was founded more than 30 years ago.
But during the pandemic, and coming out of it, Intrepid’s North American bookings have surged past 30% and recently hit 33% year-to-date.
“Historically we were focused on Australia,” Smith tells Travelweek. “But in recent years we’ve been over-investing in the North America region. It’s a good thing,” he says with a laugh, when questioned whether or not ‘over-investing’ is a positive or a negative. “All within budget. North America is getting more of the pie. Our North American customer base is growing the fastest of all our major markets.”
Travelweek spoke exclusively with Smith as he takes the reins as the new GM.
“WE’RE COMMITTED TO CANADA”
The momentum from North American markets is perfect for Smith as he starts his new role.
He joins Intrepid’s Toronto-based North American team with 7 years of Intrepid executive experience. He’s a newcomer to Canada, but not to the company.
He got his start at Intrepid as Marketing Director in the UK, then headed to South America to head up Intrepid’s DMC in Peru. From there he took on the role of Regional General Manager for Intrepid’s network of DMCs across EMEA. Prior to joining Intrepid, he worked in the tourism sector in Australia and Morocco.
Smith is now responsible for driving Intrepid’s commercial success in North America, implementing strategic plans, managing day-to-day business, and growing the Intrepid brand.
Smith reports to Intrepid’s North America President, Matt Berna, who since 2021 has overseen Intrepid’s dedicated North American operations hub.
Berna says he’s excited to have Smith join the North American team. As Berna puts it: “Our old notion of regional offices being classified as an operating office (DMC) or a sales office, or even service centres, no longer fits our current business model. Tom’s role will support our global structure and vertically integrated operations.”
Smith can hit the ground running here, as Intrepid worldwide is already back to pre-pandemic sales levels.
And it’s clear from the Toronto HQ for the North America operations that Canada is a priority for Intrepid.
“The vast majority of our North American staff is based in Canada, and we’re committed to Canada and growing our business out of the Canadian market,” Smith tells Travelweek. One in five North American market bookings are from Canada.
What’s worked really well for Intrepid here in Canada is growing the company’s partnerships, says Smith.
Not surprisingly, given their mutual Australian roots, Intrepid works a lot with Flight Centre, here in Canada and around the world. Another partnership working well for Intrepid in this market is Adventure Canada, which sells Intrepid’s polar product.
Intrepid is also making big strides in the U.S. At the start of 2022 the company announced its acquisition of Wildland Trekking, an environmentally-conscious U.S.-based tour operator. It was just the latest step in Intrepid’s investment and growth within the U.S., which was accelerated by the pandemic as interest for unique domestic travel options in the country spiked following international border closures. The acquisition bolstered Intrepid’s U.S. tour range by over 400%.
“CANADIANS REALLY LIKE OUR STYLE OF TRAVEL”
Smith says Canadians have taken to the Intrepid ethos and travel style, outpacing other regions despite the relative smaller size of this market.
Globally renowned as a leader in responsible travel, in 2018 the carbon-neutral and sustainable-travel focused business became the world’s largest travel company to be certified B-Corp, with recertification in 2022. Intrepid has been carbon neutral since 2010. “We’re making sure we walk the walk and talk the talk,” says Smith.
It’s all part of Intrepid’s goal to grow with purpose and become the world’s first $1 billion adventure travel company. Bringing more senior leadership into North America will accelerate that goal.
The company’s mission is to create positive change through the joy of travel, and to that end Intrepid offers 1,150+ trips on every continent, in 130+ countries, with each itinerary designed to engage local culture. Plus the company’s not-for-profit, The Intrepid Foundation, has raised more than US$11 million for more than 130 charities around the world.
On the importance of travelling sustainably, Smith says “Canadians have picked that up sooner than other markets. And Canadians really like our style of travel.”
MORE PREMIUM TOURS ON THE WAY
Demand will no doubt surge even more with brand new Premium tours in Europe and beyond. The launch is coming soon and the new tours will start in 2023, complementing existing Premium offerings in destinations including Africa and Asia.
The popular range of Premium itineraries, offering “a more sustainable choice for high-end adventures,” according to Intrepid, first launched in 2020. More tours were added in early 2021.
As with all Intrepid tours, the Premium range is 100% carbon offset and designed to have a low
environmental footprint and a positive impact on local communities.
“People want adventure. They want to sit with the gorillas in Uganda and they want to explore the Inca Trail in Peru, but they don’t want to sacrifice comfort to do that,” says Smith. “So we’re expanding our Premium range into Europe and beyond for 2023.”
Premium tours have a different level of accommodation and transportation than other tours, but they’re still Intrepid trips, says Smith. “Luxury can often mean a disconnect between travellers and locals,” he says. “That’s not Intrepid’s way. We emphasize meeting local people, and having unique experiences. That’s still at the core of what we do with every trip.”
TRAVELLING WITH FAMILY IN ICELAND
One of the perks of working for Intrepid is experiencing the trips first-hand. We asked Smith about his own favourite Intrepid experiences.
His very first trip with the company was an overland trip in southern Africa, and he’s never forgotten it. “I love wildlife and there’s nothing better than going on safari in Botswana and Namibia and South Africa and seeing all the animals you’ve only ever seen in documentaries.”
Another favourite was the Intrepid trip to Iceland he took with his mom, in her mid-60s at the time. “It was great to be able to take her on an Intrepid tour to Iceland and see the Northern Lights. There’s a real sense of community on our tours, and my mom really enjoyed that aspect, and I did too. We absolutely loved being able to meet people from other places around the world.”
We also asked Smith about his message for Canadian travel advisors. “We’ll be looking to grow and expand our trade relationships in Canada,” he says, adding: “We have a lot to offer travel advisors in Canada, both in terms of how we work with them, and the product we offer.”
More information about Intrepid Travel is at intrepidtravel.com/ca. And for Intrepid’s travel agent portal, see https://www.intrepidtravel.