The COVID-19 Questionnaire: Leigh Barnes – Intrepid Travel

Like all travel companies, Intrepid Group has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, suspending global operations until at least the end of September.

But after a dismal few weeks in the immediate aftermath of the outbreak, the certified B Corp company has found its footing, so to speak, as it learns to navigate through these very trying and unprecedented times.


Leigh Barnes

In this edition of The COVID-19 Questionnaire, we sit down with Leigh Barnes, Chief Customer Officer at Intrepid Travel, to discuss what this new normal looks like for both the company and for travellers, and what travel agents can do to inspire future travel and stay top of mind among its clients.

Q. How is morale and how is Intrepid handling the crisis?

A. “This has been a very uncertain and completely unprecedented time for everyone working in travel, and Intrepid surely hasn’t been immune to that. We’ve had to make some really impossible and difficult decisions in response to this pandemic, but we’re in a good place now. Our team is positive and committed to ensuring the future is bright – both for Intrepid and for the world. We’re busy working away on exploring new domestic offerings for our travellers and advocating for a more responsible and ethical industry post-COVID.”

Q. What do you think travel will look like in a post-COVID 19 world?

A. “We fundamentally believe that travel can only rebound stronger if it rebuilds more responsibly. The COVID-19 crisis has brought our sector and the global economy to a crashing halt and we would be remiss not to let it be for something good.

“We shouldn’t be aspiring for things to go back to normal but rather redefine what normal means, and use this time as a rare chance to think about how we travel and how we can aim to be more ethical and sustainable travellers and global citizens in the future.

“We expect travellers will put a lot of thought into where they go and how they travel post-COVID-19. They’ll be more interested in visiting far-flung destinations with less visitors that can offer a deeper connection to our natural world. After spending so much time indoors this year, people will be eager to get active and focus on personal wellness.

“We believe that it will be travel companies that are most connected with their local communities who will be best placed to provide real reassurance when travel returns. The coronavirus crisis has reinforced the importance of our local destination management companies and their relationships with our local suppliers. As travel restrictions were rapidly changing, Intrepid’s tour leaders and local operations teams had the knowledge and the contacts to quickly adapt plans and the connections with governments when further support was needed to get travellers home safely. Our suppliers helped us to help our travellers when they needed it most. For example, our transport suppliers in Morocco gave us buses to ferry travellers between Casablanca and Marrakech as flights were cancelled and rescheduled. In Peru, we were provided with entire hotels that became dedicated hubs for our travellers.

Q. What do you think will rebound most quickly, and what might take some time?

A. “Domestic travel will come back first as people will feel more confident with their own government’s assurances and will feel comfortable to explore their own backyard. International travel may begin to make a comeback this year, but much of it may depend on the politics around the reciprocal opening of borders between nations.”

Q. With travel at a standstill, how should agents be marketing themselves and keeping themselves in front of clients?

A. “We suggest agents focus initially on marketing domestic travel, which we anticipate will be the first to re-emerge post-COVID. We also encourage advisors to push international travel with longer booking windows. At Intrepid, we’re finding people are booking their tours further out than before, which is something agents can capitalize on as short-term bookings slow down.

“Marketing tour operators and travel providers that value sustainability and provide options that are off the beaten path will be key, as travellers will want to distance themselves from crowds while feeling good about their travel decisions.”

Q. What new destinations are you really excited about for when this is over, and ideally where will your own first trip be?

“ I’m excited to completely vanish off-the-grid and connect with the wilderness. Two trips I have on my radar are trekking in Patagonia and hanging with the gorillas in Uganda. But my first trip will be somewhere local, probably to hang out by the water, walk in the mountains or just have a cheeky drink with friends.”

Q. What do you like most, and least, about working from home?

A. “Spending more time with my pup Archie and having the extra time and space to think are two things I enjoy the most about working from home. Having total control over the tunes being played doesn’t hurt either.

“What I miss the most is the lack of face-to-face human connection – and espresso. The Intrepid office in Melbourne has a great machine.”

Q. The travel industry is showing its strength and resilience as it rallies to take on the unprecedented impact from the coronavirus pandemic. What message do you want to get out to travel agents?

A. “Since the start of the global pandemic earlier this year, the travel industry has been turned upside down. And although we don’t know when we will get past this yet, we know at Intrepid that we can’t do it without our agent partners.

We want to express our gratitude for all the work that advisors do. We know that creating the best travel experiences for your clients is not always an easy job, although you make it seem so effortless.

“We thank you for your dedication, for the early morning and late nights, and for the long calls and even longer email chains with travellers. We’re honored to host your clients and appreciate you introducing them to our style of sustainable, experience- rich travel. Together we’ll make it through this, stronger than ever.”

Travel Week Logo

Get travel news right to your inbox!