Travel industry record on sustainability is ‘appalling’ says Intrepid boss

The co-founder and chairman of Intrepid Travel will “bang the drum” for climate action at the Travel Convention, describing the sector’s record on sustainability as “appalling”.

Darrell Wade will speak to delegates on Wednesday (November 1) at the event in Bodrum, Turkey, to highlight the need for action.

Talking to Travel Weekly at the conference on Tuesday (October 31), he said: “It’s a two-sided drum…on the one side of the drum, you have got lots of good things about the travel industry – it is a wonderful industry…we employ millions of people around the world, our GDP impact is huge, we really build bridges with cultures. We should feel really proud.

“The other side of the drum is that our record on sustainability is really pretty poor. In fact, it is appalling.

“It is one of the few industries at the moment where carbon emissions are outstripping GDP growth.”

He said the travel industry is talking about sustainability, decarbonisation and sustainable aviation fuels but warned: “The reality is we’re getting further behind, it’s getting worse.”

Adventure specialist operator Intrepid is the largest travel B Corp company, which means its social performance is assessed for the highest standards.

“The thing that is, perhaps frustrating and slightly annoying, is that when we did start – not just Intrepid – but everyone started talking about climate change in 2005, 2006,” he added.

“We were talking about something a long distance in the future, in the 2020s, 30s, 40s.

“Well, guess what? Climate change has landed, you only have to look the last summer – record heat waves and fires everywhere.”

He said there is more awareness in the UK than many other parts of the world, adding: “EasyJet is a pretty good example of doing quantifiable things that are reducing emissions.”

But he said many companies don’t know “relatively basic things” such as their emissions.

His speech will come a year after James Thornton, chief executive of Intrepid Travel, spoke to the Travel Convention in Morocco, urging industry bosses to urgently shift to “rapid decarbonisation” to help avert climate disaster.

“I’ll probably say something along the lines of ‘Hey guys, you were told a year ago by James…Why haven’t you fixed it? Come on,” he added.

Israel-Gaza war impact

Wade also commented on the impact of the Israel-Gaza war, saying it is starting to affect demand for Egypt.

“It’s not serious yet but we can see, if this continues for a longer time, Egypt will not have the year that we thought we would have next year. That’s real people, real jobs, real harms,” he added.

Wade hailed the response from the British travel industry to the efforts to support Morocco after it was hit by a devastating earthquake in September.

“Agents got on board, as well as the public at large, and we raised about £350,000 for Morocco, which is pretty amazing,” he said.

Looking at the wider market, he said Intrepid has seen “spectacular” post-pandemic growth as the popularity of adventure tourism and experiences has soared.

“We’re just in the process of fine-tuning and will soon be releasing our 2030 strategy, and that’s going to see really substantial growth over the next six years. And we’re pretty confident we’re going get it,” he said.

Travel agents ‘critical’

And travel agents have been “critical” to Intrepid’s success, Wade continued.

“We literally would not be here without travel agents,” he added.

He said 2024 will be “a big year for fam trips” because of the importance of getting more travel agents to be familiar with Intrepid’s products to boost sales.

Other opportunities for future growth will be via “a series of relatively small acquisitions” which will boost the company’s accommodation offering.

“We do see accommodation as a space where we can inject some colour and flavour that can really take people somewhere else,” he commented.

Another element of Intrepid’s success is its staff and Wade said his company is bucking trends seen elsewhere in the sector as it is not struggling to recruit.

“It goes back to that positioning of what you are saying about sustainability; what you’re saying about your own people; what you’re saying about the destination,” he commented.

Furthermore, the creativity of people will remain the most important factor despite the rise of artificial intelligence.

“We have that creativity that AI will never actually have…so how do we deploy that creativity that best serves our people, our customers and our destinations?” he added.

“AI is going to be extraordinarily useful…but it’s a tool.

“You can use AI as a tool to be a better travel advisor, for instance. I am optimistic about AI.”

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