Intrepid Travel has hinged its return to profitability on continuous investment into product innovation and its people. Now, a record-breaking start to 2023 sees it turn the dial from revival to thrive mode.
Australian-based tour operator Intrepid Travel returned to positive operating cashflow, after closing off 2022 with record bookings for its 33-year history.
The company managed to pare its loss in 2022 to $14.6 million (AU$22 million), down from $41 million (AU$ 61 million) in 2021 while notching positive operating cash flow of $23 million (AU$34 million) for the year. While a privately held enterprise, Intrepid offers transparency by making its financials public each year. The most recent numbers were disclosed in its sixth integrated annual report released this week.
Intrepid Travel CEO James Thornton told Skift in an exclusive interview that the company had gone from survival mode where global operations were stopped, with its staff cut in half at the height of the pandemic, to a story of revival, largely in the second half of last year.
“It was the year we got back up and running as a global tour operator again, which was fantastic. It was a year of two halves for us because the first half of the year was still very much impacted by the omicron variant and the pandemic,” said Thornton.
However, the year culminated with some of the biggest booking days in the company’s history. November’s record was quickly eclipsed by $4 million (AU$ 6.1 million) on December 3. The first two-and-a-half months of 2023 continued the record-breaking trend, and the company expects to see this year’s metrics exceed those of 2019, according to Thornton.
January bookings totaled $39.4 million (AU$ 58.7 million), and February bookings ended at $39.5 million (AU$ 58.9 million). The biggest month previously in Intrepid’s history was $35.5 million (AU$ 53 million) in January 2020 — just before the pandemic.
“We’re feeling very bullish, and this report really is a reflection that now we’re heading into thriving mode, which we are very excited about,” said Thornton.
Intrepid Staff Awarded Shares Instead of Bonuses
Thornton confirmed there are no plans for an initial public offering in the immediate future, yet the company started releasing its financials back in 2017 as part of its push towards being a fully transparent B Corp.
B Corp certification is awarded to companies that meet certain social and environmental standards, and prioritize ethical practices and stakeholder interests alongside profits – intending to use their operations as a force for good and positive impact in the world.
“We don’t need to reveal this information, but part of B Corp methodology is that you have high standards of social and environmental performance and public transparency. It’s something we believe in strongly,” said Thornton.
Some 500 staff members will be made part owners in Intrepid, with voting rights at shareholder meetings and eligible for a dividend when one is paid.
“Intrepid shareholder mix is relatively diverse. It’s not just our key shareholders. And it’s really important that they have a public and open and transparent view of the company’s performance.”
Approximately 6 percent of Intrepid shares will be owned by staff. The remaining shareholding is held by Intrepid’s co-founders Darrell Wade (Intrepid Chair) and Geoff Manchester, and Genairgy CEO Julien Leclercq.
Essentially, 27 percent of Intrepid’s total workforce of 1,790 will become shareholders by quarter two in 2023. To be eligible for the bonus, an office-based staff member must have worked over 50 percent of the 2022 calendar year with Intrepid.
“Staff always have input into Intrepid’s long-term growth plans via regular company and departmental meetings and bi-annual staff surveys, but shareholders can additionally vote on certain matters.”
“Intrepid’s priority is on implementing our expanded staff shareholding, continuing to grow rapidly and working on our 2030 strategy. As the world’s largest certified travel B Corp, we always look to create long-term value for all our stakeholders and we will continue to look at ways to do just that in the future,” said Thornton.
Product Innovation and Purpose-Driven Initiatives
Ongoing consumer demand certainly remains a driving force as the company sees record-setting bookings, but Thornton further underscored the work that Intrepid did during the course of the pandemic.
“We made the conscious decision within the Intrepid board to keep investing in the business. And we are still heavily investing in the business. I think this has helped put us in really good shape that we’re able to deliver these record booking numbers.”
He believes being B Corp certified and a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact since 2008 continues to set the company’s purpose and appeal.
“I think consumers increasingly want to buy experiences that are truly sustainable, and they increasingly want to work for companies that are sustainable.”
Thornton added that Intrepid had doubled down on gender equality by doubling its female tour leaders. It has also released a series of new tours focused on diversity and inclusion, with 100 indigenous tours added for 2023 and a range of women-only tours, with its first dedicated expeditions in Pakistan and Nepal. The company recently undertook an audit of its wildlife tours, removing those that continued to exploit animals for commercial gain.
“We take our purpose seriously. The reality is B Corp methodology provides you with a formula or a template to try and keep improving the business. We’re always looking at ways to innovate new products that we think our consumers would like or enable us to enter new markets.
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Photo credit: Women-only tour along Poon, Hill, Nepal. Source: Intrepid Travel Intrepid Travel / Intrepid Travel, Nepal, Poon Hill.