Intrepid’s Matt Berna on Why the Company Is More than an Adventure Tour Operatorby Daniel McCarthy /
Small-group tour operator Intrepid is not just an adventure tour operator. The company, which was founded 30 years ago, has earned a reputation for adventure, and for good reason, but its main mission is being driven by cultural immersion in a socially, and environmentally, responsible way, Matt Berna, the president and managing director of the Americas told TMR this week.
Berna said that Intrepid may have a reputation as an adventure tour operator, but it styles itself, and its offerings, more as a cultural immersion operator. There’s definitely an adventure component to some of Intrepid’s offerings—its categories include cycling tours, expedition, polar, and wildlife—but that’s not all it offers.
The mission of the tour operator is to connect guests with local people, places, and cultures in all seven continents in a sustainable, and socially responsible, way. “Create positive change through the joy of travel,” is how Intrepid puts it.
“Cultural immersion is the ‘adventure’ we talk about,” Berna said. “It’s about walking through local villages, tasting local food, meeting local people.”
For advisors who have yet to book or experience them, Intrepid trips are a premium experience, focused on that kind of immersion, with local encounters that benefit local communities mixed in.
Its Galapagos tour, for instance, takes travelers to the destination with stays exclusively at locally owned hotels on the islands. Its Japan tours, one of its most popular offerings right now, allow guests to see the sights and sounds of Tokyo, but also bring them to Hiroshima Peace Park for a tour with a local tour leader and includes a dinner in a traditional Japanese ryokan in tiny Tsumago.
That local immersion is reflected in Intrepid’s guest demographics.
While 40 years old remains the average age of an Intrepid guest, over the last couple of years Intrepid has seen a shift in its guests—the most common age range is now between 61 and 70 years old, while the second most common are guests in their 20s and 30s, he said. The shift shows the general evolution of not just the Intrepid guest, but travelers in general, who are becoming more adventurous when it comes to how they want to travel.
So how do travel advisors fit in?
When Intrepid, headquartered in Australia, first broke into the U.S. market, it did so by driving mainly direct business, allowing U.S. travelers to book tours mostly through its website.
Turn the page seven years or so to today, Intrepid is now heavily reliant on its industry partners—Berna told TMR that bookings from advisors are up this year: in the U.S., year-to-date industry sales are up 63% from 2022, and 78% up on 2019.
That includes communicating that Intrepid isn’t an adventure travel exclusive operator, which takes some education. It also includes talking about that sustainable push, and why Intrepid makes the choices it does.
The tour company has a public goal of a 5% reduction in its carbon footprint each year for the next 10 years and is aiming to be “as close to net zero as you can get” by the year 2035, Berna told TMR. While many of those decisions towards that goal are easy, the more and more choices it makes, the harder it becomes.
Advisors, who are educated about the reasons behind it, can communicate to clients why Intrepid is removing a scenic flight or a different internal flight from an itinerary that would seemingly negatively impact a guest’s experience (Berna said that 60 to 70% of emissions come from internal flights). They are also able to talk about what traveling on Intrepid, which has been a B Corp Certified company since 2018, means.
For advisors wanting training, Intrepid currently has a Specialist Program where advisors can watch pre-recorded trainings and receive an Intrepid Specialist certificate, which will be getting a refresh this year. It also plans for a separate Intrepid Polar Specialist certification.
And for advisors who want to experience the product first-hand, Intrepid has two FAM trips planned for later this year: Morocco in September and Thailand in November. Advisors can apply here.
Just like the industry at large, Intrepid is seeing heavy demand across its segments and its destinations. Berna told TMR that Intrepid it would be impossible for Intrepid to add enough capacity in Japan to meet demand there, and tours to major European destinations, including Italy, and Western Europe, are selling quickly.
The operator’s more exotic destinations, which is something it has always been known for, are also garnering strong interest. “Morocco has been trending really strongly for us,” Berna added.
Some destinations could be part of Intrepid’s future plans that aren’t yet ready for tourists, including Yemen and Iraq. Berna told TMR that the company regularly works with DMOs and officials in those countries to first show the benefits tourism could have, and then get its travelers there.
For instance, Intrepid will launch its inaugural Pakistan departures later this year, which include Pakistan Women’s Expedition, Pakistan Expedition, and Trek Pakistan's Karakoram Mountains
Intrepid is also stepping up its Urban Adventure offerings, which have been historically been built and operated by its DMC partners. Berna said the plan is to pull those offerings more succinctly into the Intrepid website. Those tours include walking tours or food experiences, typically a few hours long.