These are tough economic times, particularly in Southern Africa, and while we need to be financially prudent, we should not forget about our bigger purpose as a tourism industry and the positive impact we can continue to have on the places and people where we operate.
Fifteen months ago, I left a successful role in commercial sales at a US-based tech company for a job at Intrepid Travel, the world’s largest purpose-driven travel company which is based in Melbourne, Australia.
At the time, I thought ‘purpose’ sounded good in theory, but I thought I had ‘better’ things to think about. Things like how to recruit and rebuild our local team in Southern Africa, operating in the region under a new brand (you might previously have known us as Peak DMC) and finding a new office space in Johannesburg. Oh, and let’s not forget about operating safely in a complex post-pandemic environment.
Little did I know ‘purpose’ would quickly become one of the most important things I thought and talked about. Because at Intrepid, having a greater purpose than making a profit is the very reason we exist.
Over the past year and a half, I’ve seen first-hand how purpose can be operationalised in a business – built into the very products and services that a company creates.
This might all sound a bit ‘new age’. But, make no mistake, Intrepid is an extremely successful commercial business and one that navigated the pandemic successfully, thanks to its strong balance sheet and three decades of experience.
Now that I well and truly have my feet under the desk, here’s what I’ve learnt about staying true to your purpose even in the toughest of times:
1.The responsible travel movement is mainstream
Once considered a niche in tourism, purpose-driven travel today sees international travellers using their purchasing power to support companies that have an authentic commitment to purpose – be it in reducing their carbon footprint, investing in the community or protecting wildlife.
According to Expedia Group’s most recent Sustainable Travel Study, 90 percent of consumers look for what they consider to be ‘sustainable’ travel options, and seven in 10 have avoided a destination entirely if they felt its environmental practices weren’t up to scratch.
Being responsible or having a purpose is no longer a nice to have – it’s essential if you want to grow your business and attract the best talent.
2.Your purpose is your product
Having a purpose goes beyond just defining it. Customers want to see you doing good things – and even want to participate themselves.
At Intrepid, we embed purpose into our product in three key ways: hands-on traveller experiences, Intrepid Foundation partnerships, and on-trip storytelling through our tour leaders.
Here in South Africa, we’ve just launched our first Foundation partnership with Black Mambas, the first all-female anti-poaching unit run by UK-based charity, Helping Rhinos.
What makes this partnership particularly impactful is that on four of the Intrepid itineraries, customers actually go into camp with the Black Mambas to learn about their work first-hand. And on all others, our leaders are trained to tell their story, so guests know the donation Intrepid makes on their behalf is going where it matters.
I love this example, as it demonstrates all the different ways we embed purpose in a single project, and it’s extra meaningful to our team as they handpicked it themselves. Their input is so valuable to us, as we know wherever we are in the world, our local staff understand the issues affecting their communities better than anyone else.
3.Purpose drives profit
I recognise that, as an international business, Intrepid is in a fortunate position to pursue these types of projects and partnerships, thanks to the global support available to us.
But the truth is, any business can get started on their purpose journey. It doesn’t necessarily require a huge amount of time, effort or investment, just a genuine commitment to being a business that is about more than just the bottom line. What Intrepid has found is being a purpose-led business has made us a more profitable company.
And we have no intention of stopping here, either.
Moving forward, we’re looking for more climate-conscious travel options through introducing electric vehicles to our fleet where feasible, as well as improving our waste management on trips and in offices.
And that’s just the beginning. As the world embraces purpose-driven travel, we’re making sure we’re poised to respond. Are you?