Travel is not about numbers or data sets. It’s about people, cultures, connections and life-changing moments that can’t be quantified.
And when it comes to building a more equal society, we believe that as a travel company it is critical for us to remain transparent and accountable to local communities. For that reason, I want to share how Intrepid has developed our First Nations reconciliation journey in Australia over the past year – including where we have fallen short.
In July 2020, Intrepid launched its second (Innovate) Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP)which sets out 90 actions we will take by July 2022 to advance our contribution to reconciliation in Australia.
Halfway into the two-year journey, ours an annual report describes the progress we have made, where we have more work to do and some of our experiences so far.
Scroll down to find the full report
The role of tourism in reconciliation
Reconciliation is about building respectful relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
As an Australian-headquartered company, we are deeply committed to this and believe that the tourism sector has a unique opportunity to promote reconciliation in Australia. Travel creates connection, understanding and empathy between people. It also provides job opportunities and economic development in remote and rural areas.
The pandemic has given us opportunities to support First Nations tourism, thanks to a boom in domestic travel in Australia – but we’ve also experienced some setbacks and challenges.
Growth in local travel
Australians are traveling closer to home and our report reveals that despite travel restrictions during 2020/21 limiting interstate travel, 853 customers experienced a First Nations tourism experience on intrepid tours of Australia in the past year.
It also shows that we have increased the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experiences on our tours from 12 to 40 (or 233 per cent) over the year. Almost half of our Australian itineraries now include one First Nations experience.
These experiences enrich trips and allow for cultural exchange and new connections.
For example on Queensland Coast & Island Adventure in North Queensland, travelers meet the Aboriginal owners of the land, the Nywaigi people, at Mungalla Station. Visitors hear ancient stories and learn about the connection to the land, including the Mungalla wetlands and the aquatic bird life that inhabits the area.
Or thousands of kilometers away in South Australia, travelers on Flinders Ranges Explorer join an Adnyamathanha Aboriginal guide for an informative walk into the Sacred Canyon in the Ikara-Finders Ranges National Park. They learn about the cultural significance of the site and the ancient rock carvings from the perspective of the Adnyamathanha people.
As we expand our range of tours in Australia, we aim to work with new First Nations partners and businesses across the country and develop strong relationships for the future.
Establishing lasting relationships
But we know that this work is far bigger than us or the trips that our customers book with us.
We believe that as the largest adventure travel company globally, we can help support and develop the wider First Nations tourism sector in Australia. You may have noticed an increase in First Nations content across our social media channels and included in our emails.
For example, in April 2021 we collaborated with our friends at Welcome to the country for National Reconciliation Week. This campaign aimed to encourage Intrepid customers to book an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander owned and operated tourism experience directly through Welcome to Country’s online marketplace. This created awareness and drove bookings directly to First Nations operators.
We are in the early stages of this part of our journey and we are committed to continuing to build on this. Part of that includes exploring ways we can work with and commission more First Nations content creators to tell their stories across our channels over the next 12 months.
Challenges and results
However, the pandemic has thrown many unexpected challenges at us, and we have not achieved everything we set out to do.
One of them includes a lack of qualified tour guides in Australia. This is due to the increase in domestic travel demand, as well as many tour guides moving out of the tourism industry during 2020 due to job opportunities in other sectors. To address this we are committed to looking at ways in which we can support the training and development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tour guides to pursue a career in tourism.
By far the biggest challenge for Intrepid is the ongoing and devastating effects of COVID-19 on communities and people around the world. With international borders in Australia and many countries around the world remaining closed, our business is a fraction of its pre-pandemic size, thereby having an economic impact on the communities we visit, the guides we work with and the companies we support on our tours.
Despite these ongoing challenges, I am proud that Intrepid has completed 32 percent of our Innovate RAP, with 46 percent still ongoing. We are on track to reach 70 percent of our plan by the end of 2021. Unfortunately, the ongoing economic impact of the pandemic means we are likely to fall short of 22 percent of our plan, which may need to be implemented later in 2022 or later.
We know that this is only the beginning of our journey of reconciliation and that we must continue to be transparent and accountable in our efforts to support First Nations communities, both in Australia and beyond. I hope that by sharing our journey we can inspire others to embark on their own paths of reconciliation.
Read the full report here.
As an Australian-owned business, we recognize the traditional owners of land across Australia and their continued connection to land, waters and communities. We respect them and their cultures and their ancient past, present and future.