Tours of a Lifetime: Jane Crouch of Intrepid Travel
In the May/June issue of Traveler, we highlight 50 of the world’s best tours in our third annual Tours of a Lifetime issue—using the criteria of authenticity, seasoned expertise, sustainability, unprecedented access, and local connections—that offer truly transformative travel experiences. Intrepid Travel fit the bill with their 14-day "Food Lovers Japan" tour, where travelers visit a sake brewery, learn how to make soba, and meditate with Buddhist monks. Another reason we love Intrepid? Their Responsible Travel Manager, Jane Crouch. We caught up with her recently for a more in-depth look at their sustainable philosophy.
Why should the "average" traveler care about responsible travel?
The “average” traveler needs to be aware of the power they have to impact a community positively or negatively by the choices they make. And if they would like future generations to be able to share in the very special experiences they may be privileged to have had—then they must do what they can to contribute to the positive protection of destinations and their inhabitants.
What are the challenges you face trying to balance responsible travel with travelers’ interests?
Making them aware of the bigger picture of their impacts—they might think it “doesn’t hurt if I just do such and such,” but it can do a lot of damage if everyone does it. Travelers often want to drop into schools and orphanages to meet the kids, give them stuff, teach them English, or kick a football around with them—but if all travelers do this it can be really disruptive and exploitive. Some travelers can change their standards and morals overseas—and behave in ways they wouldn’t back home, and be very offensive to locals. This is often in areas where the local people are very gracious and polite and will not necessarily voice their displeasure to visitors. You wouldn’t sun-bake nude on a beach in most Western capital cities, so it’s certainly not acceptable on the beach anywhere in Asia or the Middle East.
What’s your own personal story of learning the importance of responsible travel?
I was a group leader with Intrepid in Vietnam and Borneo. In Sabah, we used to regularly stay in a small Dusun village at the foot of Mt. Kinabalu. These people have lived here for centuries, and have protected the extraordinary biodiversity of Mt. Kinabalu National Park and surroundings by their sustainable way of living. In the last 30 years their lives have been heavily impacted by tourism—in some positive and negative ways. Tourism has brought them opportunities for improving their standard of living through employment opportunities and through heightened opportunities brought by visitors. It has also made their way of life vulnerable—increased affluence can bring problems with alcohol and other “temptations,” their lands are at risk of exploitation by developers—for example, when Japanese were negotiating with the government to clear rain forest and build a golf course on the fringe of the park—and the lure of the big city can take young people away from traditional agricultural production and from a more cohesive family life. We have been very firm in limiting the regularity of our visitation to this community, so that the people aren’t looking after tourists every day instead of tending their crops, and we make a point of not putting any artificial expectations on the community.
In 2006, Intrepid announced the goal of being carbon neutral by the end of 2009. What steps are you taking towards that goal?
First step has been to measure or audit the footprints of our key carbon emitters: our offices and retail stores, flights, and our trips. Our trips are being closely looked at for possibilities where we can reduce emissions, particularly in the choices of transport and accommodation. And with flights we have been encouraging longer trips with fewer connecting flights by designing trips that can be done in a series, back to back, without the need to fly to the next joining point.
Another step has been to arrange the offsetting of the balance of our emissions. This has begun with us including offsets in the purchase price of all international flights purchased through Intrepid in Australia since January 1, 2007. Intrepid Travel purchases offsets through Origin Energy’s Carbon Reduction Scheme. This scheme invests in sustainable energy projects that build a long-term solution to climate change: energy efficiency programs in homes, waste composting programs, tree planting, and a micro hydro-electricity project in China.
Describe a typical day for an Intrepid Travel tour-goer. How does it embody sustainable tourism?
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Check out of the locally owned and operated guesthouse, and take a local form of transport (perhaps a rickshaw, tuk tuk, or similar) to the train station. Take a train to the next destination, traveling in a class that enables lots of opportunity to meet local people and learn about their lives. In the next destination, explore the local market and try some regional specialties for lunch. After a brief orientation, the group leader may offer options of local activities to the group to head off and do independently. In the evening, the group may reconvene to go to dinner together at a local restaurant where none of the menu is in English, there are few other travelers, and you order by your best efforts at using some local language, pointing, or waving your hands around. It embodies sustainable tourism by using facilities that are locally owned and operated—keeping money in local hands, giving the travelers a uniquely local experience of that country, by giving lots of opportunities for local interaction and empowering the travelers to not always go around in a group—but get out and have some special one-on-one experiences—making new friends and learning about their lives.
Photo courtesy of Intrepid Travel