Wendy Smith tells Solus about how the tour operator’s new adventure cruising programme is offering an exciting alternative to the traditional cruise holiday
“It’s ideal for solo travellers,” says Wendy Smith, product manager for adventure cruising at Intrepid Travel, of the company’s new ocean-bound programme. With no single supplement for those willing to share with a fellow traveller of their gender, it’s no surprise that 60 per cent of those on board are solo travellers, a statistic consistent across the company’s offerings (there’s the option to pay for a room by yourself).
Smith says the product, launched last year, is most likely to attract past Intrepid customers who are looking for something new, and those who like the idea of travelling by ship – but not on the more mainstream cruise lines. She says that although the product is “definitely not mainstream”, adventure cruising doesn’t mean roughing it on board and spending every day on intense, trek-heavy tours.
“It’s not specifically active,” says Smith. “People can do as much or as little as they want. If guests want to, they can just spend the day on the ship relaxing. We’ve tried to make the itineraries have a good mix of free time and enjoying the sights and places along the way. It’s not scarily adventurous.”
Found in 1988 by two Australians, Darrell Wade and Geoff ‘Manch’ Manchester, who still own the company, Intrepid has grown from humble beginnings. At one time it was a division of PEAK Adventure Travel Group, a joint venture between Intrepid Group and Tui Group, but separated in 2015. Now, it is one of the world’s most recognisable touring brands, sending more than 100,000 travellers on holiday each year and employing more than 1,000 staff worldwide (not all with beards, Intrepid jokes on its website, recognising its hipster reputation). As its name and tagline (‘the world’s best adventure travel company’) suggest, the company specialises in off-the-beaten-track destinations, offering holidays to countries across the globe, from Armenia to Zimbabwe, Antarctica to Uzbekistan.
But Intrepid is more about immersion that expedition, and that’s true of its cruise programme, too. Chartering yachts by Variety, the Greek-owned cruise line, and vessels from a small Croatian company for its Dalmatian coast voyages, Intrepid looks at commonly visited destinations in new ways. “Last year, we started with just a single ship in Croatia, and just seven departures,” says Smith. “That went really well, which gave us the confidence to ramp things up this year. We now have Greece, Iceland, Spain and Portugal and, at the end of the year, we’ll start operating in Asia – Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia,” she says.
The intention is eventually build its own ships, Smith says, but for now the charters are working well. “The product revolves around the destination,” she says. “The ships are lovely, comfortable platforms to use for exploration. The idea is to go to places that big ships can’t go, even if that’s getting right in port in a big city or getting into out-of-the-way places that don’t necessarily see a lot of tourism.”
Intrepid’s largest chartered vessel carries 50 guests, the smallest just 31. Symphony of the Seas these ships are not. “We don’t have casinos and shows,” says Smith. “Entertainment is a Scrabble board and your fellow travellers.” She adds that guests “want an experience beyond what is offered on the ship”.
Smith highlights the original product in Croatia. “We start in Split and finish in Dubrovnik – both of those places are on a real high when it comes to tourism, but we also go up river to a little place called Opuzen, that gets no body. And they’re always so happy to see us, we get such a lovely welcome.
“When I was there, there was a local band playing in town square and we got to have a party with the entire town. That’s the sort of atmosphere these out-of-the-way places can offer. It’s about taking guests
to places they probably wouldn’t make it to if they travelled without us.”