Industries that have been hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic are already undergoing a significant transformation which may have long-lasting consequences as businesses adapt to a new way of serving their customers. 

Travel, for example, is relying on a vaccine or travel bubbles to open up before the sector can stage a recovery to return to pre-Covid levels. In the interim businesses are taking a more agile approach to offer products that comply with restrictions and cater to changing customer needs.  

“I think that the customer on the other side of this — and we’re already seeing it — the customer is quite different. They’re looking for your trust in business, they’re looking for flexibility and safety, and they really want to believe in a business before they purchase with them,” Sarah Clark, Managing Director of APAC tells Which-50.

Prior to the pandemic, Intrepid Travel was a $500 million business which organised small group adventure-style travel to 130 countries around the world. Once borders began to close around the world in response to the global spread of the pandemic, the focus moved quickly to getting 3,000 travellers back home and to suspend the trips for 55,000 customers with future bookings.  

Sarah Clark, Managing Director of APAC, Intrepid Travel 

“The key priorities were getting customers home and then communicating with those customers that had trips booked in the coming months as well,” Clark said. 

From there the business went through a process of downsizing across the globe; locally head count was reduced by around 25 per cent. 

“That was a very challenging time. Unfortunately we lost some great people. We knew that travel was not coming back on immediately and we needed to really right size our business.” 

The leadership team was divided into different projects, Clark is the Global Project Lead for Intrepid Local, a new offering focusing on domestic travel options. 

Typically developing a new product range takes the company 12 to 18 months, as Intrepid develops a prototype and tests it with customers. In response to the pandemic, the company worked together with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to leverage cloud technology to create a new domestic travel program in six weeks, offering short haul adventures for customers that complied with public health recommendations.  

In June Intrepid Travel launched a new collection of tours called Intrepid Local, with initial offerings in Australia, New Zealand and Europe.

While international travel is off the table for Australia and New Zealand, the styles of trip also had to change. Road trips were replaced by holidays in one location, with lots of outdoor activities nearby. 

“We predict a style of travel will emerge post-pandemic toward slow and grounded travel, where travellers will want to engage with local communities,” Clark said at the time of the launch. 

Health and safety are at the forefront of consumers’ minds and Intrepid also predicts a bigger customer demand for more sustainable travel options. 

And as evidenced by Victoria’s renewed lockdowns, the acute period of the crisis hasn’t yet passed for domestic travel. 

“As a team we absolutely need to continually be agile and we have seen things go up and down so quickly over the past months and even with the setback with Victoria,” Clark said. 

The team now has the ability to move quickly and pull back programs when necessary, Clark said. 

“Leading with the uncertainty throughout this period has been challenging but the team has been amazing in adapting to that change really quickly. Those lessons that they have learned will stay with us for the future to be able to be super agile. We don’t know when travel will come back on again, we don’t know what’s happening with the vaccine so we just need to be as prepared as possible with our scenario planning.”  

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