ISSN 1108-8931


Year 7 - Issue 89 - Mar 07

Sponsored by: Hana Maui Botanical Gardens, Maris Hotels Traditional Apartments,
Vythiri Resort, Beyond Touring, Siam Safari Nature Tours, Canyon Travel

Intrepid Travel's Jane Crouch:

The ECOCLUB Interview
Index of Interviews

Jane CrouchJane Crouch is the Responsible Travel Manager (RTM) for Intrepid Travel, passionate about travelling in a way that's positive and rewarding for all those involved. Jane has been at Intrepid for 10 years – starting as a group leader in Vietnam and Borneo in 1996. After about 65 trips and some brilliant experiences, she hung up the backpack in early 2000 to take up the position of RTM based in the company’s Melbourne office, responsible for preparing RT guidelines, training staff and ensuring Intrepid Travel are practicing what they preach. Last year Jane took a long service leave to pursue a passion of hers, Timor-Leste as a volunteer through Australian Volunteers International, to work on tourism development based at their Government's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After instability, she was evacuated and then later returned to Dili into a new role as personal assistant to Timor-Leste’s First Lady and based at the Alola Foundation which was established to help support women and their families.

(The Interview follows:)

ECOCLUB: As the Responsible Travel Manager of a most successful responsible tour operator, what do you consider as irresponsible travel and is there something you would like to do to it?

Jane Crouch: Irresponsible travel to me is where the focus is entirely on the visitor, to the neglect and detriment of the host and their community. I would like governments to take a much stronger positive stance in educating local and international operators as to what is acceptable and not acceptable in their country, and introducing appropriate regulation where necessary.

ECOCLUB: You have had recent personal experience as a volunteer in a poor country. So what were the main lessons you learned from this experience? Did you have to review your approach to volunteerism in the process? For example some accuse volunteerism and voluntourism as forms of labour exploitation and a violation of labour laws. Others dismiss volunteerism just as something harmless well-off people from the 'west' do at the beginning or the end of their career. Do these cynics have a point?

Jane Crouch: I'm generally not supportive of very short-term volunteer placements, unless the volunteers have very specific skills that can be used in training. The most productive volunteering is where you are working in a close partnership that is empowering local people to do it for themselves - not creating a dependency. I certainly learnt that I had to listen very carefully to my local colleagues as they had so much to teach me – particularly when it came to decisions as to what was the most culturally suitable way to implement change.

ECOCLUB: From your experience working as a group leader and manager in South East Asia, can a private Tour company, however benevolent and responsible, be strong enough to make a visible difference, if a government is indifferent in terms of poverty reduction, education and people empowerment?

Jane Crouch: It can be terribly frustrating when you are 'pushing against the tide', but sometimes you have to take the attitude that if you can make a difference and change the attitude of a few by positive example, then this difference can grow. E.g. I have climbed Mt. Kinabalu in Sabah many times in the last 20 years. It has been positive to watch the improved attitude of National Parks staff in ensuring rubbish is taken off the mountain. I do think that many conversations had between Intrepid group leaders and their friends the mountain guides and parks staff, along with actual practical clean-up initiatives and activities like us funding the construction of toilets for the mountain guides, have helped reinforce that keeping the mountain clean will help keep tourism there more sustainable for all concerned.

ECOCLUB: Your organisation has just added a prestigious international tourism award to its many other awards. So how important for business are such tourism awards, compared for example with certification schemes? Do savvy, hardened, independent responsible tourists (the cream of the cream) really pay attention to awards, or do they suspect that they are not always so transparent?

Jane Crouch: I am not sure that the consumer necessarily pays so much attention to these awards, but I do think that they can have a very positive impact on the highly competitive tourism industry. They are a fantastic way of raising the profile of really positive initiatives which other companies may want to copy and they can help 'raise the bar' for the industry overall.

ECOCLUB: You work both for Intrepid Travel and for The Intrepid Foundation. Why does a responsible travel company need to operate a foundation, as opposed to a section within the company? Is there a need perhaps for a clear dividing line between 'for-profits and non-profits in the responsible tourism field?

Jane Crouch: We established The Intrepid Foundation Inc. (TIFI) as a separate entity from Intrepid Travel, to help ensure total transparency - to ensure we use donors’ monies as intended - it cannot go through Intrepid Travel's books. The other reason we chose to have the Intrepid Foundation quite separate, is so that if Intrepid Travel has a 'difficult' year, like when SARS struck, we can still consistently support our charitable commitments, without a dependence on the profitability of Intrepid Travel. TIFI is still 'housed' under Intrepid's roof and receives administrative resources from Intrepid Travel.

ECOCLUB: Please name the most important ingredient for responsible tours, and explain why you chose it, through an example you have experienced as a tour guide.

Jane Crouch: Making friends with local people, on their terms, in their environment, living their usual way of life. You can see all the spectacular scenery, museums and beaches in the world, but our travellers tell us time and time over, the most rewarding and memorable parts of a trip and that which brings them the most feeling of love and respect for a place is making local friends, and gaining a personal insight into their lives and families.

ECOCLUB: As a woman, did you ever feel tempted to intervene on behalf of local women, who were abused or overburdened, yet in a covert 'traditional' way, in the conduct of tourism and pseudo - 'responsible tourism'? For example, a homestay where the woman does all the work, and then cares for the tourists as well, while men retire at the coffee shop? And is such intervention politically correct?

Jane Crouch: Experienced this dilemma frequently. One way I have dealt with it, is rather than try and implement change, I have discussed the demands of our visitation with a group of community women and ask them how they would like to 'resolve' the situation so that they as women benefit. Rostering systems that spread the work around a community and payment methods that increase the economic empowerment of women, for example by paying for all the food directly to the women, have helped. In one Northern Thailand village we facilitated the fairer sales of handicrafts by asking that all the weavings had a fixed price and that the travellers could look at them and choose without haggling and competition. This helped to more equitably distribute income amongst the village women.

ECOCLUB: Sex tourism is taboo in many of the countries where your company and you have worked. Officials usually do not discuss it, neither do tour or airline companies, it is invariably 'illegal', abominable but omnipresent. At the request of conservatives, international aid funds have been cut to NGOs working to assist prostitutes. But should there perhaps be a more intelligent approach from the tourism industry, rather than crocodile tears or silence, towards a phenomenon that exists and persists, rather than draconian hypocrisy?

Jane Crouch: The approach we have taken and I would encourage all the industry to do, is to direct resources to the experts who understand the myriad of complexities of the issue – ECPAT or ChildWise as they are known in Australia. The other very important thing is training staff in the issue and encourage them to never turn a blind eye to what they might see, i.e. document and report suspicious activities to appropriate authorities. We have made about 10 reports in recent years, which are treated totally confidentially and professionally by ECPAT and connected policing bodies. We are not quiet about our proactiveness if it helps shame those in the industry who do nothing…

ECOCLUB: Intrepid excels in managing to convince seasoned, independent tourists to go on a packaged tour. Amazing, but how do you do it? And are these people easy to handle or you keep chasing after them?

Jane Crouch: Operate a good product, practise what you preach, and then your customers will advertise for you. We have an enormous amount of repeat business, with some of our travellers taking a trip with us each year. We are aware though of continually adding new fresh product and trip styles to our range, to appeal to a changing market. For example, in a couple of years our family trips have grown in popularity as the travellers of my vintage want to travel the Intrepid way but with their kids.

ECOCLUB: Intrepid is arguably the world's most accomplished responsible tour operator. What is your next move?

Jane Crouch: We have plenty of room to grow in the newer regions for us of Africa and Central & South America. But we want to grow sustainably. One ambitious target we have made is a pledge to become carbon neutral by the end of 2009 and we are already well on track to see this happen. We have introduced carbon offset payments for airline tickets sold in Australia, our head office uses 'Green Power' or sustainable energy and our Melbourne and overseas offices are currently undertaking auditing of their carbon footprint. We are closely examining our trips and seeing how they can be both more environmentally efficient and have their carbon emissions offset. We are eager for people to learn more about the serious issue of climate change, so commencing in September 2006 we offered to pay for their tickets to see (Al Gore’s) “An Inconvenient Truth”. 3,900 people saw the movie compliments of Intrepid and we reimbursed a total of AUD $38,765.80 in ticket costs! We have very busy times ahead!

ECOCLUB: Thank you very much

About Intrepid Travel: Intrepid operate affordable small group adventures, currently in 96 countries throughout Asia, Australasia, the Middle East, Europe, Africa and South America. Intrepid aim to operate trips in a way that both respects and benefits local people, their culture and the environment, to utilise local transport and locally-owned hotels where possible and employ local guides in partnership with group leaders, ensuring optimum tourism income remains within the community. In 2002 Intrepid established The Intrepid Foundation, providing travellers with a unique opportunity to provide support to grass roots community development projects operated by local and international NGOs. Travellers’ donations are matched dollar for dollar by Intrepid and in 2007 the company aims to distribute over USD 1 million. More details at:

Find the complete list of ECOCLUB Interviews here


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