How to Travel Responsibly

Advice from Intrepid's chief purpose officer Leigh Barnes
August 24, 2018 Updated: August 24, 2018

If you’re a traveler keen on making sure your dollars are spent on making a positive difference, how do you know you’re making the right choices and not falling for greenwashing claims?

I asked Leigh Barnes, who is the chief purpose officer of Melbourne-based Intrepid Travel. Intrepid, a $400-million company, became the world’s largest travel B Corp earlier this month, 30 years after its founding. B Corp certified businesses have to meet high social and environmental standards, public transparency, and balance profit and purpose.

Intrepid’s chief purpose officer, Leigh Barnes. (Courtesy of Intrepid Group)

The company is known for putting a stop on all elephant rides on its trips back in 2014, after their assessment of 118 elephant venues found elephants suffering. Since then many operators have chosen to follow suit.

Barnes has found that “what actually drives positive change is ensuring money goes to local communities because when money goes into a local community it creates jobs and helps improve livelihoods. When people see that happening they are more likely to look after wildlife, after the planet.”

First, travelers can do their own research to make sure that’s the case; and second, they can—even if they’re staying at an all-inclusive resort—frequent local businesses such as food stands, Barnes said.

When dollars go back into the local community, “it drives a self-sustainable community. People take responsibility for their actions, and for their communities,” he said.

For Intrepid, Barnes said, “it’s not philanthropy’s for philanthropy’s sake.” Their 1-2-3 initiative channels 1 percent of all revenues and 2 percent of employees’ time into purpose-led projects and initiatives, and 3 percent of Intrepid’s equity to its foundation.

In places such as Nepal and Myanmar, Intrepid works with local communities, often through local nonprofits, to create projects with a positive impact, such as a water conservation program in Chitwan National Park.

The changes are gradual. “We focus on progress over perfection; we are better today than 20, 30 years ago,” Barnes said.

The projects also give a chance for travelers on Intrepid tours to interact with locals. “People are focused on experiences over things. It’s the golden age of experiences,” said Barnes. “Everyone wants to escape the concrete jungle, and do something good for the world.”