News & Views

Intrepid Travel: Empowering women through community-based tourism

Intrepid Travel is a small group adventure travel company, which offers unique, interactive travel experiences with a strong focus on responsible travel that is respectful of local people, their cultures, economies and the environment, and makes a positive development impact through using local guides and businesses. Intrepid has recently launched a community-based tourism initiative in Myanmar, in partnership with ActionAid Myanmar, aimed at financially empowering women in one of the country’s poorest regions.

Intrepid began offering trips to Myanmar in 1995, and has a long connection with the country and its people. Despite significant change in recent years, Myanmar remains one of the world’s least developed countries (in 2015, it was positioned at 148 out of 188 countries and territories in the Human Development Index).

To help address some of the challenges in Myanmar and financially empower women, Intrepid has partnered with ActionAid Myanmar on a community-based tourism initiative in Myaing township and nearby villages – one of the poorest and least developed regions in Myanmar which, prior to the partnership, had not shared in the benefits of Myanmar’s growth in tourism.

Through the partnership, Intrepid and ActionAid Myanmar are supporting the development of women-led Self Help Groups in Myaing’s four nearby villages, with 20 – 30 women in each. Donations to the Intrepid Foundation contribute to a “revolving loans fund” managed by the Self Help Groups. Community members can then borrow money at an interest rate of 2%, which will provide income to the Self Help Groups and be redistributed to group members at the end of the year as profit. In turn, women who borrow money from the Self Help Groups can invest in their existing or new businesses – mainly agricultural-based activities or traditional handicrafts production – empowering the women through access to capital.

“Whilst woman are indeed more liberated than they used to be – at least in the western world – there are nonetheless many equality issues that are still faced by girls and women today. Often these are less obvious and more insidious than they used to be, but real all the same,” noted Darrel Wade, Co-Founder and CEO of Intrepid Travel. “Through this initiative, we are working closely with women in Myaing to support the development of their own small businesses, to help these women create sustainable livelihoods.”

At the same time, Intrepid has included Myaing in one of its small group tours, where visitors spend two days in the area, staying in a local-style community lodge and participating in cultural exchange. Through this, members of the local community are gaining hospitality skills training and employment.

In this way, the initiative is bringing an additional stream of income to a community that has largely been limited to farming and unskilled labouring with young people having to leave the area in search of other work. It is also doing so in a way that is minimally disruptive to local communities and promotes the local culture.

Each partner has been critical to the success of the initiative, which was built on the different skills and resources each partner offered, and a common goal of empowering local women and the broader community in Myaing.

Intrepid has contributed its industry knowledge, an understanding of what customers are looking for and the need for the experience to be delivered in a sustainable way. It has also provided market access by including a stay at the lodge into one of its itineraries. ActionAid Myanmar brought a wealth of knowledge and experience in relation to community and livelihood development, and the best approaches to this. The women of Myaing have brought passion, knowledge, commitment, local expertise and a wealth of experiences to share with the guests.

Myanmar’s Ministry of Hotels and Tourism has also been very supportive of the initiative, making frequent site visits and creating the legal environment in which such a project could be developed.

To build on and ensure continued sustainability of the initiative, ActionAid Myanmar will support further skill development, business expansion, and access to other resources. Intrepid’s team continues to work closely on the initiative too, having made a firm two-year commitment with plans to continue longer term. Intrepid will also provide training for the community lodge so that in future, they will also be able to source their own guests directly. It is hoped that the model can be expanded to other areas of Myanmar and other destinations in the near future.

“It has been an absolute joy to work with the women’s Self Help Groups in Myaing to establish this project and share in their passion and desire to develop their communities for themselves and future generations,” said Lee Sheridan, General Manager for Intrepid’s Destination Management Company in Myanmar. “We have already seen employment, income-generation and training opportunities improve for a number of women within these communities.”

You can find out more about Intrepid’s Responsible Business initiatives at http://www.intrepidtravel.com/about/responsible-business