How Sarah Clark runs an international travel agency during a pandemic


The start of 2020 couldn’t have been stronger, I was leading a passionate team across Australia and New Zealand in the world’s largest adventure travel company, surpassing goals set for the biggest month January of the company’s history. We were on track with our future goals of balancing goal and profit, supporting local communities while taking clients on the journey of a lifetime.

In February and March, the rapidly changing environment could not have been further from our forecast. Countries began to close borders, leaving customers stranded, airports closed and we were on the brink of a pandemic.

Quickly, the company has grown from nearly half a billion dollars with more than 450,000 customers in the past 12 months to focus on survival. It was the start of a long and difficult journey, and the biggest professional challenge I have ever faced.

Focus on what is under your control

Before Australia was stranded, the priority was to get over 3,000 customers home as borders and airports continued to close across the world, while also suspending future travel for our customers.

In a crisis situation, especially of this magnitude, no one can predict what will happen. Intrepid was well organized and the team was prepared for many situations that got us through the early stages of the pandemic. Having a well-trained and flexible team, a crisis communication procedure and a cloud-based environment was essential to weather the storm.

Clear settings have also been something I’ve learned that helps a team focus when the world around them is in chaos. Like most businesses, our teams worked remotely with different circumstances at home, from home schooling to seclusion. Having direction and concentration of work helped create some normalcy. The outside environment cannot be controlled, but it is your responsibility as a leader to make sure your team is in place and focused on the areas that can be controlled.

More to communicate

In times of change, it is important to communicate too much. When people are not in their usual environment, especially virtually, it is easy for things to be misinterpreted or missed, which is why I have focused on communicating each message in different ways, including a looping loop. feedback. If you don’t know how your team feels, you won’t get the best performance and ultimately fail at your job.

Neither of us had led a team in a virtual environment during a pandemic, so I had to learn this along the way, but the basics of leadership still apply.

In a time of monumental social change, and with our team facing enormous uncertainty, I felt it was just as important for me to provide them with some consistency and routine.

I prioritized regular one-on-one catch-ups, weekly and monthly updates with the entire region, and bi-weekly CEO corporate sessions as well as social catch-ups with the goal of replacing Friday drinks. evening. We also introduced ‘hallway conversations’ to listen to a day in the life of our colleagues, a simple office routine that was missed in 2020.

Diversity of thought

The rapidly changing environment and uncertainty meant that we had to have calm, clear and diverse thinking. Being part of an experienced, trusted and mutually supportive global management team means that we have been able to make smart decisions together that have been communicated and executed by different teams across the company.

This diversity also makes us a better company. Intrepid has team members from over 65 different nationalities and from all over the world. We are also a B Corp, which means we balance purpose and profit.

During the crisis, we were able to look to our core values ​​to guide our decision making and thinking. This is something that I will remember for future situations, to step away and have a wider view. To have customers at heart, think cross-department, through the eyes of different genders, ask the team for their perspective, and keep the big picture front.

Leverage your network, collaboration, not the competition

I have worked in different global travel companies in Australia, UK, Canada and USA. But when Covid struck, everyone on the trip was struggling with similar challenges, with their own unique circumstances.

At such times, I have found it helpful to reach out to my wider network. It was an opportunity to meet people on a very human level, ask questions about their challenges and get feedback on my own.

It has also led to redefining what competition in travel means. Before covid there was a healthy dose, where now the focus is on collaboration, because this is how we will come out of Covid-19 stronger.

For Intrepid, we have gone so far as to invest and share free tools with other companies such as our guide to decarbonization and our open source toolkit for animal welfare, because travel will not come out of this crisis successfully. that if we use this break to collectively address the greatest threats to our world. We want other businesses to take what we’ve learned about responsible tourism and carbon management and use that knowledge in their own businesses.

Find your space for creative thinking

Intrepid quickly identified that domestic travel and hyper-local experiences would bounce back first and wanted to be ready as soon as our customers were.

In the fall of 2020, I led a global task force to create, develop and launch a new local travel product tailored to people in our markets around the world. We had to prioritize our source customer markets, use existing systems and platforms, and launch within six weeks with zero marketing dollars.

It is a challenge that I took up while leading a team from Tasmania where I had the chance to go through confinement. During the frenetic weeks around the Local Travel Project, I have found it very helpful to take the time to just walk along Hobart’s waterfront. This is where I had the space to think creatively and where my ideas could evolve – away from the daily crisis.

Now, as the pandemic continues, the space for creative thinking becomes even more important. As we transform as an industry, we need visionary leadership. We need dedicated, passionate and motivated teams to deliver the future of travel.

The rebound of the trip will be fierce. When it is safe to do so, people will travel. Explore, forge new relationships, discover new cultures. This is more necessary than ever today.

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