Home » An open letter from Intrepid MD James Thornton

An open letter from Intrepid MD James Thornton

written by Intrepid Travel March 14, 2016

Dear Intrepid Travellers,

Intrepid began as a company dedicated to the idea that travel makes the world a better place. It’s a simple idea, but potentially a radical one: by venturing outside our ordinary lives we can fight prejudice, spread compassion, and actually help those less fortunate than ourselves. Basically, we want to change the way people see the world.

In the last few days, sadly, those ideals have come under threat.

Intrepid stands against any policy that closes borders, separates families, discriminates against religion or demonises the less fortunate. As global travellers, as people with a conscience, this isn’t something we can sit and watch. Not in silence.

Each year Intrepid carries more than 100,000 people around the world, from Antarctica all the way to the Arctic Circle. We’ve got over 1,600 staff working on seven continents. And it’s our commitment that each trip we run, every step we take, is taken in a spirit of inclusiveness, tolerance and understanding. That’s not a marketing line for us – it’s fundamental to what we do. It’s what makes us global citizens.

The free movement of people between borders is one of the fundamental building blocks of democracy. It’s a freedom that should be unfettered by race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or ability. Available to all. And especially to those fleeing persecution, war, violence and tyranny. It’s a freedom we probably take for granted, but we should never underestimate its power to offer hope to the hopeless. That promise of a better life, just over the horizon.

I’ve travelled a lot, and it’s a privilege I do not take for granted. With every country visited, I learn something. With every meal shared, I become less ignorant, more inquisitive. Ultimately, it’s not governments or nations (or even executive orders) that have the greatest capacity for change. It’s ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Simple things. A traveller on a long and dusty road, swapping stories with a local.

That’s how you beat prejudice. And it starts with all of us, right now. 

We’ll be doing everything we can to help travellers and passengers affected by the current changes.  But in the meantime, we strongly urge all governments to treat foreign visitors – whoever they may be –  with tolerance, compassion and an open mind.

Yours sincerely,
James Thornton
Global Managing Director, Intrepid Travel

Feeling inspired?

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Geoff September 6, 2018 - 9:11 am

Travel is educational for the travellers, for those visited and for the wider network of those involved, media, politicians and scientists etc. However it can be argued that some travellers have a negative impact on historical and cultural belief systems. Some travel outcomes have a negative impact on ecological structures and add to environmental damage. The pros and cons of travel are fairly subjective but political analysts would always argue that travel outcomes are beneficial to keeping mankind safe and gagging destructive tyrants.

Vernus February 12, 2017 - 4:32 am

Peter Hartnall love your posts, you said it well, especially the part of one having the right to an opinion and to speak out.
I also want to applaud this travel group.

Peter Hartnall February 3, 2017 - 1:16 pm

I totally agree with everything in the open letter. But it is not just the tourists who benefit and have their eyes opened. I believe that the people we meet and even the tour guides themselves benefit from their experience of the interaction between tourists and those whom the tourists meet. At one time wealthy families in England saw the final education of their daughters as experiencing ‘the grand tour’ – usually of Europe. When counties such as N Korea or Burma or the USSR (as it was) made/make it very difficult for travellers to cross their borders, those countries were decried by the west. Now the USA is doing the same. Apart from the moral and educational (in the broadest sense) benefits of travel and tourism there is also the economic benefit to the host country. My country (New Zealand) benefits enormously financially from tourism and travel. So does the UK. So does the USA. So do many poorer counties. Trumps actions may well trigger retaliatory actions by other countries. In such a scenario, we all lose, nobody wins. So the more of us that can, from all corners of the globe, stand up and say “Trump, you are wrong to inhibit free travel for all races, religions, nationalities etc” the better.

jp February 3, 2017 - 10:55 am

I would like to suggest that you concentrate on running your travel business and not burden us with your political opinions.
If the USA wants to tighten up their immigration requirements for security reason, then that’s business not yours.

Peter Hartnall February 6, 2017 - 9:10 am

I would agree that any sovereign country has the right to make its own decisions (although the USA has had a history of interfering in other countries sovereignty – Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Colombia, Panama, Cuba to name but a few) But only to a point. When decisions affect defenceless people such as refugees, one cannot idly stand by. When groups of people are assumed to be terrorists, with no justification, then one should stand up and speak in opposition. When a country such as the USA espouses free speech, but then tries to muzzle anyone who has a contrary point of view to the President, then that is hypocrisy and should be opposed. When a President tells or implies lies claiming that people from certain nations are all terrorists then those lies should be exposed. Trump and his supporters need to look at the evidence and see that most of the killings and deaths within the USA have occurred at the hands of other USA citizens, including by its own police force, then they should realise that this ban will neither make the USA nor the world safer – if anything it may make the world and the USA less safe.
Finally I find it unacceptable;e for you to write “I would like to suggest that you concentrate on running your travel business and not burden us with your political opinions.” because that implies that one has to be either a business person OR political, but not both. ALL of us, throughout the world, will have political opinions, many of which you may disagree with, but we ALL have the right to express them. If you do not want to “be burdened” that is your choice – just do not respond or get involved.

Dianne Moffatt February 3, 2017 - 6:54 am

I totally agree with you, and applaud you for standing up and speaking out. Travel unites us, helps us to understand our fellow global citizens.

Ansje Harris February 2, 2017 - 11:11 pm

I have been on several of your tours and have really enjoyed the informality of meeting people of all nations and generations. What Trump is doing is a travesty of democracy. I hope the American people rise up against him.

Francesco Carpegna February 2, 2017 - 9:23 pm

“We HOLD THESE TRUTHS TO BE SELF EVIDENT that all men are created equal,that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienanble rights
and among these are LIFE,LIBERTY and THE PURSUIT Of HAPPINESS”

Debi Slinger February 2, 2017 - 8:02 pm

Beautifully said. I’m a seasoned traveller, sometimes with Intrepid and what I value is the diversity and culture of different countries. What I value from Intrepid is their beliefs on the environment, minimal impact, honouring the countries they travel within and celebrating all cultures. I blog about my travels and if it’s okay, I would like to share part of your announcement so my readers know that travelling with Intrepid is travelling with intregrity.

kidron February 13, 2017 - 7:03 pm

The letter conspicuously avoids the thorny question of environmental impact. The carbon foorprint of middle class tourists swanning around the globe in aeroplanes burning kerosene at high altitude is colossal. In the 1980s students and young people did the ‘grand tour’ by railway, with one month, subsidised, unlimited travel tickets. Those have been watered down beyond recognition while the cost has increased. Nor do they extend to the whole of europe as they did then, even beyond the iron curtain border. I found myself in East Berlin by mistake ! You need to address seriously he impact of aviation travel in particular, and not just ‘window dress’ green credentials

Anonymous February 2, 2017 - 5:27 pm

Well said, your company has introduced me to safe travel, I travel mostly on my own, using the smallest footprint and giving back to the communities I have visited. As a New Zealander it has been a real privileage to do this and I find it unbelievable that travel may be restricted to only the few that share the same disgraceful beliefs.

Gazza February 2, 2017 - 4:37 pm

Hmm. Intrepid now providing political opinion.
Freedom of travel? How many trips do Intrepid have to Yemen, Somalia, Libya, etc.?
None. Why? Because of radicals, unstable governments and safety considerations.

christine February 2, 2017 - 11:51 am

I couldn’t agree more! Travelling opens the mind and heart. It’s frightening to think that someone could revert to such ignorant. Shows how fearful they really are. Wonder what their DNA would reveal – wouldn’t it be ironical if they originated from the very place they fear!!!

Adrianne Yzerman February 2, 2017 - 11:47 am

I’m an Aussie and I have been a frequent traveller to the US. To me EO is the precurser to a form of Apartheid. I imposed my own travel ban on South Africa during those years and now I am making my own small step by imposing my own travel embargo to the US. It’s easy for me to make the decision as I don’t have family there, but we have to start somewhere until the crazy despot sees sense.

Peter Hartnall February 3, 2017 - 12:56 pm

As a kiwi I totally agree with you. For similar reasons I refuse to visit Zimbabwe. Mugabe and Trump are similar in many ways; neither can handle criticism, they are both bigots, do not use reason, and in the end damage their own nation. I also agree with you that the way Trump is starting out is a road similar to the start of apartheid, and similar to the rise of Nazism… vilification of people different from oneself.

Trevor Hay February 2, 2017 - 11:23 am

I logged on this morning to see if my contrary view had been posted. I was less than surprised to find that it wasn’t. The fact that you only seem to want to publish views that agree with your proposition indicates a lack of tolerance equal to that which you complain about. I was more surprised when I re-read Mr Thornton’s letter to find (and apologies if I’m wrong) that it has been re-worded since yesterday. I’m sure that yesterday it included the word ‘American’. Today it seems to have taken the Meryl Streep route – no names, but we all know who I’m talking about, nudge, nudge, wink, wink. A distinct lack of intestinal fortitude.

anne paul February 2, 2017 - 9:58 am

Thankyou for expressing so soundly what so many are feeling and giving hope thru your leadership.

Cally Bartley February 2, 2017 - 9:24 am

Wow, what a brilliant letter. Thank you for writing.

Colin Murray February 2, 2017 - 7:10 am

It’s an outrage. We enter a new dark age unless this lunacy is stopped.

Peter N February 2, 2017 - 3:21 am

Well said. I support your views & Intrepid. I’ve been lucky enough to travel with you on 11 previous times and have just booked my 12th trip. I’ve been to many places and seen many great things – all without restriction. Trump’s controls are something we can do without in our world.

Anonymous February 1, 2017 - 9:08 pm

Here, here!

Mairi Neil February 1, 2017 - 8:15 pm

Well said! Congratulations for taking a stand. Travel is a wonderful way to learn and become more tolerant and appreciative of this amazing world we inhabit – especially if we move out of our comfort zones. President Trump’s Executive Decision has demonised and hurt many people and does not make the world a safer place. What a tragedy that the voices of hate, ignorance, and fear have been allowed to dominate the discourse for so long culminating in confusion and chaos in airports often seen as places of adventure and joy. Silence can be seen as acquiescence, so thank you for speaking out rationally and eloquently.

Anonymous February 1, 2017 - 8:01 pm

Well said! Thank you for expressing what a lot of people feel. The more people travel, especially out of our comfort zones, the more we learn and I would like to think, the more tolerant and understanding we become. The tragedy unfolding over the last few days following Trump’s Executive Decision has not made America or indeed the world a safer place, rather it has demonised and hurt many innocent people and allowed the voices of hate to gloat and spread fear. Silence can equal acquiescence – thank you for speaking out.

Trevor February 1, 2017 - 7:19 pm

What a load of politically correct hogwash. Every country has the right to defend its borders. The American people voted for this – it is very little to do with the rest of us. If they don’t like the rules then there is a democratic process open to them to get it changed. It is my understanding that the suspension of travel from just 7 counties (a List that may have been drawn up by President Obama) affects very few people . Those shouting the loudest won’t be affected at all. I would suggest that Intrepid sticks to organising tours – you’re very good at it. Leave the politics out of it.

Dave February 11, 2017 - 2:23 pm

It would seem that the US courts think the ban is unconstitutional so I guess it’s not hogwash.

Peter Hartnall February 19, 2017 - 4:21 pm

Of course every country has the right to defend its borders, but who says the USA is under attack? Attack by whom? How? The order is attacking genuine USA citizens who happen to have originated from a country that Trump does not like. It is making valid holders of green cards that happen to come from another country originally, difficult to renter the USA. To state that the Americans voted for this is silly; fewer Americans voted for Trump than for Clinton. It is just the strange system of the electoral college that enabled Trump to take power. Also, if the American people wanted this, ,then why are there so many demonstrations within America against this.? Finally why do you use the term ‘politically correct’ as a disparaging term. there would have been a time in the USA’s history when it would have been ‘politically correct’ to say women could vote, or to end slavery. Maybe those shouting the loudest may not be affected. But if we believe something is morally wrong, should we not say so?

rick be February 20, 2017 - 2:22 pm

“Politically Correct”is an awful thing & The Don will throw it in the trash bin.The truth is what is necessary to hear.Not condescending lies.

Helen cuthbert February 1, 2017 - 7:10 pm

Well said. My first time travelling with intrepid to India this October. This message has reconfirmed I am travelling with a great company that shares my values and beliefs.

Gareth James February 1, 2017 - 6:34 pm

The idea that travel makes the world a better place is not a radical idea at all in my view. It is without doubt factual! I applaud you for stating publically what most of us think and for condemning the behaviour of the new order in USA. I hope all other travel and hospitality leaders have the conviction to express a similar view.

Richard Baxter February 1, 2017 - 6:26 pm

What you state is why we go Intrepid. Only 8 trips so far but on each your ethics and beliefs are obvious and allows us insights to other cultures, intrepids, locales. and experiences that enhance our lives. We are better humans because of it. How can you limit travel if you claim you are the land o fthe free?

Andrew Picken February 1, 2017 - 6:22 pm

Nicely said

Mary Louise Tucker February 1, 2017 - 6:21 pm

Right on!

Judy Fahey February 1, 2017 - 6:13 pm

Beautifully written, James, and thank you for being prepared to stand up for what you, and many of us, believe.

Vanessa Richardson February 1, 2017 - 6:10 pm

I completely agree with your statement well done for stating your position so elequontly.

FT February 1, 2017 - 5:58 pm


bobocc February 1, 2017 - 5:30 pm

Unfortunately, the vast majority of travellers are selfish, self-absorbed, daft, inconsiderate, and completely oblivious of their actions and the consequences of those actions. Most western travellers are like locust swarms: they leave a path of degradation and impoverishment behind them.

Peter Hartnall February 3, 2017 - 1:03 pm

Interesting to read the various comments. “BOBOCC” above is falling into the same trap as Trump i.e. grouping a set of people together (Moslems, or western tourists) with a common attribute (terrorists, or selfish self absorbed etc). The opposite in reality is true ; we are all different but are common in one humanity that transcends race, religion, political boundary, age, gender. Of course there are some terrorists. Of course there are inconsiderate people. But fortunately that is not true for the vast majority of people. Prejudging people as BOBOCC has done, is just that – prejudice.

rick be February 5, 2017 - 4:05 pm

I think you are very wrong,most travelers are anxious to learn,kind & generous.Their passing makes the world a better place.

rick be February 5, 2017 - 4:11 pm

You’re wrong,most travelers are kind & generous & wouldn’t knowingly hurt a flea.

Vicki Rogers February 1, 2017 - 11:41 am

Love what you said – I have been fortunate to travel to many different places on my own, with friends or strangers who become friends. The experiences I have had have made me more tolerant, open minded and prepared to take risks – they have given me great joy and memories to share.
Thank you for your passionate letter. Vicki

Bambi Leigh Hale February 1, 2017 - 10:40 am

I have your company to thank for bringing my husband into my life, who I met while on an Intrepid trip to Fiji (incidentally we are celebrating our 8th wedding anniversary today). I was already quite fond of you, and now I have reason to love Intrepid Travel even more! Thank you for your stance on this critical issue, and for your wise words on the incredible power of travel as a force for good.

Marian Buller February 1, 2017 - 4:36 am


Raj February 1, 2017 - 2:39 am

Thank you for voicing this. Namaste

Christine Rice February 1, 2017 - 2:16 am

Right on Mr. Thornton! We agree wholeheartedly with you!!! Thx for your well thought out opinion. Tom & Christine Rice

Jerry McIntyre February 1, 2017 - 12:16 am

Thank you for eloquently stating what I know so many of us feel. Travel is at it’s best when “ordinary people to extraordinary things.” Thank you again for speaking for us.

Dawn Roberts January 31, 2017 - 10:25 pm

Well said, I couldn’t agree more. Travel is the one thing that unites people .. we learn more by doing it than any classroom can teach. Everyone loves to talk about where they’ve been, where they plan to go and to share experiences. All Trump is doing is playing into the ignorant members of societies hands, the very same people who have probably never traveled further than the end of their street. It’s sad, but there is a beacon of light in that he is also uniting everyone that find his comments/outlook/delusional rants disgraceful.
Let’s stand together! Freedom to travel for all is a right and not a privilege.


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