An open letter from Intrepid Travel’s CEO: For travel to return, we need global vaccine equity

written by James Thornton August 4, 2021
Traveller with guide in Nepal

Less than 1% of COVID-19 vaccines worldwide have been delivered to low-income countries, a number that must be corrected to save lives, restart economies, and meaningfully rebuild the travel industry. That’s why Intrepid is stepping up its work to support global access to COVID-19 vaccines.

One of the most profound benefits of travelling is that it reminds me just how connected we all are; that we are part of a global community, not just a local one. The greater the number of countries we visit, people we meet, and communities we find ourselves in, the more our commonality comes to light. It might sound a bit cheesy, but it’s true.

The last trip I took before the pandemic put an end to travel (as we know it) was to Peru, where I visited Machu Picchu with my family. That trip was incredible for many reasons, but it was the people we met along the way, and the immense kindness they showed us, that made that trip once-in-a-lifetime. And that has been true, for the most part, wherever I’ve travelled in the world.

As challenging as the last year and a half has been, I believe the global community has demonstrated this capacity for kindness on a universal scale. Think about it: we stayed (and, in some cases, are still staying) indoors for weeks or months at a time in order to protect the more vulnerable among us. We have been wearing masks, receiving vaccines, checking in on one another, supporting local businesses, and creating new ways of working and living. We have been practicing kindness on a massive scale.

Now, as the global vaccine rollout picks up pace, we have an opportunity to do it again.  

Because while some countries are rolling out mass vaccination programs — I’m privileged to have received both of my doses — that is sadly not the case for most of the world. In fact, less than 1% of vaccines have been delivered to low-income countries. But vaccines for the privileged simply won’t cut it. Billions of lives are still at risk.

That’s why Intrepid is this week launching our global vaccine equity campaign, which focuses on three key actions: a commitment to raise AUD $100,000 via The Intrepid Foundation to support the global delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, improving vaccine access and education by mobilising our on-the-ground networks, and the introduction of a mandatory vaccine policy on our trips.

Our vaccination policy will require all of our travellers and tour leaders to be fully vaccinated, effective September 1, 2021. We’re taking this step because it’s important to us that we make sure the communities we visit, our leaders and our travellers are safe and that we minimise, as much as possible, anyone’s chances of travelling with and passing on COVID-19.

I know that making anything compulsory may not sit well with some people, but even before we introduced the policy, we were already seeing vaccination rates on our trips of more than 94%. And as a company that takes our responsibility to the communities we visit seriously, we have no choice. We need to keep everyone safe. It’s as simple as that.

Of course, it is easy to say vaccinations are required, but with the uneven distribution of vaccines around the world, it is another thing to ensure people can actually access vaccines. Our fundraising and advocacy campaign aims to support just that — fair and equal access to vaccines.

Intrepid’s philanthropic arm, The Intrepid Foundation, has committed to raise AUD $100,000 to support UNICEF Australia’s campaign via the Give the World a Shot appeal. This includes an upfront donation of AUD $50,000, which will immediately help deliver COVID-19 vaccinations in countries all around the world. UNICEF is the world’s largest distributor of vaccines, and already vaccinates one in every two children on the planet. The organisation’s work will see two billion vaccine doses and one billion syringes delivered in 190 participating countries — including many where Intrepid Travel operates trips and has offices and staff — by the end of 2021.

We’re mobilising our people in those countries, too.

In Peru, Intrepid has been advocating for vaccine equality for remote communities, and offering free transport using our own vehicles to people living in the remote Sacred Valley, to help them access a major vaccination hub in Ollantaytambo. Our team has also worked with local government to advocate for a vaccination hub in Calca, where most of our Inca Trail porters live. At the start of July 2021, none of the porters that Intrepid contracts on treks had been vaccinated. By the end of July, 80% had received at least one dose. And with the memories of our Machu Picchu trip still fresh in my mind, I’m grateful that we’ve been able to assist our people in Peru in some small way in their battle against the virus.

Porters in Peru holding their vaccination forms
Intrepid porters in Peru receiving their COVID-19 vaccinations on July 30, 2021

And, in our Colombo office in Sri Lanka, Intrepid hosted a Q&A session with Professor Neelika Malavige, a member of the World Health Organization’s technical advisory committee and part of the executive Committee of the International Society of Infectious Diseases and National Covid Vaccine Committee. Neelika educated staff on vaccines, and the critical role they play in ending the COVID-19 pandemic and spent time answering questions.

We know there is a long way to go until we get through this, but returning to any kind of normal — or better yet, building a new, more compassionate normal – requires access to vaccines for everyone. I am proud to lead an organisation that is supporting that goal. And I hope that you, our Intrepid travellers, will be supportive of our goal of global vaccine equity, because I know you feel the same compassion for our global community as we do.

Give today to ‘Give the World a Shot’ via the Intrepid Foundation.

Editor’s notes: this article was updated September 27, 2021 to reflect that from December 1, 2021, Intrepid’s vaccine mandate policy includes Australia, New Zealand and the Cook Islands. As such, the policy is consistent across all trips globally.

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