Patan Durbar Square in Kathmandu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that sustained major damages due to the recent earthquake // © 2015 Mindy Poder
Intrepid Group has been traveling to Nepal for more than 35 years, so the tour operator family is no stranger to dealing with natural disasters.
On Saturday, April 25, a 7.9-magnitude earthquake struck Nepal. It has devastated important temples and historic sites, has caused deadly avalanches in the Himalayas and has resulted in the deaths of more than 4,000 people and counting.
It’s the worst earthquake the country has experienced in the last 80 years, but it’s certainly not the first natural disaster the country has ever faced.
During my trek in Nepal, completed only 10 days before the recent earthquake, my tour leader, Kabin Gurung, told me about past natural disasters and general emergencies, recounting helicopter rescues in the Everest range and more. Gurung has been working for Intrepid’s Peregrine Adventures for more than 10 years, and before that, he was a mountaineering guide in the Mount Everest region.
According to Gurung, Intrepid Group’s ability to support its clients in times of need is its most valuable asset — one that has been proven by Intrepid Group’s response to the current crisis in Nepal.
TravelAge West spoke to Christian Wolters, deputy general manager of the Intrepid Group. The Intrepid Group includes Intrepid Travel, Gecko’s Adventures and Peregrine Adventures, which began 37 years ago with trips to Nepal.
How many Intrepid, Peregrine and Geckos groups were in Nepal during the quake?
Intrepid Group had 23 group tours running in Nepal at the time of the earthquake. There were 168 travelers in total, all of whom are accounted for and safe. We had 11 U.S. travelers.
Are any groups still in Nepal, or have all travelers been able to leave?
Our travelers have not been evacuated and are still in various parts of Nepal. All are safe and accounted for, and our teams in the ground have provided accommodation for them.
What has the process been? Were clients evacuated immediately, or were they kept at a hotel?
The basis of the process involved is outlined as follows.
1. Locate each client. Some clients were yet to officially start their trip or had just finished; with limited communications, it was hard to immediately get in touch with these passengers.
2. Assess safety of each individual client.
3. Assess safety of immediate surrounding.
4. Contact local office for further instructions.
5. We assessed safety of the location of our passengers. If they were in safe areas, we advised them to remain there.
6. If unsafe, move to safer area in open ground. We had clients in Pokhara, Nepal, move to tents we provided outside of our office in Pokhara.
7. We reached out to relevant embassies to inform them of clients who are with us.
8. Gather clients in one central place to help control communications and keep things orderly.
9. Once a safe evacuation route has been identified, we will move travelers back to Kathmandu for evacuation out of Nepal. This process is ongoing.
In general, what is the policy/protocol of dealing with a disaster like this? How does it benefit clients to travel with a tour operator such as Intrepid or Peregrine?
Intrepid Group operates our own Destination Management Company (DMC) in Nepal. It is times like this when those DMCs are crucial for the safety of our travelers. Our local operations team has the local knowledge and contacts to respond quickly in these situations.
Intrepid Group has more than 36 years of experience in Nepal. We have a comprehensive incident management plan in place, and we invest in extensive training of our operation staff and leaders. Having locally-employed teams is simply invaluable. They know the country inside out.
When were the next tours/treks in Nepal supposed to start?
We had scheduled departures set to run on April 25, April 26 and the following days. We have cancelled all departures in Nepal until May 11. This date is being reassessed daily and could be pushed back even further. This has impacted 35 itineraries, including our Experience Nepal, Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Adventure tours.
How can the American travel industry help?
The Intrepid Foundation launched a Nepal Earthquake Appeal this weekend and received more than $39,000 within 24 hours of the launch.
Intrepid has now announced that it will match traveler donations up to a target sum totaling $157,000, with The Intrepid Foundation contributing up to half.
Where will this money go?
The appeal is raising funds for Plan International, a long-term partner of The Intrepid Foundation. The children’s charity has been working in Nepal for more than 30 years to help impoverished children access health, education and protection.
Plan has sent emergency teams to respond to the needs of children and families affected by the earthquake in the Kathmandu Valley, with the immediate priority of supporting children’s core needs of shelter, water, healthcare and essential child-protection mechanisms.
To donate, please visit here.
What advice do you have for travel agents with clients interested in Nepal?
It is very important that we support this country and not turn our backs in times of trouble. The people of Nepal rely on tourism, and we hope the travel community will come together to support their rebuild.
We hope travelers understand that these natural disasters happen all over the world, and while tragic, they should not be a reflection of its safety as a travel destination.