Australian-founded travel company Intrepid Travel will require all of its tour guides and travellers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 from September, as part of a broader global vaccine equity campaign launched this week.
However, the mandatory vaccination policy won’t immediately apply to travellers in Australia, New Zealand and the Cook Islands.
For Intrepid trips in other regions, travellers aged over 70 and those with pre-existing health conditions are currently required to show proof they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to be able to travel, and this will be extended to all travellers from September 1, 2021.
All children over the age of six will be required to either have proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test, while those who are unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons can apply for an exemption.
Intrepid Group chief executive James Thornton told SmartCompany Australia, New Zealand the Cook Islands are currently exempt from the vaccination policy because international border restrictions and strict lockdowns mean these regions are “very different operating environments to the rest of the world”.
However, Thornton says this may change as vaccination levels lift and government restrictions change.
“As more vaccines become more accessible and more people get vaccinated, we expect regulations will being to shift in these countries, and we will re-evaluate our policy as the safety of our travellers, tour leaders and the communities we visit is of the utmost importance to us,” he says,
In an open letter published on Wednesday, Thornton said the mandatory vaccination policy is about keeping people safe, including in the communities that Intrepid tours visit.
“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,” he said.
While Thornton acknowledged that making vaccination compulsory “may not sit well with some people”, he said Intrepid has already been seeing vaccination rates on its trips of more than 94%.
“As a company that takes our responsibility to the communities we visit seriously, we have no choice,” he said.
“We need to keep everyone safe. It’s as simple as that.”
The policy forms part of Intrepid’s new global vaccine equity campaign, which Thornton explained is designed to support “fair and equal access to vaccines” in low-income countries, where less than 1% of vaccines have been delivered.
“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 the vaccines,” he said.
To that end, Intrepid has committed to raising $100,000 via The Intrepid Foundation to support the global delivery of COVID-19 vaccines. This support will be provided to UNICEF Australia’s ‘Give the World a Shot’ appeal, and will include an upfront donation of $50,000.
The company will also seek to improve vaccine access and education by using on-the-ground networks in the regions it visits, including Peru, where the company has already been offering free transport for people in remote areas to access a vaccination hub.
“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,” Thornton said.
Intrepid’s move comes as more companies in Australia start making decisions about whether they will require their workers and customers to have the vaccine.
On Thursday, Victorian food processor SPC became the first Australian company outside of the sectors like aged care to outline a mandatory vaccination policy for staff.
Employment law experts have said the SPC policy could lead to the first test case over who is considered a frontline worker, if for example, an employee loses their job due to refusing to get vaccinated.