Is group travel with a global tour operator compatible with supporting local economies? Sustainable travel journalist Holly Tuppen investigates on Intrepid’s new premium trip in Morocco.

The small living room vibrates as drums beat, guttural voices wail, and 15 pairs of feet tap to the rhythm. Tables loaded with slow-cooked chicken, spice-drenched salads, and discs of flatbread are rearranged to make a tiny dance floor. There’s not a drop of alcohol in sight, but no-one has noticed.

Our host, Zineb, welcomes more visitors—relatives and neighbours ascending from the dimly lit Marrakesh medina alley below, drawn by the music. Excitement bounces off the walls.

One of Zineb’s relatives sidles up to paint henna at record speed across my hands. “Praise be to God; we can breathe now!” she exclaims when I ask how lockdown has been. It’s been severe in Morocco, so the party is a novelty. Traditional celebratory Cha’abi music, which means ‘of the people’, soon gets everyone on their feet.

Later that night, head spinning and ears thumping, I marvel at the intimacy of the evening. I’m in Morocco with Intrepid Travel (disclaimer: parent company of, traveling as part of a group of 8 people. I’ve always been sceptical of group trips and expected a staged show for tourists. A hang-up, perhaps, from the naff package holidays of my childhood. These days, I consider independent travel to be more meaningful; real travelers don’t need handholding, I tell myself.