With travel more accessible now than it’s ever been, it’s getting harder and harder for travellers to find parts of the world that are both relatively untouched and safe to travel in. Peregrine Expeditions were set up to help facilitate this desire, and to make the process of really getting off the beaten track as simple as possible.
Peregrine now run expeditionary trips in North Korea, Tajikistan, Mongolia, Papua New Guinea and has recently added Algeria – a lesser-visited destination that boasts no less than seven UNESCO world heritage sites - to the roster. The team responsible for both the creative and practical aspects of building these pioneering adventures are known as destination managers. And Pete Miers, the man behind Peregrine’s Expedition Algeria itinerary (that visits six of the aforementioned seven UNESCO sites), is regarded as one of the company’s hall-of-famers.
Having worked with Peregrine for 16 years, Miers finished his innings overseeing, improving and pioneering Middle East itineraries (he now works as a Peregrine business development manager). Towards the tail end of 2013, the Middle East presented few options for innovation. “We’d just seen two really interesting countries in Syria and Libya go off the map,” offers Miers during a conversation at Peregrine HQ in Melbourne. “They were fairly big blows – particularly Syria, because the trips used to be run in combination with Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon”.
Not one to rest on the laurels of his already successful Middle East trips, Miers began weighing up his options in the wake of losing Syria and Lebanon. It was a case of “looking for whatever opportunities there were in countries we didn’t already go”. He contemplated the likes of the Kurdistan area of Northern Iraq and Saudi Arabia, but both had issues that meant they weren’t – and remain – not quite ready for travellers.
“ And then there’s Algeria,” remarks Miers, who began looking at travelling to the country, a country that was held in the grip of civil war from 1991-2002, for himself. He’d visited most other countries in the Middle East, but never Algeria. He turned to the internet and began sounding out the safety aspects of the region. “When looking at a country that has a question mark over security, one good resource is Thorntree – the chatroom of Lonely Planet,” he explains.
Miers noticed there were a few people asking questions about Algeria and it was evident that at least some of them had travelled there. It was enough to pique his curiosity and got him thinking about the potential for Peregrine. After a bit of digging, he came across an Algerian-based tour company. “Looking at their website, I really got the feeling that they were of a similar philosophical bent to us,” says Miers. “They were talking about the value of having local leaders and small groups, their focus was on low-impact travel.”
After reading more, Miers began a conversation with the operator via email, stating that he was interested in Algeria as a destination. He received five or six from his contact, but none of the itineraries interested Miers from start to finish. So, in true destination manager style, he created his own. “I put together this itinerary of things that sounded interesting to me,” explains Miers of the creative process. “I think the things that interest me – the history, the culture, the people – are the things that also interest Peregrine travellers.” Miers came up with something of a cocktail of the itineraries presented to him – one that took in the Roman ruins of the north as well as the oasis towns on the edge of the Sahara Desert.
Safety is always a primary concern on any Peregrine trip – even more so for a country that has current (or a history of) unrest. After much discussion and reassurance, Miers was confident that the local operator was providing safe trips for his clients and that he had a firm understanding of the need for safety and security of travellers. Miers was already planning a work trip to Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Morocco. “Why the heck don’t I pop into Algeria while I’m there?” he says nonchalantly. “It still counted as work, after all, as I was looking at pioneering a Peregrine destination.”
Before he departed, Miers ironed out any kinks in the itinerary with the operator and began to ask more questions about his company. As it transpired, the owner of the local operator was only one of two employees at the company. The other was the Algerian tour leader. “The operator was perfect because he had his foot in both worlds,” says Miers. “He knows Algeria inside out, but he also knows the expectations of western travellers, and he saw the opportunity for tourism in Algeria way before anyone else.”
As planned, Miers embarked on his 15-day Algerian itinerary at the end of his work trip and was blown away by the country. “I was very impressed by the sites I knew little about, like the Roman Ruins,” he says. “It’s a huge country that has tons of places that are of huge interest to western tourists, but virtually no tourists. It’s been off the map for so many years, but it’s now virtually a new country. Where somewhere like Morocco has been saturated by mass tourism, Algeria has been completely bypassed. If some of these sites were in Europe they’d have tens of thousands of tourists walking over them, but there were maybe 50 in Algeria. It’s a fantastic opportunity for western tourists to experience these places without crowds.”
Having returned home from a successful first stint in Algeria, Miers set about winning over the rest of his team to make Expedition Algeria a reality. “I had to get past this in discussions with some of my colleagues, but once people put faith in my judgment of the place – because I’m reasonably well-travelled and I think I know an interesting country when I see one – I was able to put together the itinerary,” he explains. The itinerary you see on the Peregrine website and in brochures today is almost identical to Miers’ original, save for a few practical changes.
The first Expedition Algeria tour departed with six passengers and the October departure already has nine bookings. Miers believes the destination will resonate with Peregrine clients, but is humbly withholding any show of pride until he hears their feedback on the country for himself. “As good as it is to see people booking,” he explains, “if I hear the first passengers saying the same things that I said when I returned from Algeria, I’ll be thrilled. If the right people booked on the trip, hopefully that’ll be the case. It’s a long way from a mainstream destination, but there are plenty of travellers out there who want to be the first to go to a destination, and these expeditions definitely cater to them.”
Learn more about Peregrine's Expedition Algeria here. All photographs taken by Pete Miers