Twenty years after pioneering the exclusive employment of local leaders, we're celebrating our heritage with pride. At the end of any given Peregrine trip, when the time comes to farewell their leaders, it’s not uncommon for travellers to shed some tears. Regardless of how much or little time they spent under their new friend’s guidance - the strength of the bond is undeniable. And it’s been that way for the past 20 years. “All you have to do is look at our traveller feedback to see how much of a difference our leaders make,” says Peregrine general manager Steve Wroe. “They’re the most important part of the Peregrine experience. They’re at the heart of everything we do, and they’ll remain there for as long as Peregrine exists.” The leaders, says Wroe, provide Peregrine travellers with the most immersive and engaging travel experience possible, whilst simultaneously providing a form of income and employment for local people. “Paying locals instead of hiring a non-native - it just makes sense,” he adds. Peregrine has been making sense since 1995, when it became the first travel company in the world to exclusively employ local leaders. The seed was planted in Nepal (the company’s first destination) in the early ‘80s, and was spearheaded by Peregrine legend Mick Chapman, who led the very first Peregrine trek. Mick soon realised the experience and knowledge of his local guides was unsurpassable. And over time, the balance began to shift organically, seeing the locals take on more responsibility. In the mid ‘90s, more Peregrine leaders began coming to the same realisation that Mick had in Nepal years earlier: the local guides could offer travellers much more insight than they could ever hope to. “They’d have an auntie that had a noodle stall, or a cousin that owned a bar,” explains Wroe. “So we started giving them more authority in terms of leading and we took more of a back seat. We quickly discovered that they knew things we’d never know, so we made the decision to switch entirely to local leaders.”
Next, one of the company’s managing directors joined a trip and, impressed at the level of insight the locals could offer Peregrine travellers, the decision was made – Peregrine were to exclusively employ local leaders from then on out. Wroe, who’s been with the company since 1994, and another long-time Peregrine employee, San Khoo, spent the last few months of 1995 training up the local guides in Vietnam and Thailand to be able to lead tours on their own.
Fast forward 20 years, and Peregrine employ 230 local leaders in over 90 countries around the world and have access to roughly 1,000 local leaders. And as Wroe points out, it’s not just the travellers that benefit from the local approach. “By employing locals, we help build important skills within the communities,” he explains. “Tourism is a fundamental source of income for people in a lot of the places we visit, so we invest a hell of a lot in leader training. Every year, we run extensive courses for our leaders, which as well as giving us the best leaders in the world, also imparts a lot of useful and lasting skills.”
To highlight how the skills learned as a Peregrine leader can last a lifetime, Wroe relays the story of Dorjee, a Nepalese man who accompanied Mick Chapman on the first Peregrine trek as an assistant guide. “Now, all these years later, Dorjee owns a fantastic lodge in the Everest area and is part-owner of our local operation in Kathmandu,” says the GM with a hint of pride.
With Peregrine having set the benchmark for employing locally, it wasn’t long before other major players in the travel industry began to follow suit. Now, in 2014, the majority of Peregrine’s competitors have dropped western leaders altogether and taken on their own crews of locals.
Despite the milestone and despite the role the 36-year-old company played in pioneering local leaders within the travel industry, Wroe still believes that the most important and transcending point of all is that the locals are proud to show travellers their home country. “They lived through the changes – the good and the bad – and they can offer first-hand insight into their country,” he says. “They’re talking about social, political and economical issues from experience and they’re talking about places they grew up in. They’re not reading it from a book.”