Recognized as one of BC's Top Employers (2019):
By Richard Yerema and Kristina Leung, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Feb 21, 2019)
Here are some of the reasons why ToursByLocals was selected as one of BC's Top Employers (2019):
- ToursByLocals cultivates an ownership culture through a share purchase plan available to all employees -- and lets everyone share in the company's success with profit-sharing
- ToursByLocals supports employees who are new parents, offering maternity leave top-up payments for mothers (to 95% of salary for up to 16 weeks) and parental top-up for fathers and adoptive parents (to 95% of salary for up to 8 weeks)
- ToursByLocals encourages ongoing employee development with tuition subsidies for courses taken at outside institutions, to $1,000 annually, and provides subsidies for professional accreditation
Recognized as one of Canada's Top Small & Medium Employers (2019):
By Richard Yerema and Kristina Leung, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Apr 11, 2019)
Here are some of the reasons why ToursByLocals was selected as one of Canada's Top Small & Medium Employers (2019):
- ToursByLocals staff enjoy a casual dress code daily and can bring their four-legged friends to work when needed -- the company also hosts regular breakfasts, cultural nights and bi-monthly socials for its employees
- Employees at ToursByLocals are encouraged to keep fit with free access to an onsite shared-use fitness facility, as well as a variety of free healthy snacks in the employee lounge including oranges, strawberries, apples, bananas and avocados, trail mix, mixed nuts and dried seaweed
ToursByLocals takes a fresh approach to travel - and work
For many organizations, 2008 was a disaster. U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers had filed for bankruptcy in September, helping to drive an already sputtering economy into a deep global recession. For ToursByLocals, however, launching just two months later turned out to be good timing after all, says CEO and Founder Paul Melhus.
The downturn affected numerous sectors worldwide, including travel and tourism. As a result, a critical mass of tour guides was willing to sign on with a Vancouver start-up and take a chance on its ground-breaking business model of enabling travellers to find and book private, customizable tours with local guides worldwide.
"As the world economy started to heal, we had something special to offer," says Melhus, noting that ToursByLocals entered the market when travellers were increasingly forgoing mass tourism in favour of more authentic cultural experiences. "We had a lot of tailwind."
The numbers tell the story. In 2009, ToursByLocals booked 192 tours; in 2018, 3,537 guides in 156 countries led 80,230 tours. The company also opened offices in Glasgow and Kuala Lumpur, expanded its office in Buenos Aires and moved into a new 10,500-sq.-ft. office in downtown Vancouver, doubling its headquarters' space.
Melhus attributes the company's success, in part, to staying true to founding principles. The seed was sown when he and Dave Vincent, ToursByLocals' Chief Technical Officer and Founder, vacationed in China in 2006. Instead of taking a bus tour to the Great Wall, they hired a driver to take them to a less touristy section of the wall where two local women gave them an impromptu - and knowledgeable - tour.
In return, the women indicated that Melhus and Vincent should buy souvenirs from them. They reluctantly bought the unwanted goods, an awkward exchange that led them to question how they could improve that scenario to everyone's benefit. Back in Vancouver, the two, who had previously founded and sold a successful educational software company, set to work on plans for safely and reliably connecting travellers and local guides.
With 40 per cent growth projected for 2019, the hiring continues. In addition to providing employees with competitive compensation and benefits, ToursByLocals supports their ongoing development. This includes tuition reimbursement on a sliding scale, from 100 per cent for companyrequired courses to 50 per cent for general educational programs; travel to international trade shows; and opportunities to work in one of the foreign offices for a month. The company offers unlimited paid vacation time, providing certain conditions are met.
As long as their work gets done, Melhus says he's not worried that some employees may take advantage of these or other perks. "I'm more concerned about the output, not the input," he adds.
The goal, he says, is to avoid a transactional atmosphere where X work done equals X owed and instead create a pleasant place to work. "Tell us what you need and we'll try to make it work for you."
That's certainly been the case for Sara Cooke. Intrigued by a job posting she saw in 2009, she applied to ToursByLocals even though the position was unrelated to her background in media relations. She responded to the inevitable rejection letter by suggesting she could write content for ToursByLocals' website. It worked.
As the company grew, so did her role, from contract writer to part-time employee to her current full-time position as Director of Communications. The increasing workload suited her as her two young children grew, and now that they're 11 and 14, Cooke says she still appreciates ToursByLocals' familyfriendly atmosphere. Both flex time and the ability to occasionally work from home are a boon to work-life balance, she says.
"I've felt supported since the beginning," Cooke adds. "As a result, I've been able to enjoy my time as parent while also having a job that I absolutely love."