Spotlight on Adventure Champions: Backroads

15 July 2022

Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) Adventure Champions are the vanguards of the adventure travel industry having been members of ATTA and leaders in the community for a minimum of 15 years. They are true believers in the power of adventure travel and have made an impact on the direction of ATTA and on the industry as a whole. To honor their commitment to their ethos and lasting contribution to the adventure travel industry we are spotlighting Adventure Champions through a series of interviews.

Outbound Tour Operator
Headquarters: United States
ATTA Member since 2007

Introducing Tom Hale, Founder & President

Tell us about Backroads: I founded Backroads more than 40 years ago to encourage people to get outside and connect with their destination by experiencing it actively. Today, we're the world's leading active travel company, with biking, hiking and multi-adventure trips in more than 50 countries around the globe.

Why have you stayed an ATTA member for 15+ years?

The active adventure segment of the travel industry was pretty much non-existent when I founded Backroads, and it’s grown quite a bit since those days. The resources, expertise and community that the ATTA offers are a benefit to Backroads staff in many areas of our business. Adventure travel is our passion, and the ATTA allows us to stay informed and support the growth of active and adventure travel.

How has your company and destination changed over the last 15 years?

The biggest change is that we now have a pretty even mix of Biking, Walking and Hiking and Multi Adventure trips. Backroads has also grown up alongside my family. This year is set to be our biggest ever—and we've added trips to fill gaps in the market that I've identified as my kids—and my wife and I—have entered new life stages. We now offer three age-segmented options for families, so that older kids and parents can both spend time with their peers, and we've recently introduced Dolce Tempo, a new active but more easygoing way to explore the world. We’ve also seen e-bikes explode in popularity as a growing element on our trips and in the active travel industry in general. And the choice of amazing hotels has grown and we have stepped up there as well.

What is the greatest force that drives you to work every day? 

My steadfast belief that the best way to see the world is on two wheels or two feet. I want to encourage more people to get outside, get off the beaten path, go active, and help them make the most of their time off. There’s nothing better than watching your friends and family explore a new destination and culture together, meeting locals, making new friends and enjoying all the region has to offer. I still love to get out on the trails for a 10 mile run or hike or a beautiful 50 mile ride.

Both out on trips and here in our offices, Backroads is all about community. I feel lucky to work with such a great team every day. The energy, intelligence and fresh ideas they bring to work are truly refreshing, and these personal connections are what keep me motivated to continue building Backroads.

What gives you hope about the next generation of adventure travel leaders?

We just hired over 400 leaders to join our 500 returning leaders and over 150 folks in the office and in our hubs. They are doing an amazing job, as always. They are bringing their passion and commitment and beliefs to Backroads and some will be with us for decades to come.

What is your advice for young adventure travel companies?

Focus on quality over growth. I've always said that we only want to continue to grow (in size) if we can maintain and improve the travel experience for our guests. More than anything else, that is what has differentiated us in the adventure travel world, and it is why we have grown. Even during these last two crazy pandemic years our guest scores increased.

What gets you excited about the future of adventure travel?

The incredible resurgence in active travel we've seen post-COVID is so inspiring. It’s also amazing to see the global destinations where we offer trips today compared to where we first started out in the West. If someone had told me that we’d be offering a walking & hiking trip in Oman or Colombia back in 1979 I would never have believed them. Seeing the world open up to small scale, go at your own pace active travel is truly amazing!

What else would you like to share?

If you have never experienced our active version of immersive adventure travel, you just might want to try it. It really is life changing.

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