Tom Hale


A native of Moraga, California, Tom Hale possesses a passion for two seemingly divergent interests—business and back roads—which he has powered into the world’s most successful active travel company.It was the back roads that first attracted him, as a competitive runner at Campolindo High School (where he still holds the two-mile record at 8:57.2) and at the University of Oregon, where he was a teammate of legendary runner Steve Prefontaine. Armed with a Masters in Environmental Planning from UCLA, Hale was six months into an environmental planning position in Las Vegas when the back roads called again—big time. A middle-of-the-night inspiration to start a bike touring company motivated him to pedal 5,000 miles alone through the West, all the while formulating plans for his new business. Settling in Berkeley, Hale washed fondue pots by night and built his fledgling travel company by day. In true entrepreneurial fashion, he did it all—designed the itineraries, maintained the bikes, led the trips, produced the catalog. His first trip—a bike tour of Death Valley—attracted four guests (one of them his mother.) Fast-forward 30 years of consistent growth (with two blips due to 9/11 and the 2009 global meltdown)) to 2009.Today Backroads annually hosts thousands of travelers on biking, walking, and multisport vacations worldwide. Nearly 150 trip itineraries showcase the best lodging, dining, cultural attractions—and of course back roads—in destinations from California Wine Country to vintage settings in France, from the pampas of Patagonia to the hill country of Thailand. Consistently recognized as one of the world’s top 10 tour companies by Travel+Leisure magazine, Backroads is staffed by some 80 people in its Berkeley headquarters and regional offices in Canada and France, and also employs approximately 250 Trip Leaders worldwide.From the beginning, Hale has strived for and succeeded in offering a world-class travel experience, believing that the world is best experienced up close and under one’s own power. Backroads’ success is largely measured by an exceptionally high rate of repeat guests—on average about 45 percent each year and another 30 percent who are referred to Backroads by a past guest. When he’s not at the Berkeley office or on the road as Backroads’ most eagle-eyed quality controller, Hale is at home in Kentfield with his wife Liz, daughters Avery (15) and Georgia (7), and son William (10).

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