Celebrating One of Travel’s Pioneers: Butterfield & Robinson

B&R Co-founder George Butterfield with the new bike

It was an evening of conviviality, laughter and, as I heard more than once, community as some 80 B&R staffers, guides, tour designers and loyal clients convened at the hip Ace Hotel in Toronto’s fashion district on 15NOV.

The reason? The active travel company wanted to thank loyal clients (including one who has 30 B&R trips under his belt) and reconnect them with some of its most popular tour guides and Toronto head office staff.

CEO Mike Scarola with client Sylvia Barnes and Georgia Yuill who plans B&R’s private trips in Italy

You may not be familiar with B&R, but since 1966 they been planning cycling trips around the world. Now with walking and “multi-active” tours (varied forms of transport such as boat, horse, dogsled and camel) added to their portfolio, they truly live up to their tagline of Slow Down to See the World.

At the event, Open Jaw spoke with CEO Mike Scarola who explained that B&R trips are for groups of 11 to 16 passengers, and each is planned down to the last detail. Just 18 months into the job, Scorola said he was amazed at “how much clients gush about their trips, calling them life changing.”

B&R enjoys a repeat factor of over 50%, with Europe leading the destinations of choice, though itineraries are offered in countries as diverse as Bhutan, Ecuador’s Galapagos, New Zealand and right here in Canada – 56 countries in all.

Laura Benn, Sales Manager/Small Groups with tour guide Edoardo Bottalico.

If you thought cycling trips were for 22-year-old, lycra-clad men who want to chow down on carbs and get back in the saddle, you might want to do a re-think. Judging by last night’s crowd, there are many silver heads on a B&R tour, because they are the people who have the time and the desire to combine their love of fresh air and exercise with the best in accommodation and cuisine. And they have the money: excluding airfare, a 7 day Japan Walking Tour is priced at $9,995 and 6 day Amalfi Coast Walking Tour is pegged at $11,995. (All tours are commissionable to agents.)

The star of the show certainly was George Butterfield, who happily schmoozed with the guests and who called himself the “luckiest guide on the planet”. His fave B&R destination? “If I had one trip left in my life, it would be to Burgundy.”

Butterfield with clearly-popular Greece tour guide Sakis Mitsoulis

But a definite co-star was the new custom road bike that the company is introducing. Valued at $8,000, the biked features the newest technology and, we were told, tons of gearing. B&R also offers ebike tours.

Client Sylvia Barnes told Open Jaw, “I have absolute confidence in the quality of the experience, the joy and playfulness and joie de vivre. I enjoy the local luxury and understanding of local food, wine and music. And if anything goes wrong they magically make it right.”

Scarola says that he has big growth aspirations but has no desire to change the direction of the company or its wow factors. Page 1 of their impressive brochure reads “B&R is not for everyone.” But for those for whom it is, B&R clearly has a loyal and loving following.

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