Canada based tour operator Gray & Co is celebrating. And who can blame them? They were voted no.1 tour operator in the Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards 2016, capping an extraordinary year for the cycling and hiking specialists. Talking to travel manager, Sylvia Pasqualettie, it’s easy to see why their scrupulously researched trips are making waves. I asked Sylvia what it takes to be the best.
I am from the North of Italy, near Venice? The Prosecco area. I am 39 years old. When my daughter was very little I studied for a degree in marketing and worked at an outdoor clothing company. It was very small so I could put my hands everywhere and I loved that. After that I quit my job and got my Masters in coaching. My speciality is sports – not the physical but the mental – everything related to the performance and how to overcome emotions.
I got into guiding by chance, my best friend started working for Butterfield & Robinson and at that time I was doing my training and coaching stuff but I was too relaxed. I always wanted to travel and she was like, “why don’t you apply?” and that’s what I did, I applied. The same friend gave me the contact of Cari Gray, they were putting a trip together in Sicily, it was a last minute thing and she needed a guide and I went, that was in 2011!
Guides have a big ego. As a guide, you are in charge of everything so you want to shine and you want to show the best things about a place and make people happy, so you have to have a big ego, you can’t be shy. It’s not about being arrogant; it’s being willing to do things for others, willing to make them happy. The best satisfaction for us is to see that everything went well and the people are extremely happy, that’s what matters.
The most challenging thing for new operators is that normally people like me are freelance so they are, sort of entrepreneurs. They do what they know. Their biggest difficulty is to scale-up and become a company. I see a lot of guides that have loads of experience and they just say hey, why don’t I start doing my own thing, that’s normal right? I have a lot of friends that have done that and they do a very limited part of what they could do, because they don’t know how to shift from an entrepreneurial mentality to managing a business. It’s very difficult for them to make that step because, as guides, we are very used to being in control. We want to make sure that everything works and so delegating and letting other people have the space to grow to do things? That’s the hardest part.
To choose our partners we focus on food, the hotels, the environment, and what you can find outside of the cycling. It’s a whole combination of different things. In Australia we find a lot of these kinds of combinations. Margaret River, from Perth down is amazing. Also 2/3 hours North West of Melbourne there is a great cycling community, good restaurants and the right accommodation. For the levels that we provide, we need great accommodation and food to support the North American standards.
The best thing about this job is being in contact with so many incredible people. You know, there is a reason why they are extremely successful and that’s a great part of the job for us, that we are in touch with these sorts of people. Recently a client asked me, do you live every day of your life to the fullest? You can do better, everybody can always do better, right? But it came from a person that I know lives their life to the fullest every day and so that it sticks in my mind most of all.
Grey & Co are regular attendees of ILTM in Cannes.