Bertie de L’Arbre was a banker living in Belgium in 1947 when he moved to California and founded the Santa Barbara Travel Bureau in its current downtown headquarters. Over the decades, the company has steadily grown, today offering both personal travel arrangements as well as servicing corporate needs.
In 1974, Bertie’s oldest son Charles joined the company and took over management in 1980. That same year, Charles’ youngest brother, David de L’Arbre, entered the family business, and helped it gain international recognition for incredible service, experience, and knowledge. Today, David is chief operating officer and co-owner of the Santa Barbara Travel Bureau, which is consistently named best travel agency in the area and was honored by American Express with its Excellence Award.
David is also very much involved with the wellbeing of our city, frequently volunteering his time with the Downtown Organization and its safety committee. David is very direct, so when he speaks, people listen.
He took time from making travel plans to answer the Proust Questionnaire.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Traveling. I love to travel and I love to travel well. I’m not a budget traveler — I’m looking for the five-star properties and the ultimate experience wherever I am.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Two achievements: 33 years of being happily married and 35 years working with my brother, mostly happily.
What do you like most about your job?
The core of my job is interacting with clients and that is always the highlight. We have amazing clients and I am forever grateful for those relationships. What makes the job unique is the variety. Every request is different and really requires creativity. But the icing on the cake is that I get to travel around the globe learning about so many fantastic places. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to experience different cultures. And at the end of the day, I get to return home to Santa Barbara.
Who do you most admire?
I admire the people that I work with because of their unwavering dedication to customer service. We have a really difficult business because we don’t set pricing, we don’t provide the end-user experience. We can do everything right and someone at the airport, car rental counter, or hotel can totally shred what we’ve arranged and turn our client’s experience upside down. But our staff is always there to find solutions.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Harmony between family, work, income, and leisure time. Finding balance is sometimes difficult but when you find it you know it.
What is your greatest fear?
Complacency. That I am not spending my time productively or pushing every day for improvement.
What is your current state of mind?
Unsettled and impatient. We have lots of projects going on and it’s important to get them completed and then on the next round.
What is the quality you most like in people?
Honesty and integrity.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
Selfishness and narcissism.
What do you most value in friends?
Humor — the ability to completely open oneself and let the inner personality be free, which usually manifests itself in unfettered humor.
What is your most marked characteristic?
I am completely, to a fault, honest and direct. And that sometimes gets me in trouble.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Which talent would you most like to have?
My mother was a fantastic artist. She worked with so many different materials and mediums and none of that talent was passed along to me. I wish I had a tenth of her talent.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I’d like to be more empathetic. Frequently, I’m too black and white. I don’t see too many pastels.
Where would you most like to live?
The easy answer is Santa Barbara since I’ve been here all my life. I’m fortunate in that I travel the world and have seen and experienced so many other places. But it’s always great to come home to Santa Barbara. Plan B is Aspen where my son and daughter live.
What is your most treasured possession?
My health and my family. Everything else is just stuff. It’s insured; it’s replaceable.
Who makes you laugh the most?
My wife when she is pointing out how absurd I can be.
What is your motto?
I have to say “honesty and integrity.” Without those, there really is no foundation for the rest of one’s life. Don’t lie, don’t cheat. Be accountable.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
On what occasion do you lie?
Never. I might withhold information but lying is not an option.