Keri holds a BA in Graphic Design from San Diego State University and began working as a tour guide in 1985. In the course of her touring career, she has forged up the coasts of California and Oregon, traveled across the USA, toured through the Canadian Rockies, cruised down the Inside Passage of Alaska, and bused through New Zealand and Australia. She’s landed on a glacier in Alaska, experienced a sunrise Easter service at the Grand Canyon, rafted down the American River, hiked up to Vernal Falls in Yosemite, rode a horse in Banff, bounced around the hills in a jeep in Sedona, hot-air ballooned in Albuquerque, crossed the Arctic Circle, treaded lightly along the Avenue of the Giants, snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef, and sailed in Fiji.
She also conducts many local San Diego tours and Southern California trips to various museums and musicals in L.A., Tamale and Date Festivals in Indio, desert trips to Anza Borrego, as well overnight trips to Catalina and Hearst Castle, as well as venturing down to Baja, California to have lobster in Puerto Nuevo or wine in the Guadalupe Valley. All of these experiences she shares with tour groups of strangers, many of whom become friends.
Keri loves what she does and does what she loves. Past travelers say she is enthusiastic, fun, informative and easy going. In her spare time, Keri enjoys photography, movies, music and art. She has always dabbled in creative arts – photography, jewelry and mosaics.
How do the tours you offer give guests a unique perspective on history, people or culture of the regions you travel?
I specialize in either local San Diego, Pacific Coast tours, Pacific Northwest tours or National Park tours. I am an independent contractor that follows an itinerary provided by the tour company I’m working for at the time (except for the local San Diego tours). So, I guess my unique perspective is either being a local and familiar with the ins and outs of that particular area, or being familiar because I have been there time and time again. Once you go to a place often enough, you really get to know what makes a place so special, and are able to share that.
How have your tours evolved since their inception?
I started doing tours back in 1990, and many things have changed. The main factors I would say that have affected my tours are:
Technology – I used to rely on books and brochures and maps, but now with the touch of a finger I can find out just about anything, so ignorance is no excuse! I also find that the clientele is much more educated about where we’re going based on their own research, and in fact, sometimes know more than I do. So I have to be on top of it!
Increase of amount of people traveling – With the opening of the Chinese market, some places can now be a nightmare to visit just because there are so many people! Back in the day, the crowds were minimal at national parks and certain destinations, but now, you really have to plan ahead to try to be somewhere before everyone else arrives. Certain times of the year are just crazy.
Traffic – Getting to and from Los Angeles, or driving in Seattle has become an issue at times and can ruin your timing. Again, planning ahead and making sure you’re not driving at the height of rush hour traffic helps tremendously.
I personally have evolved from thinking I had to fill people’s heads with facts and figures to realizing that sharing stories and tidbits is much more interesting. People like stories. Or maybe talking more about someone pertinent to the history of a place. Tell their story instead of just “Kate Sessions was the person who planted 100 years a year for many years in Balboa Park”. She never married, her flowers were her children, she always rode a bike (not a good driver), she graduated to UC Berkeley in 1881, etc.
What is one detail of an experience you provide that may go unnoticed by guests, but which you feel is important?
On overnight tours I always start the day out with a morning song. People notice it at the time, but I think it’s when they get home, and happen to hear that song in their car or someplace that the true meaning of why I play a morning song sinks in. It transports them back to their vacation. Again and again.
Also, since I love music, I always try to make a theme cd of music that lends itself to that tour region. How many times will someone hear “I left my Heart in San Francisco” when driving over the Golden Gate Bridge? Or “It happened in Monterey” when they go there. I spend hours compiling music, which goes unnoticed by most (at least the time spent putting it all together).
What do you wish every guest knew as they consider participating in the experiences you offer?
Know that I love what I do and I do what I love, and that I will take the worry out of their travels.
What is one travel trend that really excites you?
Younger people traveling (50s and 60s). People are discovering at an earlier age that they like going on an organized tour. Younger people means they can do more things. Now some tours have more adventures in them because people can walk more or are able to handle a more rigorous schedule at times.
What sets your tours apart from other, similar, tour options?
Who I am I suppose. I am friendly, upbeat, kind and considerate. I get repeat travelers because they know I have their best interest at heart and that I am always willing to go that extra mile to make sure they have a good time. And I’m fun.
What is one insider’s tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel vacation?
Go with the flow and try not to think about how something compares to home. We travel to experience the difference in places and cultures, not to compare how similar or not they may be to our own culture. Experience local guides, meet the local people, talk to them..
What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful?
Please share one instance where a guest had a moving or emotional reaction to the experience you provided to them.
That’s a difficult one because just seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time can be a very emotional experience for some. Or Yosemite. Or the Grand Tetons.
I do remember years ago I had a woman onboard whose great uncle had been part of the Klondike Gold Rush, and as we were traveling on the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad to Skagway, she was reading from his journal. It described what it was like to be on foot through that very same pass. Unforgettable!
Keri Belisle on Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Keri-Belisle-Independent-Tour-Services
Keri Belisle on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/pub/keri-belisle/29/705/413