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HomeNewsArchivesOn Island Profle: Nilsa Serrano

On Island Profle: Nilsa Serrano

Oct. 21, 2007 — She greets every visitor on her safari bus with a big smile, and says, “Welcome to St. Thomas. I hope you enjoy your stay here.”
And they do with Nilsa Serrano. Tourists expect their visit to St. Thomas, a vacation in paradise, to be filled with beautiful scenery, white sandy beaches, historic sites, and oh yes, a fun and well-informed tour guide. Serrano, a certified tour operator, makes sure tourists who visit here get just that.
For many years now, Serrano has worked as a tour operator, driving a 25-passenger safari bus. At first glance, you might not expect her to drive such a big bus. “A lot of people commend me for my driving. They say, ‘You’re good.’” She said mastering such a large bus took years of practice. Her first safari bus was a bit smaller. It could hold 14 passengers.
Not only that, but Serrano is not one's idea of a tour operator. She is quite soft-spoken, until she has to direct her passengers to her bus. Many times, people think she is just one of the tourists. But she also has a humble demeanor, which is atypical from other tour operators.
“I like meeting new people. I am friendly, very courteous and I try my very best to be professional,” she said. Being a tour operator was not one of on her list of career goals. But she said she has enjoyed every day of it since she started.
“I want my passengers to have a good taste of the Virgin Islands. When they leave, I want them to feel satisfied and want to return," she said.
On a regular day, Serrano arrives at the dock at about 9 a.m. to pick up her load of passengers. Once loaded, she embarks on a tour of the island, while sharing with them facts and historical information.
She begins her tour by taking the passengers to Drake’s Seat. She directs her passengers to look towards Magens Bay, which she tells them was once voted one of the top 10 beaches in the world by National Geographic. Serrano moves on to the next location, the Government Lookout, as she calls it. The location overlooks neighboring Water and Hassel Islands, and other little keys near by.
On a clear day, Serrano tells her passengers that you can even see St. Croix, which is 40 miles away. She then moves on to the Mountain Top, St. Thomas’second highest peak. “Well, it depends on who measured it,” she said, and jokingly invites passengers to sip on the “famous banana daiquiri.”
Serrano gained the title “tour operator” after successfully completing a six-week certification program, offered by the University of the Virgin Islands Community Engagement and Lifelong Learning (CELL) Center.
Along with other participants, Serrano was required to take a 100-question test on the different areas covered and her presentation skills. The USVI Hotel and Tourism Association and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association also endorse the program.
It's very challenging at times, Serrano said, as most taxi and tour operators are males. “Yes, it’s a male-dominated profession. We as women have to work twice as hard,” she said. That's one reason she made it a point to become certified as a tour operator.
On island, when locals think about a safari driver, the first thing that comes to mind is their blatant disregard for motorists, stopping in the middle of the road for tourists.
“We have a few like that. But we also have a few that shine among others. When you encounter a certified tour operator like me, that’s when you notice the difference,” Serrano said. “That’s why I don’t like to be called a taxi driver. I don’t like the term. I would rather be called a tour operator.”
After tours, Serrano returns home to her four children. “Sometimes, I come home and tell them stories about the interesting tourists I met that day,” she said.
Serrano graduated from the Ivanna Eudora High School in 1989 and attended the University of the Virgin Islands for two years. “It was difficult to manage my career and schooling at the same time. I initially planned to go back.” She juggled work as a manager at Pueblo Supermarket and a sales representative at Banco Popular for many years. She worked a short time as an outreach worker under the Ryan White Title II grant, helping HIV/AIDS patients on island. She said sometimes she misses working with the patients, because it was a purposeful job.
But as a tour operator, what she loves most is the independence of making your own schedule. “Unless it's busy season, I get to spend time with my kids and I run personal errands,” she said.
Although she works for a tour company, her goal is to start her very own outfit — with her own personal twist, she said.
For more information on the UVI CELL, visit http://cell.uvi.edu/news.html.
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Oct. 21, 2007 -- She greets every visitor on her safari bus with a big smile, and says, “Welcome to St. Thomas. I hope you enjoy your stay here.”
And they do with Nilsa Serrano. Tourists expect their visit to St. Thomas, a vacation in paradise, to be filled with beautiful scenery, white sandy beaches, historic sites, and oh yes, a fun and well-informed tour guide. Serrano, a certified tour operator, makes sure tourists who visit here get just that.
For many years now, Serrano has worked as a tour operator, driving a 25-passenger safari bus. At first glance, you might not expect her to drive such a big bus. “A lot of people commend me for my driving. They say, ‘You’re good.’” She said mastering such a large bus took years of practice. Her first safari bus was a bit smaller. It could hold 14 passengers.
Not only that, but Serrano is not one's idea of a tour operator. She is quite soft-spoken, until she has to direct her passengers to her bus. Many times, people think she is just one of the tourists. But she also has a humble demeanor, which is atypical from other tour operators.
“I like meeting new people. I am friendly, very courteous and I try my very best to be professional,” she said. Being a tour operator was not one of on her list of career goals. But she said she has enjoyed every day of it since she started.
“I want my passengers to have a good taste of the Virgin Islands. When they leave, I want them to feel satisfied and want to return," she said.
On a regular day, Serrano arrives at the dock at about 9 a.m. to pick up her load of passengers. Once loaded, she embarks on a tour of the island, while sharing with them facts and historical information.
She begins her tour by taking the passengers to Drake’s Seat. She directs her passengers to look towards Magens Bay, which she tells them was once voted one of the top 10 beaches in the world by National Geographic. Serrano moves on to the next location, the Government Lookout, as she calls it. The location overlooks neighboring Water and Hassel Islands, and other little keys near by.
On a clear day, Serrano tells her passengers that you can even see St. Croix, which is 40 miles away. She then moves on to the Mountain Top, St. Thomas’second highest peak. “Well, it depends on who measured it,” she said, and jokingly invites passengers to sip on the “famous banana daiquiri.”
Serrano gained the title “tour operator” after successfully completing a six-week certification program, offered by the University of the Virgin Islands Community Engagement and Lifelong Learning (CELL) Center.
Along with other participants, Serrano was required to take a 100-question test on the different areas covered and her presentation skills. The USVI Hotel and Tourism Association and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association also endorse the program.
It's very challenging at times, Serrano said, as most taxi and tour operators are males. “Yes, it’s a male-dominated profession. We as women have to work twice as hard,” she said. That's one reason she made it a point to become certified as a tour operator.
On island, when locals think about a safari driver, the first thing that comes to mind is their blatant disregard for motorists, stopping in the middle of the road for tourists.
“We have a few like that. But we also have a few that shine among others. When you encounter a certified tour operator like me, that’s when you notice the difference,” Serrano said. “That’s why I don’t like to be called a taxi driver. I don’t like the term. I would rather be called a tour operator.”
After tours, Serrano returns home to her four children. “Sometimes, I come home and tell them stories about the interesting tourists I met that day,” she said.
Serrano graduated from the Ivanna Eudora High School in 1989 and attended the University of the Virgin Islands for two years. “It was difficult to manage my career and schooling at the same time. I initially planned to go back.” She juggled work as a manager at Pueblo Supermarket and a sales representative at Banco Popular for many years. She worked a short time as an outreach worker under the Ryan White Title II grant, helping HIV/AIDS patients on island. She said sometimes she misses working with the patients, because it was a purposeful job.
But as a tour operator, what she loves most is the independence of making your own schedule. “Unless it's busy season, I get to spend time with my kids and I run personal errands,” she said.
Although she works for a tour company, her goal is to start her very own outfit -- with her own personal twist, she said.
For more information on the UVI CELL, visit http://cell.uvi.edu/news.html.
Back Talk


Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.