Romanian immigrant enjoys connecting with her customers
Published in the July 8-21, 2015 issue of Morgan Hill Life
By Marty Cheek
Whether it be a wine and food tasting excursion, a hiking adventure into the wilderness of Henry W. Coe State Park, or a farm and orchard tour, Ana Lelescu knows how to take people on a fun adventure. Her local “boutique” business California Passport Tours offers personalized day trips where guests travel in luxury in a modern chauffeur-driven Mercedes mini-bus and discover the South Valley region as well as the Monterey Peninsula.
“We started the company because I had a lot of family visiting,” said the native of Romania. “They were coming to California on an ongoing basis every year and enjoying time together. What happened is that I ended up taking them places locally and they loved Monterey and San Francisco, places that were more tourist oriented. Every time we gathered together, it was special, it was natural, it was about having a good time because all was here close by and they loved it.”
Lelescu started her company in 2011. She balances the business with her job as a data analyst at IBM’s Almaden Research Center site as well as raising her 10-year-old son Daniel with her husband Dan Lelescu. She laughs as she calls California Passport Tours her “second child.” Showing off the Central Coast region in the comfort of an air-conditioned vehicle that holds up to 14 passengers is a passion for her.
“I mostly enjoy the interaction that I get with our guests as well as the winemakers and the artisans and getting to know them and connecting with them as people,” she said. Having that deeper understanding of what drives their passions, what they do, getting their stories out, and then me being able to share that with other people as well is a lot of fun.”
California Passport Tours mainly services local residents who want to enjoy a family and friends outing such as a day-trip to celebrate a birthday or wedding anniversary. But tourists who travel to the Bay Area from other regions often hire the mini-bus service to discover the South Valley region’s wine and dining culture as a change from the more touristy Napa Valley. People who have recently moved to Morgan Hill also often use the mini-bus to learn with their family and friends about the surrounding region, Lelescu said.
Although California Passport Tours offers set package options for wine-tasting and other fun travel adventures, Lelescu prefers to work with her clients to customize a special trip tailored to their needs.
“I approach every tour by introducing the client to what we’re doing as a tour service,” she said. “We have a list of options that are available on our website and people can go there and see what is available with our packages in terms of what we have. That serves as a starting point for going to deeper questions such as what is the size of the group and what destinations exactly might be more interesting than other places.”
Lelescu moved from her homeland of Romania to Chicago in 1992 to study computer science at the University of Illinois. With her husband, she moved to Morgan Hill in 2002 when a job opportunity in Silicon Valley opened for the couple. She fell in love with the South Valley region and has built her business to share that love with California Passport Tours clients.
“The moment we started the company, we wanted to have the best vehicle possible,” she said. “The Mercedes mini-bus requires certain safety certifications and licenses for operating it. We have two employees who work part-time and who live in Morgan Hill. I value my chauffeurs and everyone that I work with tremendously.”
Although most of the company’s trips are weekend day-trips, the tour company can also provide special weekday trips. These are usually booked by Silicon Valley corporations that want to entertain out-of-town business guests or give a company morale-building day for its employees by touring the South Valley wine country.
Lelescu figures that roughly 80 percent of clients are in the category of Silicon Valley workers who use her service to unwind from their daily job stress. California Passport Tours can help them discover the still relatively unknown South Valley wine-making region, she said.
“These people just work, work, work with their heads down in their cubicles and they don’t know how much time passes, they don’t know what fun is out there,” she said. “To me, I think the corporate world is an amazing place which I would like to leverage for their visitors, for their employees, for their re-location services. We want to let people in San Jose and the rest of the Bay Area know that there are still fun things that are close to them down here.”