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Tourism works: Why travel matters to Donna Kalez

By Dan Smith | 3 min

From mastering the currents, to planning by the tides, Donna understands the magic of the deep blue sea. The current health pandemic has forced her business to change dramatically. She’s still grateful to be able to catch a glimpse of a whale off the sunny coast of California.


Tourism Works Donna Kalez Headshot
Name:
 Donna Kalez
Job: Co-president, Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching
Hometown: San Clemente
Education: Saddleback Community College, Mission Viejo

Q: Describe your path working in the tourism field.
I started working at my family’s business - Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching - when I was 17-years-old, cleaning equipment and preparing gear for fishing trips. After a couple of years, I moved my way up to manager where I now work on the front lines with visitors, checking them in and preparing them for glimpses of “whaledom.” I’ve learned a lot from the comforts of a boat at sea, created many daily adventures and life-long memories with friends, family and visitors. And after all this time, I still know one thing for sure: there’s nothing quite like seeing a whale off the coast of California.

Q: What do you like most about working in travel and tourism?
Making people happy and creating lifetime memories is my favorite part of working in the travel and tourism industry. It brings great satisfaction watching someone spot their first whale, catch their first fish or get a glimpse of playful dolphins. Every trip is different, whether it’s your first time or you’re a veteran, every trip is special.

Q: How has the coronavirus pandemic changed your job?
The pandemic has changed our business in so many ways. We have had to alter the amount of people on all our boats to a 50 percent capacity for social distancing measures. We have also enforced very stringent cleaning guidelines along with a face covering requirement for both crew and passengers aboard our boats. The new capacity numbers make it difficult to promote our special offers, which is something we love to do, and it's also forced the cancellation of some of our famous programs. Yet, we are thankful that we are an outdoor business that is still able to provide our sportfishing and whale watching adventures to the public in a safe and responsible manner.

Tourism Works Donna Kalez Photo 1 
Q: What were the most valuable parts of your education?
On-the-job training has been better than I could ever imagine. I originally went to school to be a teacher, but was learning so much while on the job at Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching that I decided to stick with it for the long run. It provided a school of its own for me, teaching me the ins and outs of the warm waters, sea life, fish and sailing, not to mention how to create memories for our visitors.

Q: What are your goals in the industry?
My goal is to make Dana Point the most recognized place on earth to see dolphins and whales. And we’re almost there! My colleague and I just won a trademark for Dana Point as the “Dolphin and Whale Watching Capital of the World.” Dana Point has more dolphins and whales per square mile than anywhere else in the world with over 450,000 dolphins. We have year-round whales and a plethora of rare marine life. I hope everyone has a chance to experience the beauty of Dana Point.  


Tourism Works Donna Kalez Photo 2


Q: Who have been the biggest supporters of your career?
My father and my husband have been the biggest supporters of my career. My father is a pioneer in our industry, starting whale watching as we know it in the 60s. He also started the longest running Festival of Whales back in 1971. He is an inspiration and has always supported every decision I have made, teaching me that the worst failures are sometimes your best successes because they push you to go on to accomplish something even bigger. My husband is also a huge supporter along with my two daughters who all push me to be the best I can be.