Founded in 1972 to meet a need in the San Diego area for safe and reliable transportation to Tijuana, Mexico, Alfonso Hernandez Jr., owner, started Five Star Tours, a small, family-run shuttle service, and gradually grew the operation. After he passed away in 2001, his son, Alfonso Hernandez III, GM, tour product innovator; Alfonso's mother, Yolanda Hernandez, CEO/president; and Alfonso's brother, Carlos Hernandez, VP, operations, took over the business and, eventually, realized their vision to help the community that supported it.
The business went through a transition in 2002, when the Mexican government began strictly enforcing regulations against bus operators transporting international groups across the U.S.-Mexico border, forcing the carrier to change the services it offered.
"We had to make a business decision and change our focus to charter services and tours of the area," Hernandez III says. "We [now] focus mostly on special culinary events, a lot of brewery and winery tours in San Diego."
The carrier also offers tours of Mexico's Baja California region. The beginning of more change came nearly three years ago, Hernandez III says.
"[As a] family- and woman-owned business, my mom, brother and I were thinking of ways we could impact our community in a positive light," he said.
The Hernandez family made it a goal to reach out to low-income youth who normally would not have an opportunity to experience the arts or learn about conservation.
As part of that vision to give back to the community it services in the South Bay area of San Diego, Five Star started its "Tours for a Cause" program, working with nonprofits and school districts to provide field trips for children in lower income areas. One tour features an arts program with the San Diego Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Providing students with a hands-on experience, artists teach them techniques and talk about their own life experiences.
"We wanted to enrich youths' experience and make sure there [are] different things for them to explore," Hernandez III explains.
Most of the children who have participated in the program are really happy, he adds.
"We got a letter saying it had a positive impact in that if the student hadn't [participated in] the program they wouldn't have been able to have this experience," says Hernandez III.
Another tour, conducted in partnership with the San Diego-based nonprofit Border Angels, focuses on educating students about human rights. Volunteers from the nonprofit talk to students about the importance of human rights, focusing on immigrants and how many people have died because they wanted to cross the border, explains Hernandez III.
Five Star got the program up and running a year and a half ago and completed about seven different tours, including one that focuses on conservation, using motorcoach travel as an example of going green. The operator is able to offer the tours free of charge, since its nonprofit partners donate all of the necessary resources.
"Nonprofit organizations [have] shown they're in this with us," Hernandez III says. "It's a win-win experience."
To expand the program, the operator plans to apply for grants that offer opportunities for businesses to provide free services for youth so it can bring the tours to more children.
"The main thing is having our message heard throughout the whole county," Hernandez says.