Wanderlust World Guide Awards: Kelsey Tonner

Here at Backroads, the caliber of our Trip Leaders is undoubtedly one of our greatest assets. Knowledgeable, professional and enthusiastic, these remarkable individuals are committed to ensuring our guests enjoy an exceptional travel experience.Backroads Trip Leader Kelsey Tonner for Wanderlust World Guide Awards

We're proud to announce that our very own leader Kelsey Tonner has made the short list for the Wanderlust World Guide Awards, the only global awards for tour leaders and guides. Wanderlust is a British travel magazine that focuses on intelligent and inspirational travel, and Kelsey helps provide just that.

A native of Nova Scotia, he's been a wilderness leader, dogsledding guide and volunteer coordinator in an Inuit community. Now he leads Backroads trips all over the world and is so passionate about being the best leader possible that he founded the Be a Better Guide Project.

The winners of the Wanderlust World Guide Awards will be announced at a prestigious ceremony on October 13, 2015, at London's Royal Geographical Society. A £5,000 (about $7,800) bursary will go to the charity of the gold prize winner's choice.


We caught up with Kelsey to learn more about him and the award:

How did you get nominated for the Wanderlust World Guide Awards?
My wonderful girlfriend Sarah--also a talented Backroads leader--asked friends and coworkers to nominate me by writing to Wanderlust. This was very sweet of her, as she and many other fantastic Backroads leaders are equally deserving of the award.

What does leading Backroads trips mean to you?
Leading Backroads trips has really been a dream job for me. I've been working all over the world for almost five years now, learning about places as I go and then sharing this knowledge with Backroads guests. The most incredible part has been working with local Backroads leaders in various countries, whether they're Italians leading bike rides in Tuscany, Costa Rican leaders sharing their knowledge of native flora or Vietnamese leaders welcoming guests into their homeland as though they were family. We have such an extraordinary and diverse team of guides, and it's a privilege to work alongside them.

Backroads Trip Leader Kelsey Tonner on biking trip in Europe

Why did you launch the Be a Better Guide Project?
I wanted to create a website where tour guides, leaders and managers from around the world could come together and learn from one another. It's a place where they can exchange ideas and best practices, and network in ways that were never before possible, at least not on this scale. The website is only a couple of months old, but there are already tour guides from Oman sharing tips with guides from Quebec and tour operators in Egypt connecting with guides in Asia--it's really exciting!

Do you have a favorite memory as a Backroads Trip Leader?
I have two!
1) When I was leading trips in my home province of Nova Scotia, fellow guide Tal McGowan and I invited some local musicians to share their music with our guests. Everyone had such a great time that during every trip that summer we broke out the guitars, fiddles, banjos and bass to play traditional songs for guests! Tal and I both love to play guitar and it was always a night of genuine smiles and laughter for all.Backroads Trip Leader Kelsey Tonner on a walking tour

2) After a few seasons of working as the Backroads Trip Expert in Burgundy, France, I became good friends with the local restaurant managers and châteaux owners. One night, in a 16th-century luxury château, the owner Pascal brought the other guides and me down into his private wine cellar and pulled out a 400-euro bottle of Burgundy's finest. We shared it together out on the patio under the stars--it was an unforgettable experience filled with generosity and camaraderie.

What would it mean to you to win this award?
It would be an incredible honor, that's for sure. As trip leaders, we work almost every minute of every day to give guests the experience of a lifetime. To have that effort recognized and appreciated would not only be a nod to me personally, but to all of the remarkable leaders here at Backroads.


Have you ever traveled or worked with Kelsey? If you have a tale to tell or praise for this extraordinarily leader, please let Wanderlust know. The quality of your testimonial is key, so please be specific in explaining why you think Kelsey represents the best of the best.

Email: topguide@wanderlust.co.uk (include "Kelsey Tonner" in the subject line)
The deadline for testimonials is May 29, 2015.

Connect online with Kelsey at www.beabetterguide.com.

Backroads Trip Leader Kelsey Tonner on biking trip in France

30 Responses

  1. Dan Tonner

    Hi Kimberly;
    I am Kelsey’s dad and was very pleased to see this article in the BACKBEAT. Carolyn (Kelsey’s mom) and I were hosted by Kelsey, Eduardo and Daniella last fall on one of the Tuscany rides and know first hand just how good Kelsey and his colleagues really are. Both of us submitted testimonials to WANDERLUST on our son’s behalf along with every one of the other 11 guests on the ride withn us.
    I am writing with a request:
    If you have not already done so, would you be so kind to send a copy of your article/interview to the folks at WANDERLUST? I am sure an endorsement like this one from his colleagues/employers would assist a great deal in getting him into the next stage of the selection process.
    Warmest regards,
    Dan Tonner

    PS: We are looking forward to another Backroads adventure with our son Martin in the near future.

    • Kimberly Defanti Hoernig Kimberly Defanti

      Hi Dan!

      I’m so happy to hear that you and your wife get to experience both Kelsey and Martin’s trip leading, they’re wonderful people and leaders.

      I just went ahead and sent the article to Wanderlust–thank you for the great suggestion. Have fun on your Backroads trip and best of luck to your son.

      Best wishes, Kimberly

      • Kelsey

        Thanks Kimberly! (What a demanding Dad… sheesh = )

  2. Sarah

    Way to go kelsey!!!

    You are truly the best guide I know, an amazingly hard worker with a sense of compassion rarely seen and an awesome story teller (must be those east coast roots!)

    Fingers crossed!

    • Kelsey

      Thanks Sarah! Nova Scotians are born with storytelling in their blood, no question. = )

  3. Daniel Kyte

    I have travelled with Kelsey on three continents. He’s led me across oceans, through deserts, over mountains and back. I follow him anywhere. He is a confident capable caring conscientious courageous can-do kid. (It’s still a hard c sound! Alliteration win! Ya BA in English!)

    • Kelsey

      Hey Dan! Let’s pick a new continent and go for it! = ) Love the alteration.

  4. Leah Campbell

    Way to go Kelsey! This nomination is well-deserved!

    • Kelsey

      = )

  5. Josh Campbell

    Few people can successfully lead a large group through new and exciting places, and fewer still can do it while also managing to be funny, approachable, knowledgeable and genuine all at the same time. In being a world class guide, as with all things he is passionate about, Kelsey perpetually strives to both improve himself and to bring out the best in those around him. Congratulations on being shortlisted for this great award Kelsey and good luck! You deserve it.

    • Kelsey

      Awww, thanks Josh. You’re officially invited on the trip with Dan and I!

  6. Jaz Kyte

    Kelsey, thanks for being one of the rare few who can get my husband out of the house. Whether you win this award or not, know this: accomplishing this feat alone makes you one of the great gods of adventure. =)

    • Kelsey

      Hahaha, love it Jaz!

  7. Travis DeWolf

    No one could be more deserving of this award, can not say enough great things about Kelsey. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to support this nomination!

    • Kelsey

      Believe me, this whole company full of guides deserving of this award!

  8. Ryan Appleton

    Go Kelsey! Good luck!!!

    • Kelsey

      Thanks Ryan = )

  9. Elvis Dzanic

    Way to go buddy, best of luck!

    • Kelsey

      Cheers!

  10. Susan Carol

    Keep up the great work Kelsey!

  11. Sarah

    Amazing job Kelsey!! So well-deserved. Traveling with you has always been s breeze. You’re a shoo-in!!!

  12. Pete Benstead

    Very well deserved indeed! I have also had the pleasure of travelling with Kelsey, and agree with my fellow supporters that he is highly deserving of this award. Good luck!

    • Kelsey

      Thanks Pete. Looking forward to our next adventure! Where do you want to go??

  13. Julie DeWolf

    Kelsey, you wonderful creature! Super well deserved.

    • Kelsey

      Thanks for the kind words Julie

  14. myles

    Absolutely amazing. Well deserved!

  15. Carolyn

    How can you sum up Kelsey’s amazing guiding skills? His new website is aptly named….Be a Better Guide. Kelsey lives by the philosophy “be better” . This was evident on my first BACKROADS trip with him as each day was better than the one before….Kelsey constantly focused on his growing knowledge of the clients interests and abilities and somehow managed to make a structured tour feel like it was tailor made for each individual. Just being around him makes you want to strive to do or be better whether it was to physically challenge yourself or step outside your comfort zone. What a privilege it was to experience the world through the thoughtful guidance of a true professional!

    • Kelsey

      Wow, thank you… What a nice thing to read this morning!

  16. Kelsey, Being the oldest of 3 brothers, must have developed his deep rooted patience as one of the many skill sets he acquired from being a leader from a young age. He has played many roles in my life, both close and far in proximity, directly and indirectly. He’ll always be my older brother, and it just so happens for me, that he turned out to be an incredible individual with a holistic grasp and love for life. The real catch is that he has the desire, passion and skill sets to be able to share this through diverse and creative means. He is always finding new and innovative ways to share his ideas, stories and discoveries be that written, sung, preformed, or simply discussed in a fascinating and usually humorous way. Through out my life, my brothers have taught and inspired me, and instilled their same passion and love for life in me… And I can’t think of a better gift from either of them.

    Cool, calm and collected are three adjectives which are always present within Kelsey’s Ora… No matter how wild or irrational a given scenario may be. He could convince a cheetah or a zebra to decide to dine with the other, and they’d all walk away with stories they would have never had the opportunity to hear before.

    He always is thinking with an unobtrusive moral conscious, 2 steps ahead. He acts on his morals, be that on an environmental or social basis and inspires and leads by example to the folks lucky enough to spend time around him- he really lives by them vs just stating them. He is always prepared, having done the right research or packed the proper gear for what ever unknown lays ahead.

    I am always amazed by his selfless actions and his desire to help others, and his focus on the greater good. He is set on making the world a better place, no matter the scale; -be that a smile to a stranger, sharing his extensive knowledge / experience or giving his time to work with organizations giving back.

    I feel honoured to have the opportunity to explore various parts of three continents with him, and forever will be grateful to him for opening doors I never even knew existed.

    Ill keep living the inspiration, and continue to grow, because he has set some pretty high standards

    He has indirectly taught me to set my sights high, and to take on some of life’s greatest adventures and challenges… if I reached a fraction of his skill and moral points he has hit, I’d feel Accomplished.

    Love ya bro,
    There is no one more deserving.

  17. Kelsey

    Martin Tonner… you are the sweetest kid brother in the world. You’re making me cry over here..

    Anyone out there knows that Martin Tonner is an incredible guide, and one of backroad’s greatest assets. I’m telling you world, watch out for this kid.

    Love you brother.
    To the moon and back.

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