Fairfield Interview #3: Insider Perks’ Brian Searl

This is the third interview in our Fairfield Small Business Challenge series.

What do you do before deciding where to travel? Read about a place? Watch a TV show featuring your destination? Former travel agent and TV news editor Brian Searl offers something in between. His company, Insider Perks, lets you see on-demand, HD travel videos for destinations around the world. Each video is long enough to give you a sense of the place, but short enough to be watched on the go. Read on for some of Brian’s travel secrets and favorite destinations in the interview below.

BP: What are your three favorite travel destinations and why?

I could go into so many different destinations that I love, but I’m going to try and make it a little easier on myself if you’ll let me. I’m going to give you the top three destinations that we’ve done videos in.

Again, it wasn’t too easy, but I came up with Baltimore/Washington D.C. as kind of a tie for first place. I know Washington D.C. is clichéd because everyone says that, because of the monuments and things like that. But that’s not actually the main reason I enjoy the city.

The main thing I like about it is the unique museums. The ones you almost never hear of. I mean, they’re well publicized, but they kind of fall off into the shadow of the free Smithsonian things to do. Things like the International Spy Museum, and the National Crime Museum is another one. Actually in the basement of that museum are the studios where they film America’s Most Wanted.

DC has a lot of unique things, and that’s one of the things that I’m big on, finding the unique places versus the stuff that’s over-publicized or, I guess for lack of a better word, too touristy.

Baltimore has a great national aquarium. It’s kinda divided between DC. There is an aquarium in DC that’s called the National Aquarium. They’re both the same company but the larger one is in Baltimore – it’s actually right on the national harbor. And then there’s a bunch of historic ships, right there on Chesapeake Bay that you can go see. So, those two are tops for me. You can put them into one lump if you will.

Second one would probably Clearwater, Florida. Clearwater is a beach town and it’s really popular, but it hasn’t been built up as much as downtown Tampa or Orlando. So it almost looks like the ’60s and ’70s if you go back in there. They still have the quaint little shops where they sell goods and you know, nice, easy beach access.

The St. Petersburg pier is down there. It’s phenomenal. They have street vendors selling jewelry and all kinds of unique things you can see there. So that would be my second favorite. Probably my third favorite is probably going to surprise you. It’s going to be Detroit Michigan.

BP: Yeah, that surprises me.

Well see, Detroit gets a bad rap because of crime and stuff like that. And in the downtown area, yeah. In any downtown area, sometimes things fall apart.

I’m from Cleveland, so we get compared to Detroit a lot. But Detroit, the suburbs, you know Auburn Hills, places like that, they have some of the most amazing museums. They have an amazing Holocaust Memorial Center up there. They have the largest African-American museum in the entire country – the Charles H. Wright. They have the only Arab-American museum in the entire world outside of Detroit. I mean, the culture is just so widespread. And of course then you’ve got the auto industry that you can tour up there. You can tour Henry Ford’s old house, which actually has a power plant inside it that he built with Thomas Edison.

So, yeah. People always looked shocked when I say Detroit, but Detroit is, if you’re a museum lover or historical lover, Detroit is one of the best.

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BP: Do you have any tips for everyday tourists to get good deals?

There are certain tips that I can advise people on, but it changes so much on a daily basis, especially now with all these fees that the airlines are adding, I can tell you someplace to go find a cheap airfare, and an hour later, it’ll be gone.

So the best advice I can probably give is to book as early as you can because prices tend to go up. There are sometimes last-minute deals that you can find, but book as early as possible and do your research.

You’ve heard of websites like Kayak.com, which compare airfares and things like that, right?
What people often don’t understand though is that Kayak.com is a great site. I use it. But it doesn’t include airlines like Southwest, AirTrain, Jet Blue, and some other airlines. While you may think you got the cheapest airfare, and it’s comparing all the different sites, you have to remember that you can still check Southwest.com or some of the other sites and you might be able to find it for a cheaper rate.

There are also flight comparison services like Yapta.com. You can go to route or destination that you want to fly to and you can have it send you customized email alerts if the price drops or increases, or if there’s a certain price range you specify.

But the biggest thing that people forget to do is add in those fees that are now being disclosed. I mean, there’s lawsuits going on about these fees and how to disclose them. It’s up for debate in Congress. You may think you have found a good rate but when you finally go through and make a purchase, you’ve added taxes, fees and checked baggage and everything like that. So you gotta remember to compare those.

BP: If you could create a travel TV show, like, Rick Steves’ Europe, what would it be?

That’s something we’ve actually thought about doing. I’ve got a ton of ideas, but for our purposes, I’d probably say the first thing to do would be to create a travel TV show about different, unique places in different cities.

Take Detroit, since we’ve talked about Detroit. You always hear about the casinos and the gambling and everything, that most people, you assume, go up there for.

But there’s a lot of stuff that’s not publicized. Like there’s a well-known Cranbrook Institute of Science Center. Even though “science” is in the name, it’s their natural history museum.

That’s well-publicized, but behind that, there’s actually a very tiny small building and it’s a non-profit organization where they rescue animals. It’s called the Bat Cave. You can schedule an appointment to go in there and they’ll take bats out of the cages. They’ll take them out of their cages and they’ll do tricks with them. They’ll hang on your shirt and teach you to take food out of its hands. They’ve got all different kinds of animals up there. And it’s something that I found by mistake and I was on a press trip there.

Little things like that are what I would highlight in a travel show. If you go to Pittsburgh, there’s actually a brewery that’s built inside an old Catholic church which in itself is kind of an oxymoron. But the actual bar is exactly where the altar was in the Catholic church. And while it may cause controversy, those are the kind of things we look for, the stuff that really stand out and makes the city unique. So that’s probably what I would focus my first travel show on.

Glean more travel wisdom from Brian on his Fairfield Road to Success blog.