International Tour Management Institute (ITMI)

The Premier Training Institute for Tour & Travel Professionals Since 1976

Making the World a Better Place Through Travel


Frequently Asked Questions


1.    What’s the difference between a Tour Guide and Tour Director? ⤸

Tour guiding and tour directing are respected dream careers that attract passionate, talented people. Both mean visiting exotic locales, experiencing once-in-a-lifetime moments, and getting paid well on top of it. Tour guides and tour directors develop unique and meaningful connections their guests and cherish their experiences for the rest of their lives.

Tour guides may conduct walking tours, culinary tours, historical tours, and more. They bring their areas of expertise to life! They may also work as travel staffers with local conventions and incentive travel bureaus. Some prefer working close to home so they can return to their families every night.

Tour directors lead groups over the road. They’re also referred to as tour managers, adventure guides, course leaders and tour escorts. They accompany their groups throughout the duration of the tour and attend to critical details while enjoying the same sights and experiences as their guests.

2.   Do I have to choose between working as a Tour Guide or Tour Director? ⤸

Certainly not. Most graduates do both so they can achieve the ideal balance of home and away. That balance varies by personal preference. While some are homebodies, others call the road their home. The choice is yours.

3.   Can I work full time or part time? ⤸

Tour guides and tour directors have a passion for travel, enjoy being with people, and want to make a difference. It is important to be in good health, have a high energy level, and enjoy an active lifestyle. There are opportunities for all ages. Life skills, maturity, and diverse experiences are attributes that are well respected in tour directing. You are hired because of your abilities and experience, not your age or gender. Some guides work more than 250 days per year and love being on the road. Most guides work 75–150 days per year and integrate tour guiding and tour directing with other interests such as writing, music, and teaching.

4.   What’s a typical tour schedule? ⤸

Tours range from 1–2 days to 3–4 weeks. The average is 7–15 days. ITMI considers 150–250+ days per year full-time; 75–150 part-time and intermittent if fewer than 75 days. Some tour directors work seasonally, 6–8 months straight and then take the rest of the year off. Some integrate tour directing with their present job on a part-time basis. Some “follow the sun” and work throughout the year worldwide. Others work exclusively at a local level and never leave town. The choice is yours to work full or part-time.

5.   Do I get any free time on tour? ⤸

Even though while on tour you are on-call 24 hours a day, you will have down time away from your group. This is necessary you as well as your tour clients. A typical tour day begins at 8a and ends at 6p unless there are evening activities scheduled. Free time often is scheduled on tours that are two weeks or longer. The key to successful tour directing is balance and finding time to recharge.

6.   I want to travel overseas as a tour director; do I need to have been there? ⤸

ITMI teaches you the fundamentals to lead tours anywhere in the world, even in places you have never visited. We teach you how to work effectively with overseas guides and research the destination to do your job competently and effectively. If we’ve done our job as well as we should, no one will know it’s your first time there!

7.   Do I need to speak a second language? ⤸

Fluency in a foreign language is not necessary, but it can be tremendously helpful in certain destinations and situations. When hired to lead non-English speaking groups coming to the United States, a foreign language is required. Languages often in demand are French, Mandarin, German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese, Dutch, and Swedish.

8.   What age group will be on my tours? ⤸

There are a variety of tours for all ages. Students and 50+ dominate the package tour market, but more and more families, younger couples, and singles are traveling on group tours. Today, tours are shorter in length and more affordable. Many enjoy the camaraderie that traveling with a group offers.

9.  Can I work on board a cruise ship? ⤸

Yes! An increasing number of graduates are enjoying life at sea or on the river on a full- or part-time basis. Some tour directors and tour guides work as cruise hosts and destination lecturers or lead shore excursions. Others work with motorcoach and/or incentive tour companies that integrate cruises with land/tour packages and shore excursions, known as inter-modal travel. In fact, ITMI is launching its first Cruise Ship Training Class, September 2017 - see Classes & Admissions for more details.

10.  Does it matter where I live as a tour director? ⤸

If you are working as a tour director, leading groups around the world, most tour companies pay you to travel from your home to the starting point of your tour and back. These are called “positioning expenses.” It does not matter where you live; once you are established in the field, you will be in demand. You take your job with you anywhere in the world.

11.   Do I have to travel to work as a Tour Guide? ⤸

The benefit of the ITMI Certification is that you are not only trained to go “over the road” as a tour director but you can also work locally as a tour guide or in incentive travel.

12.  How much do tour directors earn? ⤸

Besides getting all the free travel benefits (hotels, meals), tour guides and tour directors make approximately $250–$350 per day (that includes salary, gratuities and commissions). Watch this video for more info.

13.  Do I need a certification to be a Tour Guide or Tour Director? ⤸

Most tour companies prefer tour guides and tour directors to have certification. This indicates they have graduated from an intensive two-week program such as ITMI’s Tour Guide / Director Certification Program, where they’ve built the foundation they need to be reliable and successful. We believe this is not something that can be learned on line. If looking at two otherwise equal candidates, tour companies typically will select the one who is certified. Finding work as a tour guide or tour director without certification can be challenging. Most tour companies do not post jobs; they prefer to contact ITMI to send out job leads or receive resumes personally. In fact, we send out job leads to our graduates practically on a daily basis.

14.  How many tour companies employ ITMI graduates? ⤸

For almost 40 years we have worked with hundreds of tour operators that have hired ITMI graduates. Here is a short list of a few of the companies we have partnered with: Adventures by Disney, Tauck, Rick Steves’ Europe, Collette, Globus Family of Brands, Worldstrides, Trafalgar, Abercrombie & Kent, National Geographic Travel, Princess Cruises, Gate 1 Travel, and Viking Cruise Lines, plus many more.

15.  How Do I Apply? ⤸

Fill out our online application here. There is no application fee and no commitment. After receiving and reviewing your application, one of our team members will contact you to answer any questions and schedule a convenient time for a telephone or Skype interview. We’ll discuss your qualifications and answer any questions you might have regarding tour guiding, directing, or the ITMI program.

16.  Do I have to make a special trip to San Francisco for my personal interview? ⤸

No, most interviews are done by phone or Skype since our students come from all over North America and across the world. Interviews are about a half hour. We recommend you take a look at our videos prior to your phone call, they answer many initial questions and may bring up additional questions you can discuss with an instructor.

17.  May I audit one of your classes? ⤸

Yes, however we only allow one or two observers for certain classes. Please contact the ITMI office for more details.

18.  May I pay to observe one of your two day/one night field trips? ⤸

Yes, in conjunction with the 15-day ITMI Tour Director / Guide Certification Program, we conduct a number of customized overnight field trips to such locations as Yosemite National Park, Lake Tahoe, Mt. Lassen, Carmel, Monterey, Big Sur, and Hearst Castle. You will get an opportunity to meet students, ITMI graduates, and also tour company representatives who come to meet our alumni personally. Please contact the ITMI office for pricing and details.

19.  May I speak with one of your graduates? ⤸

Yes, however we would need to have interviewed you as well as have your application on file. We will then attempt to match you with someone with similar interests, background, and geographic location. We pride ourselves on keeping our graduates’ records confidential unless they have authorized their use for this purpose.

20. Do you help find housing for out-of-town students? ⤸

Yes, ITMI helps to secure housing and a roommate if it is desired. Often 90% of a class will be from out of town and many students find sharing a room actually enhances their experience. Students enjoy doing homework assignments together and having the built in support system that shared housing facilitates. Other housing options include AirBnB, local hostels, and hotels. Please contact the ITMI office for help and suggestions.

21.  Are there scholarships available for qualified applicants? ⤸

ITMI partners with Tourism Cares. Please see our tuition section for more details.

22. ITMI is licensed by the BPPE…what does that mean? ⤸

ITMI is licensed by the Bureau of Private Postsecondary Education in California (School Code #3800591). The Board is a governing body that quarterly and annually examines a school’s performance and financial records. Through their reporting process they ensure that a school maintains a high level of integrity and an ethical reputation and that their caliber of instructors meet educational standards. The Board also monitors a student’s required achievement levels, course curriculum and ensure the services we provide to our alumni meet and exceed all educational standards. This gives you peace of mind and security that your tuition is protected by the Student Tuition and Fund Disclosure, regulated by the State of California.

23. What is the significance of the ITMI logo? ⤸

Down through the ages, the spiral chambers of the nautilus have symbolized stages of growth, like the rings of a tree, to diverse cultures around the world. Its message is timeless. Oliver Wendell Holmes said “Let us take a lesson from the nautilus.” Each time the nautilus outgrows one chamber it must add another so that it will have room to live. Each new chamber becomes progressively larger. The chambered nautilus illustrates what ITMI’s vision and mission is all about. In analogy with the nautilus, we believe that the chambers represent the personal growth and development that often accompanies the magical experiences of travel. Our humanity expands as we stretch to understand the world we share. Like the nautilus, we cannot go back to our past. We must live in the present, and although we live in the present, we are a product of our past and must grow to remain vibrantly alive. The people that decide ITMI is the right path will experience growth and will find the Institute and tour directing both challenging and life changing.

24. Where can I get more information? ⤸

Send an email to travel@itmisf.com or call (800) 442-4864 or (415) 957-9489 Monday through Friday between 9:30am and 5:30pm PST.