International Tour Management Institute (ITMI)

The Premier Training Institute for Tour & Travel Professionals Since 1976

Making the World a Better Place Through Travel

Kelly Thomas

Hometown: Palm Springs, California

ITMI graduation year: 2001

Travel bucket list: China, African Safari, Santorini

Tour essentials: Favorite pillow, soundproof headphones, iPhone

...meeting people from other parts of the world always reminds me of our similarities as people, versus our differences.
Working with Tauck
Nordic Adventures
retirement travel jobs

What or who inspired you to become a tour director?

My inspiration came from a desire to be self-employed and to work as an independent contractor with important benefits such as creating my own work schedule and enjoying my love of travel and education. 

How do you balance your personal life with your travel career?

Balancing a career in travel and a personal life has not been problematic whatsoever.  In fact, I am able to create my own work schedule with some needed personal time between tours, and this has become one of the greatest benefits to tour directing. 

What qualities do you feel make for a good tour director?

The three most important qualities in a ‘great’ tour director are: organization, caregiving, and a sense of humor. If you can bring these 3 qualities into your career every day, you will be very successful. 

What advice would you give to a first-time traveler?

Do your homework!  Many travelers neglect to perform the basic research and investigation for their desired destination and wind up surprised, disappointed, and even unhappy.  Consider a vacation like buying a new car. Does the vacation have everything you want and need to enjoy yourself?  Are there extras that you don’t really need? Is this vacation going to stimulate you sufficiently on physical and intellectual levels?  Always remember to match what you need from a vacation with the tour itself. 

What destinations are on your travel bucket list?

Without a doubt the #1 destination on my bucket list is China, followed by a safari to Africa.  After I complete those two trips I will revisit Santorini in the Greek Isles. It’s a fantastic place. 

What are three things you must always take with you?

I always take my favorite pillow for a good night’s sleep, my Bose soundproof headphones for the airplane, and my iPhone for quick information when I need it and to stay in contact with all vendors, and family and friends back home. (#4 ? a corkscrew!).    

If you could design your own customized tour to reflect your passions what would it look like?

The Best of California!  As a native Californian, I would certainly customize a tour that visits San Francisco, Napa, Lake Tahoe, Carmel, The Monterey Bay Aquarium, Big Sur, Hearst Castle, Yosemite, Sequoia National Park, Palm Springs, San Diego, The Getty Museum, and more. I would make sure the menu on this tour reflects the local cuisine at each location we visit. There is so much to see and enjoy in California.        

Name someone famous you’d like to travel with and where you’d like to take them.

Guy Fieri, the chef and host of “Diners Drive-Ins and Dives” on the Food Network, would be fun to travel with to Italy where we would visit many different regions and sample the amazing food of Italy. Vino too! 

How has tour directing impacted your perspective of the world?

Tour directing and meeting people from other parts of the world always reminds me of our similarities as people, versus our differences.  Many misconceptions and stereotypes about people from other nations can be broken or eliminated by simply spending time together on tour.       

What advice would you give someone if they wanted to become a tour director or guide?

I like to remind those who are considering a career in tour directing that this business is firstly about taking care of other people, and traveling is secondary.  Like any career, those who are most successful are those who remember this simple philosophy and practice it with their passengers.       

Do you agree that a tour director is actually an ambassador of goodwill? If so, why?

I definitely agree that a tour director is an ambassador of goodwill because we are often meeting people that are visiting our country for the first time, and we are representatives of our society on a very personal level.  We can also inform and enlighten our passengers about other people and other nations with accurate information that inspires them to feel more accepting and compassionate towards others.