International Tour Management Institute (ITMI)

The Premier Training Institute for Tour & Travel Professionals Since 1976

Making the World a Better Place Through Travel

Zoe Wagoner

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois

ITMI graduation year: 2011

Travel bucket list: The more you travel the more places end up on your bucket list. My short list includes India, Jordan, mainland Asia, Galápagos Islands, Japan, and a family trip to South America.

Tour essentials: an arsenal of jokes, stories, and interesting facts a positive attitude, and a contagious smile.

Traveling has little to do with a physical location but with the people you meet, the things you share with each other, and the memories you make.
Touring with famous guests, Adventures by Disney
Just another day in the office on horseback
disney adventure guide
adventure guide
national park guide

What or who inspired you to become a tour director?

I really feel it must have been fate. I was working on board Crystal Cruises when, during an unusually busy lunch, I asked to share a table with one of our guest lecturers. She was on for our seven day Mexican Riviera cruise. We chatted, and before I knew what hit me, my future had been determined. She was also an instructor at ITMI and had convinced me to shift careers into the world of tour directing. Out of all the ports that our world cruise docks, my contract happened to end in San Francisco just 3 days before the 270th class session began. Needless to say I attended and the rest is history.

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

Two things are key. Surround yourself with loving supportive people and become very technology savvy with apps like Skype, Viber, Snapchat—the list goes on. It's only too easy now to stay in touch with those at home. It is also important to make an effort to do the little things. Send postcards or personalized gifts home. That way, when you are gone 320 days out of the year, you still have a personal life waiting for you. Another big part of this job to remember is that travel becomes your personal life. Vendors become friends, and help make a home away from home. Treat them as such, and this lifestyle isfar more rewarding. You should see my Christmas card list now!

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

Love of people. All people. There is an idea I like to live by, which is that “People are different.” There is no right or wrong, just different. If you have a passion to get to know the individuals in a group, you can make a trip more personal and memorable and learn how to mold the group dynamic.

Flexibility to adapt. A tour director has to be able to make tough decisions quickly or just be able to see the potential in every situation.

Openness to new perspectives. When a tour director has a passion for cultures and tradition, it’s contagious. Guests get excited to expand their comfort zones and gain new perspective.

Planning, organizing, and fulfilling. A tour is mostly run behind the scenes. When room configurations, reservations, activities, and surprise extras are put in place perfectly, the tour runs smoothly and the risk of challenges are lessened.

Storytelling and people skills. A tour director needs to be entertaining! People will remember history, local facts, and the trip as a whole if you can relay the information in a memorable way. People love to laugh. So make sure it’s part of the tour.

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

Go for it! Try everything twice. And remember, you are never alone unless you want to be. Even though people are different, they are still people no matter where you are. Our commonalities are greater than our differences. So be open and expand your comfort zone. It is not as scary as you think it is. And once you realize how easy it is to meet people and share experiences, you will be addicted and most likely want to become a tour director :)

What destinations are on your travel bucket list?

This is an unfair question for a tour director. The more you travel the more places end up on your bucket list. The short list for me might be India, Jordan, mainland Asia, Galápagos Islands, Japan, and a family trip to South America.

What are three things you must always take with you?

Most things I am constantly checking I have are not physical: An arsenal of jokes, stories, and interesting facts, a positive attitude, and a contagious smile.

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

Immersion would be the focus of my tour. I would introduce the group to local styles, traditions, food, and most importantly, experiences. I would have local experts sharing personal stories with guests in unique and intimate environments. Yes, this means eating guinea pigs in Peru or buying dinner for the group by bartering at a local market in Bali!       

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

Benjamin Franklin. He was a man who had many interest in many fields, was super intelligent, had a sense of humor, and a keen eye. He had a great interest in the future and foreign lands. I think he would be surprised how well the world turned out and he could offer such insightful perspectives. Where would we go? The USA first, of course. He could see how well the Great American Experiment turned out. Then off to Europe. Asia and Africa would follow.

How has tour directing impacted your perspective of the world?

When I first traveled, I thought a trip involved more extensive planning and preparation. Now I know it’s easy to go somewhere new as long as you are open to people. I realize that traveling has little to do with a physical location but with the people you meet, the things you share with each other, and the memories you make. The world is filled with people, not places.      

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

As long as you are confident and passionate about people and travel, go to ITMI and always pursue your dream. You will make it!        

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

Yes, definitely! Through travel we push past stereotypes and bring realities to fruition. This is in hope of bringing a respect and understanding between cultures, bridging the gap between ideals and misconceptions.