Do it for the right reasons… I want to get paid to travel is not one of them… I believe that a tour director represents his company, his country and himself, personally
— Jim Ryan

Hometown: Monroe, Connecticut

ITMI graduation year: 2011

Travel bucket list: Hong Kong, Auckland, Cape Town

Tour essentials: Smart phone, basic first aid, tool kit

What or who inspired you to become a tour director?

I felt that my background in History, combined with my Meeting Production skills and extensive travel experiences dovetailed nicely into the skill set needed to become a successful Tour Director. ITMI helped me tie it all together and accelerated my successful entry into the industry. I was a NYC licensed guide prior to attending ITMI. My attempts to break into the over-the-road Tour Industry prior to ITMI were met with gatekeepers and voicemails. Once I had the ITMI credential on my resume, making connections with Tour Operators was much more successful. 

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

My kids are grown and my wife has her own successful law practice. As “empty nesters,” going on the road does not seem to pose a problem for us. Often my wife will meet me at the end of a tour (if it is a destination which interests her), and we spend time that way. Also, I always book off my Thanksgiving and Christmas to spend with my family.

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

Patience, innovation, effective communication (of which effective listening is an indispensable element), strong organization skills as it pertains to logistics, making a personal investment in your groups; actually caring about the people and the product you deliver. Add to that strong destination knowledge developed through experience and/or good research skills.

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

Be prepared to be flexible, bring a sense of humor, and a deck of cards. Do not over pack. Group travel has its own set of unique qualities; understanding those parameters will help you have a more enjoyable experience. Always be on time.

What destinations are on your travel bucket list?

Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo, Auckland, Prague, Sydney, Singapore, Bangkok, Nairobi, Cape Town, Pumu Punku (Bolivia), Chichen Itza (Mexico).

What are three things you must always take with you?

Smartphone, basic first aid & tool kit, 2 pairs of comfortable shoes.

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

Everyone will be picked up from their home in at least a town car to the airport. I would reduce the motor coach size to a maximum of 25 people in a super-tricked out, luxury coach, complete with Captain’s chairs and drink service. I would use a 30-passenger turbo-prop between some destinations. All hotels would be chosen on the basis of the food, looking for innovative chefs with exceptional local cuisine. Open your wallet; touring with Jim Ryan is going to cost, but it will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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

Bill Clinton (sans Secret Service), to Tiwanaku and Pumu Punku, Bolivia. I’ve met Mr. Clinton, and his intelligence and curiosity would be a fascinating mix to explore those ancient ruins with, not to mention his charisma. Imagine being Bill Clinton’s wingman?!

How has tour directing impacted your perspective of the world?

More reinforced than impacted; Eisenhower once said that one of the best pathways to world peace and understanding was through travel. Understanding other cultures puts you in a better vantage point to understand your fellow man in general.     

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

Do it for the right reasons. “I want to get paid to travel” is not one of them. That is the most simplistic of reasons, which drives those who do not understand what it is they are undertaking. This job, for the right person, with the right mindset and the right skill set, is a great deal of fun. It is rewarding on many levels. Like anything else, you get out of it what you put into it. It is not a cakewalk. If you are doing this job right, and building a reputation of excellence (which is always one of my goals), then a serious commitment to that excellence is a prerequisite.       

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

I believe that a tour director represents his company, his country and himself, personally. A small town in Italy will fondly remember the very nice tour director who came through last year with his merry band in tow. How he was not rude and demanding. How he was friendly and cooperative. How he encouraged his group to immerse themselves in the local culture. So yes, I agree a tour director can be a goodwill ambassador.