Newcomers: Interesting Journey for Tour Operator

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By Olga Eremeeva

Isn’t it great to come to Canada and go on a sightseeing tour with the guide speaking your language? You can have exciting time visiting Sky Dome and CN Tower, Niagara Falls, Museum of Civilization and other places. It is exactly what Irina Nagel, president of the Irina International Tours, has been offering to the Russian community in Canada for more than fifteen years. She, like many of her compatriots, believes that love for a homeland starts with learning its history.

“I have been always passionate about my job,” says Nagel looking back on her years at the government travel agency in L’viv, a scenic town in Western Ukraine. In 1993, a newcomer to Canada, she found her way to the tourist company Toronto Tours, where she took training and got herself registered as a Russian-speaking guide. The new employee had barely any work.

Until… one day she got a phone call from Toronto Tours: could she lead a tour for the delegation headed by the former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev? “It was my first serious assignment, and I did it well,” says Nagel.

The experienced tour guide wanted to start her own business, but had no money. Still, she decided to test waters by placing ad in a community paper. Three people came for her first sightseeing tour of Toronto, Nagel remembers. They all fitted in the old mini van she had rented.

Today, Nagel operates licensed travel agency specializing in domestic and international motor coach tours in Russian and English. She trains her many guides, who take tourists around the world – from Canada to Europe, Australia, and South Africa. The company owns a fleet of charter buses.

She would not have been so successful, if she had not started her career in Canada working for Toronto Tours more than a decade ago, Nagel says. “I quickly realized that I had exceptional knowledge about how to put together an interesting presentation, but I had almost no skills in organizing tours.” At Toronto Tours, Nagel learned a business side of the trade, and it greatly contributed to success of her own company.

Nagel continues to build successful business on her profound knowledge of the growing Russian-speaking market. In the future, she sees her agency offering more services to all Canadians. “In this country, if you want your business to grow, you have to go far beyond your ethnic community.”

For more information on training as a tour guide, visit George Brown College (coned.georgebrown.ca/section/hosp/tour.html), or private school Tour Guide Training Corporation of Canada (www.tourmanagertraining.com).

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