This account of a part of our history is meant to show you how some of our special theme tours came about and why we are happy to be a small tour operator.
Our office was established in Vancouver, BC, in 1989. The company's founders come from an extensive background in the tour guiding industry. Having guided tours throughout Europe and North America we know what is important to have a successful tour and being raised in Europe, we know the regions and customs.
Our team is small but experienced and we care about what we are doing. Each tour is being put together with many details in mind. At no stage during the past 3 decades were we tempted to grow the company to a level that would jeopardize the personable touch and the individualistic approach to all of our unique tours.
We are proud of our work and happy that we can make dreams come true for so many of our loyal travellers, who wanted to go and see parts of the world with us. Our short bios can be found here.
The modern world – and along with it, the travel industry – tends to be geared towards mass production and mass tourism, with all its benefits (cheaper, more products), but also its downfalls (lack of contact with the locals, being on “a dime a dozen” cookie-cutter tours). We are working differently and custom design every tour. No, we are not going to be the big “movers and shakers”, bringing millions of tourists anywhere; we are more interested in enabling our travellers to make connections with locals, in having some personal experiences and enjoying some unique themes while travelling.
Here are some of our niche market theme tours which we have worked on over the last 30 years, and how we came upon these.
After providing special custom-tailored itineraries for sports groups, school groups, choirs and others, mostly to Europe, a gentleman walked into our office at the beginning of 1994. He got our name from a teacher for whom we had arranged a few school tours to Europe. He produced a travel itinerary with the title “Liberation of Holland” and asked if we could set up that tour at a decent rate, as he found the cost by the competitor rather high. This gentleman was Ken MacLeod, and we would be working with him until his untimely passing on December 27, 2018. He did not show us the cost of the competitor’s programme. Not having done any tours of the like, and none of us growing up in Canada, we were simply not aware of the commemoration festivities which were taking place in Holland every decade in May, at the Anniversary of the end of WWII. But being good at putting tours together, we dug in, studied, researched and produced the tour, beating our competitor by over $500 (on a tour cost of then $2,490, including airfare).
It was such a popular tour that we travelled to Holland with five coaches in 1995, commemorating Canada’s friendship with the Dutch since WWII. Since that tour, many followed to Normandy and Italy and we became well versed in military history, built wonderful relationships with local contacts from Dieppe to Arnhem and Cassino. Ken MacLeod was our chief military historian; he kept the relationships going with friends in Europe and he also brought other wonderful historians from Canada on board, as we arranged more and more tours of the military genre for Canadian regiments, veterans, families and friends. One of his proteges, Karen Storwick, from Calgary, has jumped into the void left by Ken. A historian in her own rights, she has been instrumental in setting up tours involving the PPCLI, the Loyal Edmonton Regiment and others while Ken was still with us and is continuing on that path with STI.
As we move on, one of the planned tours for 2022, is an Italian Campaign tour in honor of Ken MacLeod. His affinity with local historians in Villanova, Ortona and Cassino was very dear to him.
Ken MacLeod in Katwijk, Holland
Classical Music Tours
A totally different genre than the military history tours, we also stumbled into this new adventure purely accidentally. We had chartered riverboats on European rivers for a number of years already when another teacher friend, Roger Philips, introduced us to an icon of the classical music field in Canada, George Zukerman. A legend on the bassoon and creator of classical music programmes throughout communities all over Canada, George suggested we should arrange a classical music river cruise on the Danube. In 2005 the first cruise sold out, brought us to the Danube and was soon followed with cruises on the Rhone, Douro, Elbe, Rhine and Danube again. Wonderful feature artists from Canada brought classical music to music enthusiasts and local European artists, as well as performances in great concert halls of Europe, made all these programmes unique and special. Kai Gleusteen and Catherine Ordronneau, Marcel and Liz Bergmann, Julie Nesrallah and the Gryphon Trio have been hosting our tours and have become great friends and partners.
George Zukerman with Catherine Ordronneau & Kai Gleusteen in Budapest on STI cruise
Over the years we have arranged numerous special themed tours with great tour leaders, and the relationships with them have been part of our lives.
Painting tours with the Heine family
Harry Heine, a wonderful and charismatic artist, famous for his ships and west coast scenery paintings and his talented offsprings Mark, Caren and Jennifer, were part of many tours over 15 years to different corners of the world. Harry passed away in September 2004. He was a friend and partner, whose philosophy matched ours. Caring for the people who followed him on tours around the world, sketching and painting, enjoying contact with the locals wherever he went, making friends. He has and always will be a building block of our company.
See some of Harry Heine’s paintings below, and click here for his Wikipedia page. Please click on the following links to see Caren, Mark and Jennifer’s beautiful works: Caren Heine
, Mark Heine, and Jennifer Heine.
Harry Heine's paintings of the Golden Horn in Istanbul and the Pamir, the world's last commercial sailing ship
Harry Heine sketching at the Acropolis of Pergamon in Bergama, Turkey
Meeting great people on our path forms us and our company is what it is because of the great people who were part of our journey. Sports teams, choirs, garden groups and many others allowed us to grow continuously, expand our own horizon and work hard on each project for the benefit of our travellers.
It was not always easy, as we had and have to face challenges from desert storms to erupting volcanoes and terrorist attacks which all affect our fragile industry, but we are proud of where we are.
Travelling is in our blood and no other memories can be as strong and rewarding as going out there and learning about our brothers and sisters throughout the world. While politics and big corporate interests sometimes drive wedges between us all, we can do and see for ourselves and meet wonderful people and come to realize that we all have the same dreams and hopes. We are glad that we can bring like-minded people together and are happy to have made so many friends at home and on other continents.
Please check our website for details on Special Travel International’s future tours: