Japan travel is back! Starting 11 October, Japan is allowing short-term visitors to enter without a visa. Learn more here.

Our story

Since 2003.

The story of ZI starts with the story of its founder, Lauren Zelek.

Born in Upstate NY and raised in Tokyo, Lauren spent much of her

youth traveling back and forth between the U.S. and Japan. There she developed a deep fascination and love for Japanese culture, language, customs and traditions, traveling to other parts of Asia, as well as a desire and respect for helping others understand and navigate cultural differences between the East and the West.

In 2016, Lauren traveled to the Summer Games in Rio and a light bulb turned on. She wondered, in addition to the strenuous physical training athletes undergo to make it to the Games, if they as well as support staff experienced cultural training to make for a richer travel experience.

In February 2017, Lauren relocated to Colorado Springs and became a Hiking Guide at the Broadmoor where she ultimately founded ZI in August 2017. Preparing for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, Lauren and her team worked and counseled with hundreds of Japan-bound American athletes and Olympians (from as far back as 1964) and their families, identifying ways to support their unique travel concerns and goals.

Lauren returned to Tokyo multiple times to meet with various international and domestic partners, from hotels and ryokans to transportation operators. She was able to share with ZI's clients everything from navigating Tokyo's complex train system, to traveling throughout Japan and avoiding any faux pas when interacting with locals.

Sadly, the Covid-19 pandemic almost brought the entire industry to a halt. But that didn't stop us from pivoting as a team and continue to serve as a bridge between the West and East through travel.

Now, with international travelers ready to explore again and Japan's plan to reopen sometime this fall, the ZI team is back in the saddle and committed to educating its travelers on ways to be a culturally sensitive, responsible traveler to many amazing destinations in Japan and soon, others parts of Asia.

Our vision

To transform the way the world travels through virtual and in-person travel experiences that positively impact the traveler, destination, local community, and global economy.

Our mission

To promote responsible travel policies and practices that enable travelers to do good so that local economies may thrive and steward their cultural, economic, and environmental resources.

Our values






Human Connection

Our team

Lauren Zelek

Founder & CEO

Upon moving from Japan, Lauren graduated from the University of Richmond, VA in 2013 and worked for various organizations in Washington D.C. before exploring her entrepreneurial spirit. In 2015, she crowdfunded "Today's International Student Experience" and joined a cohort of social entrepreneurs on a journey across transcontinental U.S. with the Millennial Train Project. She then co-founded and launched an initiative with the Embassy of Japan, aimed at supporting Japanese "Third Culture Kids" prior to attending the Rio Games and relocating to Colorado. In her free time, she loves to read, practice yoga, and spent quality time with family, friends and Mother Nature.

Elijah Arcinas

Support Specialist

Born and raised from the Pearl of the Orient Seas in the Philippines, Elijah is a tourism and hospitality graduate with a passion for travel. She traveled across Asia during her college years before living and working in the U.S. at many hotels, including the Sheraton and Holiday Inn before returning back to work at the InterContinental Hotels Group in Makati. In her spare time, Elijah loves to discover new things like free diving and spend time with her family and friends.

Sherry Qiu

Marketing Intern

Sherry is a rising senior at the University of Richmond, majoring in business administration with a concentration in international marketing. She has traveled to many countries including Italy, France, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, China and Korea. In her free time she enjoys swimming, watching old movies, and visiting states on the East Coast.

Scott Tibbitts


Scott Tibbitts is a technology entrepreneur and CEO with experience in the nuclear, medical, aerospace and telecom industries. He is the founder and Vice Chairman of eSpace: The Center for Space Entrepreneurship, a partnership with the University of Colorado and the only congressionally funded not-for-profit organization. During his tenure at eSpace, he raised more than $3M including $2M from Congress, which was leveraged to support the formation of more than a dozen Colorado entrepreneurial space companies, one of which, Blue Canyon Technology, founded with a $20K seed grant from eSpace, was recently sold for $450M. 

Scott is currently CEO/Founder of Katasi, working in partnership with T-Mobile in the US to deploy the world’s first cloud-based distracted driving solution. Scott resides in Boulder, CO and is a father of two (both of whose names are etched on a spacecraft on Mars, circling Saturn.) He is an avid skier, mountain biker, and the keyboard player in the garage band “Too Much Fun.”

Stan Zelek


Stan Zelek is a retired Corning Inc. executive where he worked in manufacturing and engineering for 40 years. Originally starting in Corning’s Consumer Products and Life Sciences Divisions stateside, his career took him internationally to oversee manufacturing and supply chain for Display Technologies in 2003.

He ran plants in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China and the U.S., leading thousands of diverse employees as the company produced glass for LCD televisions, smartphones and other display applications. In 2007, Apple needed glass and in just 6 months Corning developed it, bringing the world its first iPhone.

After 12 years living and working in Tokyo, Stan retired in 2015 as International Division VP of Manufacturing and Supply Chain. During his time in Asia he developed a great affinity for Japan and is proud to have received a Gold Driver's License as well as remain connected to his many friends and colleagues in Tokyo, Taiwan, and South Korea.

Stan has been married for almost 45 years and resides in Charleston, SC and Cape Coral, FL. He enjoys fishing, traveling internationally, and spending time with his three children and young granddaughter.


ZI is an active member of the U.S.-Japan and travel sectors. We are proud members of the following organizations:

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Open M-F

M-T 8:00 - 17:00 MST

F 8:00 - 14:00 MST

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