Our Story

15+ years of experience.

ZI was founded in 2017 by Lauren Zelek, a curious American traveler and entrepreneur who was bitten by the travel bug at a young age. At twelve years old her family journeyed across the world to live in Japan, where she became enamored by the hospitable people, deep culture, and rich history. It was this experience, and the many others along her travels in Asia, that formed a deep and gradual appreciation for understanding the cultural differences between the East and West, as well as an acute awareness to responsibly interact with diverse destinations and host populations.


At the 2016 Summer Games in Rio, Lauren recognized an opportunity to serve U.S. athletes and their families for the next Summer Games in Tokyo. Shortly after she relocated from the East Coast to Colorado Springs, CO and became a Hiking Guide at the Broadmoor. For the next few years our team interacted with hundreds of athletes and their families -- from 1964 to 2020 -- uniting our team’s love for travel and cross-cultural education with these stakeholders’ interest in experiencing the Tokyo Summer Games (and Japan), in-depth.

In 2018 Lauren led a 25-person "Olympic"-themed tour for the U.S. Japan Council Annual Conference. Tour stops included the National Stadium (where the Opening & Closing ceremonies were hosted), Tokyo American Club, and the Panasonic Tokyo Center.


The novel COVID-19 pandemic paralyzed economies, devastated communities, and confined nearly half of humanity to their homes. Let's not also forget that it completely shut down the travel and tourism industry. During this time ZI pivoted to offer virtual travel experiences and and pre-travel planning services to its most discerning clients interested in experiencing Asia at some point.

We also successfully served over 100 families, private Donors and 1964 athletes, working around the clock to negotiate full refunds, from flights, private accommodations and hotels, to private tours outside of Tokyo. With our understanding of cross-cultural communication and doing business in Japan, we secured roughly $3 million in travel refunds for various clients.

Where we're going.

After a long, challenging journey as a startup business, ZI deepened pivoted and refocused its efforts on sustainable and "responsible" tourism while actively connecting with travelers to learn how they want to experience the world post-pandemic. Now, we are bringing our destinations closer to our clients through virtual tours and experiences offered by our strategic partners, so they can learn more about the destination, culture, and ways to give back pre-departure.

Today, our small yet passionate and knowledgeable team allows us to be nimble and serve our clients diverse travel needs and desires, while advising them on how to be a culturally-sensitive and responsible traveler. We are excited for what is to come and thank all who have been a part of our journey thus far!

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 Core Values

Our leadership is guided by an enduring set of values that define our relationships with team members, clients, and the destinations we visit.






Human Connection

Why work with us.

What makes us the top choice for conscious travelers?

We're all about your ideas and supporting you every step of the way

You have a picture of what you want and we understand the only way to design the best experience is to have an deep understanding of what you care about. Your Travel Advisor and/or Guide will take the time to get to know you and our team will make things happen from A to B to Z.

We hold ourselves to high standards and care about making the right choices

Most of clients rate our services as 5-star and that's what we strive to be every day. Additionally, we believe that everyone who interacts with our company is a steward of the world, which is why we strive to be sustainable and responsible in our travel approach. How we we choose to travel means finding creative ways to bring real benefits to your destination.

We see the whole picture but keep things hyperlocal

Our team recognizes that most travel by its nature does not just involve industry businesses, but the destination as a whole—its ecosystems, natural resources, cultural assets and traditions, economies, communities, and built infrastructure. We keep every interaction, from our VTA sessions to guided tours, intimate, engaging and oriented around a well-defined community.

We also take health, hygiene and safety very seriously.

Our people.

It all started in the Rocky Mountains where our Founder led private hiking tours, and grew to become a company with people in various locations who are as enthusiastic about international travel. We are a passionate bunch of travelers, explorers and guides who love to turn your ideas into transformative trips and travel experiences, which is why we support you from start to finish.

It runs in our DNA and in the fabric of our interactions as colleagues, Travel Advisors, Guides and stewards of our planet.

Lauren Zelek, Founder & Owner

J Garrett Karr, Managing Director, Japan

Mie Beech, Managing Director, Colorado

Tyson Cronmiller, Director of People

Elijah Arcinas, Administration

Sherry Qiu, Marketing

Bev Dew, Advisor

Scott Tibbitts, Advisor

Stan Zelek, Advisor

Community associations.

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