Meet One of Tauck's Finest: Tour Director Peter Tanner
Posted by Mary-Frances Walsh
Posted in: Insider Connections
Tags: Tauck Director, Canada, Food, Switzerland
One of Tauck’s “absolutal-ly” finest Tour Directors stepped down from the road in September, after 25 years of service. Born and raised outside Zurich, Switzerland, Peter Tanner trained to be a baker and pastry chef in his youth – having been directed at the age of 12 into the trades (rather than academia) on the basis of standard testing. His mother – ever the pragmatist – suggested he become a baker, “as people always need to eat” and his twin brother a hairdresser, “as hair always grows, in good times and bad.” But like many a “late bloomer,” Peter supplemented his training with evening courses in hotel and restaurant management and bartending, along with a 30-day “crash course” in English.
At the age of 20, with those English-language skills behind him, he applied for an advertised position as a baker in Calgary, Canada – a job he planned to take for a year. Not fully aware of the geography (these were pre-fax, pre-email and pre-Internet days), he proudly took his letter of acceptance to the U.S. Consulate in Berne to apply for a visa… where he was kindly redirected to the Canadian Embassy. Heartbroken, at first, he filled out the forms for a Canadian visa and then stopped at the library to read up on Canada, which he discovered wasn’t a bad alternative.
Several weeks later, he received a Canadian Immigration Visa, which nearly gave his parents “a heart attack.” Arriving in Calgary with a small suitcase, boots and skis, Peter felt as if he’d arrived on the set of Stagecoach, the 1939 Western starring John Wayne that “everyone at home in Switzerland had seen.” He began working, made friends and took evening classes in English – and decided that he had to see the Pacific Ocean, something very few people in Switzerland ever hoped to see.
So after a year’s time at the bakery, he gave notice and began driving west on Trans-Canadian Highway #1 in his olive green mustang… “driving and driving, and driving – stopping for coffee and donuts like a good Canadian” – realizing that he’d made it only half way to the Pacific coast after a full day on the road. When Peter finally reached Vancouver, he was a bit shocked by the city neighborhood he’d mistakenly entered; it was older and more dilapidated than expected (in 1973). So he simply kept on driving until he reached Stanley Park – “Shangri-la”. And at Vancouver’s panoramic Ambleside Beach, wasted no time taking his shoes off to put his feet into Pacific waters.
Planning to stay in Canada no more than a few days before flying home to Switzerland, he happened to read about the grand opening of a Four Seasons hotel in Vancouver. Peter stopped by for a look and coincidentally met the manager, who asked about his accent and what he did for a living… and hired him on the spot. After a year’s time, Peter wrote home letting his parents know that he intended to come home for a visit, only to receive their unexpected response. “Don’t bother. We’re coming to see what’s keeping you there.”
Peter took up the gauntlet of showing his parents “America.” Over a stretch of six weeks, they visited Vancouver, Vancouver Island, Seattle, Portland and San Francisco… where his parents had an “absolute fit” about not being able to stand being in the car for another mile. So they flew to Los Angeles… and took up driving once again: across the Mohave Desert (“they were amazed”) to Las Vegas (“the show was almost too much for my mother”) on to Zion, the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Yellowstone national parks… across Montana and back to Vancouver. Peter says, “I didn’t know it then, but I was a tour director!”
The trip left Peter’s parents stunned by the beauty of what they had seen and they agreed that, “Yes, you can stay.” They even alluded to joining him “were they 20 years younger,” which he was silently relieved they weren’t. Three years later, Peter’s twin brother George, joined him in Vancouver, where he remains a hairdresser to this day.
Peter’s charming Swiss accent (though many in America heard “Sweden” rather than “Switzerland,” when they asked) and his training led to a succession of successful positions: as a baker, a manager of Vancouver’s well-known William Tell Restaurant and as the food and beverage manager of a new downtown luxury hotel, the Georgian Court. It was at this hotel where Peter began meeting up with visiting Tauck groups – and Dick Sundby, then a Tauck tour director manager.
Inspired to pursue tour directing as a career, Peter added certification by the International Tour Management Institute (ITMI) to his skills set and was promptly hired as a Tauck Director, with this advice from Dick, “Make me look good.” And has he ever!
In 25 years, Peter led 22 different Tauck itineraries, never said “no” to any new itinerary or any new schedule. When asked about his favorite Tauck trips, he said that every new itinerary became his current favorite, but a few destinations stand out. South Africa he calls “God’s country. When you go out on a jeep and get up close to a pride of lions in their home environment, it’s so wonderful. So are the people.” And Switzerland? “A perfect tour.” He also loved visiting Europe’s capital cities; Hawaii remains an all-time favorite destination.
At some point Peter felt torn between settling for the long-term in Europe and Canada, but he says, “I let the tide take its course. My roots grew deeper in Vancouver and it became my home.” He says he’s come full circle: “I wanted to be in America, wound up in Canada, but ended up working for an American company” and feels he’s led a charmed life as a Tauck Director, “thanks to Arthur Tauck” – especially given that “I’m really only a baker.” Hardly.