Chairman David Parry and President Kate Simpson need two hands to count the number of world crises they have weathered together as leaders of Academic Travel Abroad, a 59-year-old educational travel company based in Washington, D.C.
The OPEC crisis, Chernobyl, Tiananmen Square, Desert Storm, 9/11, SARS, and other world events are the backdrop upon which ATA has designed and operated innovative travel and study abroad programs for decades. Throw in the normal boom and bust cycles of the U.S. economy and both Dave and Kate agree that they can’t imagine a more interesting and challenging business to manage!
While ATA has “been there and done that” during previous downturns, the current crisis is a “perfect storm” of factors that have deeply affected the older, educated, affluent Americans who form ATA’s customer base. However, while other travel companies have panicked and slashed prices to improve bookings in the short term, ATA has taken its usual, “no drama” approach and has applied a set of timeless management techniques that have steered the company out of choppy waters in the past.
Here are a few secrets from their survival play book:
- A diversified product line that caters to travelers at several different “life stages”
- A commitment to superior customer service and strong value-added components in all of its programs
- A strong investment in marketing
- An innovative product line that meets the traveler’s need for shorter programs that don’t skimp on education
- A long term plan to be prepared when the market rebounds
- A relentless focus on strong business principles, such as containing overhead costs and maintaining a strong cash flow