Transition of Ownership at ATA


David and Susan Parry sell final shares to Kate Simpson and Chase Poffenberger on January 1, 2012

Washington, DC, December, 2011—Academic Travel Abroad, a 61-year old international travel company that has served the country’s elite non-profit organizations, museums, and universities in operating specialized educational and immersive study abroad programs, will transition to new owners on January, 1, 2012. Long time employees and co-owners Kate M. Simpson and Chase V. Poffenberger will acquire the company’s remaining shares from David and Susan Parry in January 1, 2012.

On staff since the late 1980’s, Simpson and Poffenberger worked with David Parry to ensure the long term stability of the company through diversification of its portfolio. In 1994, ATA acquired CET Academic Programs, a premier study abroad organization. In 2008, the American Museum of Natural History in New York outsourced the management of their travel program (Expeditions) to ATA.  In 2009, the company launched Professionals Abroad to develop and market high quality international professional programs to associations for their members’ career development and continuing education. In addition, the company manages the reservation and customer service centers for National Geographic Expeditions and The American Museum of Natural History’s Expeditions.

Kate Simpson became ATA’s President in 2005. She is involved in all aspects of Academic Travel Abroad’s business, including its study abroad division, CET Academic Programs ( In 2008, she completed a three-year executive education program for owners and presidents at Harvard Business School and holds a degree in East Asian Studies from Yale University. She serves on the Board of Directors of NTA (the nation’s premier tour operator association) and is Vice President of the Board for the Fund for Education Abroad. (

Chase Poffenberger has served as Executive Vice President for the past five years. She oversees ATA’s tour business partnerships with non-profit institutions, as well as its professional delegation division, Professionals Abroad ( Chase also leads ATA’s Sales & Creative team, developing new product and brainstorming new marketing approaches.  Chase completed her MBA at the University of Maryland in 1998 and holds a BA in Chinese Studies from Wellesley College.

David Parry acquired Academic Travel Abroad in 1972 from Fritz Kaufman, an Austrian Jewish refugee who committed to educating Americans about the world after WW2.

During my forty years in travel, I found myself in four or five different businesses as the industry changed. Exciting times! Since Kate and Chase became owners in 2005, they have charted a wise course balancing risk management with innovative new business approaches, and have achieved amazing results, even during an economic downturn. Now I look forward to passing the torch to Kate and Chase to shape the future of ATA,” said Parry. “For my part, I’ll serve happily as a consultant; continue to hike in the Alps and spend more time with my grandchildren!

Academic Travel Abroad, Inc.




ATA Opens Old Play Book to Survive in Today’s Economic Downturn

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

Academic TravelAbroad

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Traveling and the unexpected…

thumbnailWe all count down the days until departing on an overseas trip to a new place we’ve never experienced before or even one which we dearly love.  The day arrives and the eager anticipation overwhelms us.  We meticulously plan out every day while we’re gone – right down to how many pairs of socks and what color tooth brush to bring.  Our bags are taken by the luggage clerk and we board the plane, now able to relax a little before all the excitement begins.  Everything’s accounted for, all is foreseen and planned to the “T.”  From this point, everything always go according to plan, right?

Well, not always.  Any number of minor inconveniences can throw a stick in our spokes such as a delayed flight or missed train.  Small headaches arise here and there, but we overcome. Now, consider something more severe.  Think of those who were traveling in China when the earthquake struck, or others who might have been caught exploring beautiful Tibet during the recent uprisings and riots, or even travelers falling ill mid-journey.

Academic Travel Abroad (ATA) is a well established tour operator which prides itself on its distinct ability to manage such situations while hosting travelers on their many worldwide tours.  ATA realizes that anything from delayed flights to mother nature to local political and social disturbances can occur at any time without warning and can immediately effect the tour itinerary or operation.  ATA staff are trained for these disturbances and quickly react in a way that can provide safety, comfort and a sense of normalcy regardless of the level of adjustments needed to the tour.  ATA has been in business for over fifty years and has encountered many such situations in the past and has refined their skills and abilities when addressing such issues while on tour.  The safety and satisfaction of our travelers is our primary concern at every step along each tour.

Although traveling on your own can render a sense of freedom while abroad, there are many reasons to consider traveling to new destination with a managed tour as they can provide resources and staff trained to handle everything from language barriers to medical needs and provide a real and tangible sense of security and enjoyment while abroad.

Safe travels!

Academic Travel Abroad website

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ATA Chairman David Parry Reminisces About Traveling to Russia during glasnost.

Sneaking into Russia!

During the excitement over the dissolution of the Soviet Union in late 1991 I attended a meeting of the American-Soviet Tourism Society in Tallinn, Estonia. With the breakup of the USSR, the three Baltic Republics were once again independent and now, I had to obtain a separate Estonian visa. When I arrived at the airport I encountered newly uniformed Estonian customs officials. Nearby stood several forlorn USSR border guards who no longer had a role to play.

I continued by air to Moscow and, at arrival at Sheretimevyo Airport, I was amazed that there was no immigration control. Clearly, the system still regarded Tallinn as an internal flight. So when I presented my passport and Russian visa at the Moscow hotel there was much discussion about the fact that all the parts of my visa were intact. (The Soviet system was to issue a separate paper visa with one part detached on arrival and, after providing authority for the hotel stay at each place, the remainder was kept upon departure. There was never a visa in the passport itself.

The same consternation occurred on check in at the Astoria Hotel in Leningrad or was it now St. Petersburg.

The finale came on departure at Leningrad’s Pulkovo Airport for home. I shuffled up to the border police stand and presented my passport and all the parts of the official visa. These passport control stands were and are booths where the shelf for presenting your passport is about 4 ½ feet high. Through the years this was usually the most uncomfortable encounter of a visit to the USSR.

The young and, as always, expressionless border guard took one look at my complete visa and rang for the supervisor. The supervisor appeared and went behind the counter where I could not see what they were looking at. There was much discussion and thumbing of my passport. My heart sunk because this meant I was going to miss my flight.

Finally, after about ten minutes, I heard the thump, thump of the official stamp on my visa and I knew that I would be free to go. As the supervisor left the booth she turned to me and exclaimed in disgust on word – Yeltsin!

Several months later the same thing happened on the night train from Vilnius, Lithuania to Moscow. But that is another story…

Dave Parry

Academic Travel Abroad

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