Academic Travel Abroad Travel Tip: Consider Stopovers to Consolidate Costs and Travel Time

Mongolian Landscape

Mongolian Landscape

As we all continue to tighten our belts when it comes to spending on things we once considered necessary, travel is one of the line-items that can fall into a gray area of our budgets.  A little tweaking of the way we look at booking travel can help us justify what is feasible, and how we can make our vacations all the more memorable.

“Location, location, location!” isn’t just for real estate these days.  If you’re already halfway around the world, make it count!   Once you’ve already booked a trip to Mongolia, consider extending your vacation by stopping in Beijing or Seoul for a few days to a week before making your way back home.  Airlines often offer special rates for extended layovers, and hotel internet specials are becoming better and better, especially when you book 2 or more nights.  Try this strategy with a Paris vacation before your arrival in Morocco; a stopover in Munich or Frankfurt on your way to or from Italy; or spend a few days in Lisbon after you disembark your Mediterranean cruise.  It’s all the satisfaction of 2 vacations for a margin of the cost of doing them separately – plus you’ll be better adjusted to the time difference and won’t spend nearly as many hours in-flight.  So keep checking off those places on your bucket lists, or simply re-visit that city you’ve been dying to get back to for years.  Whatever your reasoning or motivation, now is the time to make your trips go further.

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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

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Why I Love Being a Program Manager

Emma Impavido reflects on how satisfying she finds her job as Program Manager, even in difficult economic times. ATA’s team of Program Managers are responsible for designing and operating ATA’s tours for its non-profit clients. Emma is ATA’s senior Program Manager for Italy, Greece and U.K. programs. 

I am increasingly reflective about why I like my job as a program manager and why I think the travel industry will survive the current global economic crisis.

I have been creating enticing cultural group tours to Italy, Greece and UK for nearly 15 years, 8 of which I have been with ATA. (And I am one of the newer members to the department!) I enjoy putting itineraries together because I love being transported to a destination on a daily basis. There is excitement in designing a new culinary tour to Sicily; the need for a solution when dealing with an unexpected museum closure and there are decisions to make when analyzing what I can remove from the program to keep the costs down while still maintaining a first class educational journey.

Travel planning is in my blood. Friends and family are forever asking me (a Brit) for advice on where to stay or eat when traveling to Italy, and not my Italian husband! Many of us at ATA have this passion about travel and are sources of knowledge about the different regions of the world in which we operate.

But for those behind the scenes, travel is not always the glamorous job of jet setting around the world to check out elegant hotels and fine restaurants. When times are good there are still the issues that keep us on our toes: uprisings in Mongolia, a broken pelvis in Athens, a sick traveler on a Trans Siberian rail journey, not to mention the lost luggage and travel delays. These are perhaps nothing compared to the challenges the travel industry will face in 2009, but they are truly typical examples of what we encounter day to day.

Travel is the first luxury to go when finances are tight, but I am confident that people will still look to travel planners and travel agents, each experts in their own field, to assist with their travel decisions.

In this age of modern technology anyone can book a flight, hotel and rental car and have the basics for a vacation. Even I thought I could book a last minute family getaway to the beach recently on my own. Despite my husband and I being on the telephone simultaneously with different airlines and travel providers (and checking out different travel websites at the same time) we watched flight availability disappear before our eyes. Yes, people are looking for discounts but they are obviously still interested in traveling. This is encouraging. Gone are the days, perhaps, when people made plans months in advance, which is why we continue to see a rise in late bookings. In the end, a local travel agent was able to book a package to the beach for me and my family, cheaper than I could put the parts together myself. Trust the experts, I thought. They know the family beach package deals, and I don’t!

At ATA we are experts in sophisticated worldwide cultural group journeys. We also do so much more. Apart from the first class customer service, our tours are unique – they provide special access to historical sites that are either not normally open to the public or are opened at exclusive times for our group. Each of our tours is led by an expert leader and an elegant and organized tour manager that make for a hassle free experience. Individuals would be hard pressed to put this caliber of experience together on their own.

Discerning travelers will continue to look for life changing experiences to discover the world, and I hope they will seek out our expert knowledge and experience. We may have to amend our budgets, and some creative ideas will have to be curtailed (what not to include is always the greatest challenge on any itinerary ) but that’s what keeps the job of a Program Manager so interesting. This is a difficult time, but as challenging times often do, it brings home why I love this job and the experiences we create.

 

Emma Impavido
Senior Program Manager

Academic Travel Abraod 

Paths we’ve travelled

With the turning of another new year, the Auld Lang Syne asks us,

“Should old acquaintances be forgotten?”  

With the passing of time and the predictions of what the future may bring, we all tend to reflect on past memories and long-standing friendships as foundations for how we define ourselves and the paths we’ve travelled.  We look to our family, friends and peers to grasp a measure of who we are and how to preceed.

Academic Travel Abroad has been very fortunate to have had developed such a solid path since beginning in 1950 and understands the value of building further on the future of strong relationships within the staff and among it’s valued partners.  We now operate tours for many industry leaders in the world of educational travel such as; National Geographic, the Smithsonian, the American Museum of Natural History, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Brookings Institute, Yale and so many more and can’t help feel a certain level of privilege in this.

2009 is a new year and we look forward to working with our partners and sharing in all of our travelers unique experiences abroad.  With a strong focus on our three primary goals of providing unique destinations, luxury travel accommodations and most importantly – quality service – we look forward to the new year and what lasting memories it will bring to all of our travelers.

Even in an unpredictable economy, we are still seeing that people understand travel opportunities as real investments in their personal “stock” and are still choosing to commit to discovering new places and unique destinations across the globe.  

One of our recent travelers mentioned that the added benefit of having a “tour expert” on the trip was something they truly underestimated and concluded that the added insights rendered tangible value that they would not have experienced by touring on their own.  Another traveler recently mentioned that they not only met new people on one of our tours, but made life long friends with people that shared a mutual passion and expressed that this also would have been difficult to find on their own.

So venture into this new year with solid foundations of past memories, but seek to create new ones while traveling to hidden corners of the world and developing new life-long friendships.

Best wishes, and safe travels in the New Year!

Academic Travel Abroad

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Colombia: Coming Full Circle

dsc_06044138As my three-year-old daughter tested her dexterity by leaping from cobblestone to cobblestone in Villa de Leyva’s exquisite colonial plaza, I couldn’t help but remember how I explored this village nearly 15 years ago with a friend who declared that he wanted to have six robust sons.  The well-preserved white-washed buildings graced with evergreen-colored shutters and doors enchanted me and shortly afterward so did the friend, who was now concerned that his daredevil daughter was going to twist an ankle.

Our trip back to Colombia filled me with nostalgia and also pleasantly surprised me about various changes I observed since my last visit two years ago.

  • Bogotá’s Gold Museum was just reopened and the newly renovated building has beautiful displays which showcase the priceless pre-Colombian metalwork.
  • Zipaquirá’s Salt Cathedral, a Roman Catholic cathedral constructed within a salt mine used by the indigenous Muisca culture before the arrival of the Spanish, has invested in tourist facilities such as parking, restrooms, and a cafeteria.
  • There is an increased number of international visitors and additional U.S. airlines serving the capital city.
  • Happily, Villa de Leyva is still as charming as it was fifteen years ago.

dsc_06284162In addition, I discovered that the country’s tourism promotion campaign doesn’t exist in a void.  They are also bringing in consultants from countries known for their excellent tourism to assist in training Colombian guides.  Even before I married a Colombian, the country was already dear to my heart.  The happy, spirited people, the breathtaking landscapes formed by the Andes Mountains and two oceans, the varied cuisine, colorful traditional festivities, and impressive pre-Colombian ruins clearly distinguish it from many other places I have visited.  Knowing how much Colombia has to offer tourists, it was very exciting for me to witness these changes and see that Colombia is on the cusp of becoming the next up and coming destination to visit.  I have no doubt that it will enchant others as it did me more than 15 years ago.

Michelle Korczynskidsc_05484083
Senior Program Manager
Academic Travel Abroad

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The Sound of Salzburg

hills_lgGrüß Gott! For those of you who have ever wondered if the scenery in The Sound of Music can possibly be real, the answer is a resounding yes! As a German student, I traveled with classmates to Germany and Austria in 2001. Salzburg was our last stop on the trip and it did not disappoint.

I was excited to reach the city, not only because the travel bug had bitten me, but also because I had been in a production of The Sound of Music in my hometown. Singing “Do-Re-Mi” in the vibrant Mirabel Gardens, with their incredible symmetrical flower designs, was a dream come true. In addition, we saw the abbey where Maria was a novice, the fountain in the Residence Square where she splashes on her way to the Von Trapps’ house, the Rock Riding School where the Von Trapps performed “Edelweiss,” and the cemetery at St. Peter’s where Rolf betrays the family.

Once that was out of my system, I realized that Salzburg was an amazing place even without The Sound of Music. The city, surrounded by the magnificent Alps and built up on the banks of the Salzach, is truly a gem. The city’s narrow streets with elegant signs and storefronts exuded charm, while the market square lent an Old World feel to the place.

All the while, the Hohensalzburg fortress, accessible by funicular, stands guard over the city. As an interesting side note, if you look down from the back of the fortress, you will see a house sitting all by itself, with no neighboring houses surrounding it. This lonely house belonged to the executioner and, because of his status, no one wanted to live near him! It was in this fortress that I had the incredible opportunity to listen to a string quartet perform some of Mozart’s pieces. During the intermission, I remember walking over to look out of the window; the sun was setting as the Salzach lazily snaked its way through the city. Perfection!

For anyone interested in escaping the city for a day, I would highly recommend visiting the salt mines. Not only are these interesting historically, but they also offer the unique opportunity to slide down into the mines on wooden slides like miners used to! In addition, the ride through the countryside presents some spectacular scenery.

Overall, I had a blast in Salzburg and I would love to go back. I guess all that’s left to say is “so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu!”

Annabelle Peake

Tour Communications Specialist
Academic Travel Abroad

Our Christmas in Salzburg Tour

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Educational Travel Abroad Professionals Bring Unique Experiences.

At Academic Travel Abroad, the term “travel professionals” only skims the surface of the overseas experience of our staff. Overall, we’ve been fortunate enough to travel to over 99 different countries across the globe, spanning all seven continents. Our most-visited destination is France, with Italy running a close second. England, Germany, Greece and China are not far behind as some of the most frequented destinations. We’ve ventured to these far-away destinations for a multitude or reasons including business, studies, vacationing and places of periodic residence. The diverse travel experiences of our staff helps us ensure that the tours we offer are rewarding, culturally rich and travelers can have their questions answered by someone knowledgeable and experienced with respect to the destination.

Within the Travel Services Department, almost every member of our staff has studied abroad in a variety of countries including: England, Germany, Greece, India, Peru, and Spain. We also speak 3 languages: French, German and Spanish, which makes a walk through the office seem like a visit to the UN. This wealth of knowledge is put to good use as our department assists travelers in preparing for their chosen tours so that their experiences are that much more rewarding.

Hardly a day goes by without a staff member recounting a unique travel experience or having the opportunity to connect with a future traveler on the phone about a past or future adventure abroad. With so many of our staff having been to the countries that we travel to, there is almost always someone around to make a recommendation as to what to do, what to eat, and where to stay.

When these unique qualities and experience are matched with our valued partners like Smithsonian Journeys, National Geographic Expeditions, Yale Alumni Association, American Museum of Natural History, the International Monetary Fund, the Brookings Institute and so many more, the educational and cultural travel experiences we offer are unmatched.

To learn more about our staff and read their individual bios, click here.

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