Our Story

Fritz Kaufmann

In the late 1940’s, Americans were interested in how Europe was recovering from WWII. Fritz Kaufmann, an economics professor at the University of Vermont, took a group of students there to see it for themselves. The resulting study tour to “see the Marshall Plan in action” was a hit and led Fritz to arrange even more international tours. His goal was to create tours that would educate as well as delight, challenge as well as inspire, and move travelers one step closer to global understanding.

By 1950, ATA was born.

ATA’s story is the story of a travel company, and the story of a travel company is the story of the world. After all, world events generate curiosity, and curiosity feeds travel. In the 1970’s, ATA’s Soviet Union department required six full-time staff. After the end of the Cold War, there was no longer a need for a Soviet Union department at all. Tours to Cuba skyrocketed after the doors to the island re-opened to US citizens for the second time. And in the 2010’s, ATA’s study abroad division had seen steadily growing interest in its programs that focus on Arabic language learning, an area of study that surged in US universities after 2001.

Of course, world events can not only inspire travel, but also deter it. “This is an industry that sees Chernobyls, political upheavals, and economic unrest. You have to adapt. You have to be quick on your feet,” muses David Parry, former ATA owner. Dave purchased the company from Fritz Kaufmann in 1972 and, with his wife Susan, was at the helm until 2012, when ATA was bought by two of the current co-owners: Kate Simpson, President, and Chase Poffenberger, Executive Vice President.

“Adapting to an unpredictable world is about maintaining diversity,” offers Kate. Indeed, over the past several decades, ATA has added more and more legs to the stool, ensuring the company’s stability through even the most troubling times. ATA’s purchase of CET Academic Programs, a study abroad program provider, in 1993 shifted the in-house lexicon from “our travelers” to “our travelers and our students.” (CET is now ATA’s largest division, and CET Executive Director Mark Lenhart officially joined ATA’s ownership team in 2016.) In 2009, the launch of Professionals Abroad added a new demographic to ATA’s audience—mid-career professionals. These diverse brands, each responding to the needs of different travelers, are what keeps us going strong through any storm that rocks our boat.

What else keeps us going strong? Our staff. “You can’t do this business without talented staff,” remarks Dave. “You have to find people with exceptional management skills. You might be an expert on tours to Zambia, but if you can’t organize a two-car funeral, you’re not for ATA.”

So ATA hires go-getters and creative curators and passionate travelers and educated listeners—each of whom, through their work, achieves the same ATA mission that Fritz embarked on so long ago…creating programs that educate as well as delight, challenge as well as inspire, and move travelers one step closer to global understanding.

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Milestones

1950

Academic Travel Abroad is born
In 1947, Dr. Fritz Kaufman submits a proposal to the University of Vermont to organize a travel seminar for American students. The study tour, "The Marshall Plan in Action", would show students firsthand the challenges facing post-War Europe. Expecting 50 participants, Dr. Kauffmann rethinks the project after receiving 1,300 applications. A few years later, he launches ATA, a study tour provider.

1973

ATA gets a new owner and a new home
Dr. Kaufman meets Dave Parry in 1970. Three years later, Parry takes over ownership of ATA and relocates the company from New York to Washington, DC. Parry’s wife, Susan, is the first employee. Work is done on an IBM typewriter.

1975

A new partnership with Smithsonian Institution changes the business
In 1975, Dave Parry answers a blind ad seeking a tour operator. Only after responding does he discover that the ad was posted by none other than the Smithsonian Institution. With only a couple of staff on the roster, ATA starts to operate Smithsonian educational tours, thereby entering the burgeoning museum travel arena. The first destinations are London and Russia. Work is done on a TELEX.

1980s

The deregulation of the airlines impacts
the travel industry
President Jimmy Carter’s signing of the Airline Deregulation Act in 1978 changes the game for the travel industry. The Act leads to a significant decrease in fares, making air travel more accessible. No longer would ATA need to charter a Pan-Am aircraft to facilitate operations. Russia occupies a large part of ATA’s business at this time—there is high public interest in the destination and yet the only legal way to travel to Russia is with a group.

1994

ATA acquires CET, a study abroad
program provider
The 1989 Tiananmen Massacre derails the business of CET, China Educational Tours, a Boston-based study abroad program provider with all of its eggs in the China basket. ATA acquires CET and relocates the business to Washington, DC. The company immediately sets to work creating programs in other parts of the globe, to ensure that all eggs would never be in one basket again.

2009

ATA launches Professionals Abroad
Already serving senior travelers and undergraduate students, ATA adds a new audience to its travel programs: working professionals. In 2009, the company launches Professionals Abroad, its own brand of educational travel program designed specifically for mid-career professionals who are interested in learning about their profession through the eyes of international counterparts. A sign of the times: the Professionals Abroad website is the first ATA site designed to accept bookings on-line.

2012

ATA ushers in new owners again
and new technology
Long-time ATA executives Kate Simpson and Chase Poffenberger take over ownership of ATA in 2012. Mark Lenhart, Executive Director of ATA’s study abroad division, joins the ownership team a few years later in 2016. The new ownership of this era is also marked by new advances in technology. ATA invests heavily in technological infrastructure, a move which allows for expanded program and service offerings.

2020 & Beyond

The company is at 70 years and counting, and still growing strong
ATA celebrates its 70th anniversary in 2020. As we look to the future, our horizons extend far beyond what Fritz Kaufman ever thought possible. Our list of “been there” countries never stops expanding, nor do the ways we serve our partners—ATA now includes event management and consulting on its list of core competencies. But what hasn’t changed, and what never will, is our passion for showing travelers the world firsthand, and our belief that learning about other places is the way to make our own place, our world, better.

1975

A new partnership with Smithsonian Institution changes the business
In 1975, Dave Parry answers a blind ad seeking a tour operator. Only after responding does he discover that the ad was posted by none other than the Smithsonian Institution. With only a couple of staff on the roster, ATA starts to operate Smithsonian educational tours, thereby entering the burgeoning museum travel arena. The first destinations are London and Russia. Work is done on a TELEX.

1950

Academic Travel Abroad is born
In 1947, Dr. Fritz Kaufman submits a proposal to the University of Vermont to organize a travel seminar for American students. The study tour, "The Marshall Plan in Action", would show students firsthand the challenges facing post-War Europe. Expecting 50 participants, Dr. Kauffmann rethinks the project after receiving 1,300 applications. A few years later, he launches ATA, a study tour provider.

1994

ATA acquires CET, a study abroad
program provider
The 1989 Tiananmen Massacre derails the business of CET, China Educational Tours, a Boston-based study abroad program provider with all of its eggs in the China basket. ATA acquires CET and relocates the business to Washington, DC. The company immediately sets to work creating programs in other parts of the globe, to ensure that all eggs would never be in one basket again.

2012

ATA ushers in new owners again
and new technology
Long-time ATA executives Kate Simpson and Chase Poffenberger take over ownership of ATA in 2012. Mark Lenhart, Executive Director of ATA’s study abroad division, joins the ownership team a few years later in 2016. The new ownership of this era is also marked by new advances in technology. ATA invests heavily in technological infrastructure, a move which allows for expanded program and service offerings.

1973

ATA gets a new owner and a new home
Dr. Kaufman meets Dave Parry in 1970. Three years later, Parry takes over ownership of ATA and relocates the company from New York to Washington, DC. Parry’s wife, Susan, is the first employee. Work is done on an IBM typewriter.

1980s

The deregulation of the airlines impacts
the travel industry
President Jimmy Carter’s signing of the Airline Deregulation Act in 1978 changes the game for the travel industry. The Act leads to a significant decrease in fares, making air travel more accessible. No longer would ATA need to charter a Pan-Am aircraft to facilitate operations. Russia occupies a large part of ATA’s business at this time—there is high public interest in the destination and yet the only legal way to travel to Russia is with a group.

2009

ATA launches Professionals Abroad
Already serving senior travelers and undergraduate students, ATA adds a new audience to its travel programs: working professionals. In 2009, the company launches Professionals Abroad, its own brand of educational travel program designed specifically for mid-career professionals who are interested in learning about their profession through the eyes of international counterparts. A sign of the times: the Professionals Abroad website is the first ATA site designed to accept bookings on-line.

2020 & Beyond

The company is at 70 years and counting, and still growing strong
ATA celebrates its 70th anniversary in 2020. As we look to the future, our horizons extend far beyond what Fritz Kaufman ever thought possible. Our list of “been there” countries never stops expanding, nor do the ways we serve our partners—ATA now includes event management and consulting on its list of core competencies. But what hasn’t changed, and what never will, is our passion for showing travelers the world firsthand, and our belief that learning about other places is the way to make our own place, our world, better.