Airline strikes, lost passports, political unrest: dealing with the unexpected is probably the most predictable part of the travel business—and we pride ourselves on being prepared for whatever comes our way. This past January presented a conundrum of a different sort: we had nearly 40 travelers booked on two New York Times Journeys departures of Winter in Yellowstone—and the U.S. government was shut down indefinitely.
We immediately contacted our partners on the ground and were able to run the full itinerary with a few logistical adjustments. As the first group arrived, our quick-thinking tour manager Caroline Ogden made contact with an area non-profit and found out that local businesses and vendors had come together voluntarily to keep the park running—cleaning and stocking the bathrooms, emptying the trash, providing freebies to the furloughed park staff. In the evenings, our groups sought out those businesses, including two restaurants in Gardiner, Montana. We ended up meeting the owners and getting to know members of the local community who were volunteering their time to take care of this national treasure.
Over the past 50 years, ATA has faced its fair share of crises great and small, and we’ve weathered them all by being nimble, creative, and building strong relationships with our partners. Instead of being hampered by the shutdown, both of these trips became something more than any of us expected: our travelers forged an intimate connection with Yellowstone’s community and became involved in the inspiring local effort to help the park. Says Caroline, “When things don’t go as planned, there is almost always a silver lining if we reach out and talk to people. I think ATA does a great job at building connections whenever possible. Those are the unexpected experiences that participants will remember, and I will too!”