Tipping is often a stressor when traveling. Is it appropriate? Who should be tipped? When? How? On History Travel trips, don’t worry — we take care of this for you! Travelers can relax and only open their wallet for their own personal expenses.
As part of my series about “How To Create A Travel Experience That Keeps People Coming Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kate Simpson.
Kate, born in France to an American diplomat, had a nomadic upbringing. She studied in Australia, Algeria, Ireland, and Taiwan. After graduating from Yale in East Asian Studies, she joined Academic Travel Abroad, Inc. in 1988. Now President of ATA and partner with HISTORY Travel, she aims to foster global understanding through travel and education. In 2010, she co-founded the Fund for Education Abroad, supporting underrepresented students. Kate’s accolades include NTA’s Woman of Vision title in 2019. She currently serves on the Yale President’s Council.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have worked in the educational travel and study abroad sphere for 35 years. I began as a young China scholar seeking a job involving my Mandarin language skills and knowledge of China. My first job involved designing history trips to China, including History Through the Dynasties, Decorative Arts of China and more! I never thought such a field existed — where I could combine both my passion for different cultures with my urge to constantly learn more about the world. It has been a magnificent journey — and it’s not over yet!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
As part of the History Travel team, I was invited to attend a special event at the DAR Constitution Hall in Washington DC last year. The event was called History Talks and featured speakers like Doris Kearns Goodwin (a personal hero of mine!), George W and Laura Bush, George and Amal Clooney, Malala Yousafzai and many more. I learned so much and felt so privileged to be a part of this amazing organization that understands the power of learning from history.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I learned early on that mistakes are part of learning. So rather than focusing on the shame and embarrassment, I have trained myself to focus on the lesson to be learned. I once led a group of American teens through France for 6 weeks. One of the golden rules the company I worked for set was “no taking them to nightclubs.” Well, after weeks of begging me for just an hour in a club, I relented. I have never been so stressed and had an eagle eye trained on every one of them all night. When we got back to the hotel safe and sound, I discovered that I had been so busy keeping track of my charges, someone had stolen my stash of American Express travelers checks!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Yes, my mentor, former boss and business partner, David Parry. He was a visionary, an infinitely curious person, an avid non-fiction reader, a historian in his own right, and a magnificent diplomat. He and I traveled to China after Tiananmen Square in the fall of 1989. Our delegation from the US had a mission: to convince the Chinese tourism authorities to take steps to welcome Americans back to China. We met with the Deputy Minister for Tourism in Zhongnanhai, the equivalent of their White House. I felt like I had stepped onto the set of a Hollywood movie — as we approached every floor to ceiling gilded door in our path, they would open and reveal yet another set of ornate doors which would then open in turn. The hall we met in was so massive, we humans were dwarfed. In this incredibly intimidating setting, David, who did not speak Mandarin, communicated through an interpreter in such a relaxed, respectful and humorous way, that, by the end of the meeting, the Minister and he were laughing like old friends. It was a gift he had — transcending cultural and language barriers to create bonds.
Thank you for that. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?
- History Channel’s Chief Historian identifies and vets the best historians in their fields, matches them to a theme, whether the Great War, Ancient Greece or the Medici in Florence, and allows them to curate the itineraries.
- We do not do “cookie cutter” trips. Each tour is customized for History Travel to meet the audience interests and inject some fun along the way.
- We schedule our tours during the shoulder seasons when destinations are less crowded — so that travelers can experience the places they’ve heard about. We also take people off the beaten path — and away from the crowds. We work hard to design trips that our travelers would not be able to take on their own — complete with “unshoppable experiences,” like opportunities to meet with curators, visit museums before and after hours, and deep educational content so that they can appreciate the context for the sites they visit.
Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation and how do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
We know that people can “love places to death” — and HISTORY Travel (and Academic Travel Abroad) are working hard to put an end to that. By scheduling tours during the shoulder season and taking people to less-visited areas, we are not only improving the traveler experience, we are also reducing our impact on vulnerable resources. We recognize that travel inevitably has environmental impacts. While we work hard to reduce those impacts on tour, we are also trying to compensate for these impacts through a Decarbonization Fund. For every flight taken by our travelers, we invest money in projects that protect natural resources and communities. We are also committed to Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. We support local communities by seeking out locally owned restaurants, boutique hotels when possible, and by meeting with local artisans and scholars. We know that travel inevitably leaves a mark on the places we visit — but we’re working hard to reduce this impact and to make sure that our tours reduce barriers and promote cross-cultural understanding.
As you know, COVID19 changed the world as we know it. Can you share a few examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers will prefer to travel?
The pause in human mobility during the pandemic was a wake up call. We made a commitment to re-enter the world of travel by “building back better,” both in terms of sustainable practices and in a commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion. When we saw striped dolphins near St. Mark’s Square in Venice and heard of mountain lions multiplying in Santa Cruz, CA, we knew nature was reclaiming territory. History Travel takes its commitment to protecting our environment seriously, so we select vendors that share our values, we minimize internal flights and bus transportation, we avoid single use plastics, we minimize menu choices to cut down on waste and accommodate small restaurants, and we send all trip documents digitally. We insist on small groups, with a cap of 25 travelers. This allows for a lighter footprint and a more intimate experience, giving participants more space when traveling in groups. We have protocols regarding illness by which all travelers abide to protect the group’s experience and health. We make an effort to amplify the voices that are less heard in the destinations we visit. Our upcoming Cuba trip includes meetings with entrepreneurs, artists and other Cubans whose voices are not often heard by Americans. On our New Orleans trip, we included a visit to the Kid Ory House, site of a legendary slave rebellion; a visit to Louis Armstrong Park in Congo Square, named in honor of the slaves who historically gathered at this site to sing, beat drums, sell handicrafts, and celebrate; and an opportunity to meet with the owner of Dookie Chase, the first fine dining restaurant that served the city’s Black population.
You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?
Wherever I go, I like to return changed in some way. I want to deepen my understanding and knowledge, and come back with a little piece of the places I visit in my heart. Like our trips, the travel experiences I crave immerse me in the local culture and give me insights I would not access without meeting locals and pursuing activities that do more than skirt the surface. In short, I like to travel DEEP.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a travel experience that keeps bringing people back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.
- A great trip requires in-depth research, up-to-date knowledge, and excellent partners on the ground to make your vision become reality. Our team of program managers have decades of experience curating itineraries and building relationships around the world.
- Each of our trips is led by two extraordinary people: the Historian and the Tour Director. The Historian is selected for their expertise and their superb storytelling and teaching abilities. They make history come alive on tour! The Tour Director is a master logistician and customer service professional. They make the trips go smoothly, solve problems behind the scenes, and ensure all participants’ needs are met.
- We have a team of Guest Services Advisors who are there to help you prepare for your journey. They can answer any questions and make sure you feel comfortable and ready to depart. You don’t have to worry about a thing!
- History Travel brings together like-minded people who all share a passion for exploring the past and expanding their understanding of the places, events and people that shaped the world as we know it today. Conversations on the bus, at meals and throughout the trip will add to everyone’s enrichment.
- Tipping is often a stressor when traveling. Is it appropriate? Who should be tipped? When? How? On History Travel trips, don’t worry — we take care of this for you! Travelers can relax and only open their wallet for their own personal expenses.
Can you share with our readers how you have used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Academic Travel Abroad supports the Fund for Education Abroad to the tune of $250K a year.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
ATA does support the Fund for Education Abroad to the tune of $250K a year. This financial backing plays a crucial role in furthering FEA’s mission of increasing access to international education for underrepresented students.The partnership between ATA and FEA is rooted in a shared commitment to fostering global understanding and cross-cultural exchange through education.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!