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O.A.T.: Our Story

In the Beginning: Making Adventure our Business

Judi Wineland founded Overseas Adventure Travel after a life-changing journey to Africa.

We started looking at adventure companies as soon as we got back from Nepal. We wanted to make adventure travel a part of the Grand Circle family. In 1991, on the heels of the Gulf War, I recognized an opportunity with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT), which was located right across the river from Grand Circle Travel, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

O.A.T. was the first U.S. tour operator to offer tented safaris in Tanzania. Founded in 1978 by Judi Wineland—a young high school anthropology teacher—after her inspiring adventure in Africa, O.A.T. specialized in creating custom tours and treks to exotic destinations around the world. Small group tours came next, with O.A.T.-designed and operated trips to East Africa, Nepal, Turkey, and Peru. But what also set O.A.T. apart was the unique, adventurous culture of the company. Headquartered in an old three-story house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Judi and her associates were mostly well-educated, adventurous world travelers in their 30s and 40s. These people were passionate about adventure travel.

One of O.A.T.’s earliest tours introduced small groups of travelers to the natural wonders of Turkey.

But the company was also losing a half a million dollars a year.

In 1993, we purchased Overseas Adventure Travel. At the time, it was a $4 million company and swiftly sinking into the red, but we knew in our bones that we could turn it around. There was a lot they were doing right already. For instance, O.A.T. really had the right idea with their small groups concept … the places they went … the people they connected with … it was all amazing, really. O.A.T. visited all of the off-the-beaten-path places we were setting our sights on (and then some), places most Americans didn’t go.

Costa Rica proved to be another popular destination for O.A.T.’s adventurous and inquisitive travelers.

But we thought they were directing their talents towards the wrong demographic. Prior to our purchase of O.A.T., the target O.A.T. traveler was pretty much a mirror image of the folks who worked there: inveterate adventurers in their 30s and 40s who were looking for high-intensity experiences. The O.A.T. team was expending a lot of unnecessary energy trying to attract these adventurers with highly customized tours to hither and yon. We felt the company was spreading itself too thin by offering far too many trips, some of which operated with as few as 12 travelers for the entire year!

To our way of thinking, the young audience to which O.A.T. was catering already had the means, the independence, and quite frankly, the physical stamina to secure these kinds of experiences for themselves. They would find their own paths to adventure no matter how we changed O.A.T. And there were several other American companies offering similar experiences, with high prices to match. We wanted to do something new: make adventure travel accessible, safe, comfortable, and affordable for people who might otherwise think that it was too daunting or expensive to consider after a certain age.

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