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O.A.T.: Our Story

The Fundamentals: Small Groups, Small Ships

In 1999, the 50-plus associates from O.A.T.’s Cambridge headquarters, seen here, joined their Grand Circle counterparts in Boston.

While O.A.T. officially joined the Grand Circle family in 1993, we decided to keep the business operating as its own entity from its headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. After a time, though, it just made good sense to merge our business operations at home. So, in 1999, the 50 or so O.A.T. associates from Cambridge began working out of Grand Circle’s headquarters in Boston. Talk about a culture shift: Here we had 300-odd Grand Circle associates focused on trips to Europe and our new (at the time) River Cruise itineraries, and in come the O.A.T.ers, who were accustomed to a much looser, more casual work environment.

Of course, change leads to more change, and some of those folks ultimately decided to move on. But many stayed, and taught the Grand Circle team what made O.A.T. so special … and several of these individuals still work with us in our Boston headquarters to this day.

With small groups limited to just 10-25 travelers, O.A.T. small group adventures—to Morocco and elsewhere—offer intimate, memorable encounters with local culture.

The Small Group Experience

The biggest thing that took some getting used to with O.A.T. working in concert with Grand Circle was the small group size. No more than 16 travelers, guaranteed? Running a trip with so few people was practically unheard of in our group travel world. Most Grand Circle land tours operated with 45 people and our river cruise ships had a capacity of 120-160. So it became very important in 1999-2000 to maintain O.A.T.’s group size guarantee of accepting no more than 16 travelers per departure. And it was a challenge for some of our associates. We were used to working with larger groups, and larger groups were more profitable. Our suppliers and vendors certainly didn’t see 16 as a magic number. If we needed an extra room or a few more seats on a flight, no problem. The only thing that ensured departures were closed for sales once they reached 16 was our associates’ commitment to the guarantee.

But a few years passed, and we started making some exceptions. Some O.A.T. departures crept up to 17, then 18. Our travelers let us know soon and in no uncertain terms that this trend was unacceptable. A promise was a promise and we had guaranteed we wouldn’t take more than 16 travelers per departure. So by 2004, we were back on track, and created an internal team that was responsible for ensuring no departure operated with more than 16 travelers.

A “Sea” Change for O.A.T.

Meanwhile, our Grand Circle River Cruises vacations were really taking off. People just loved traveling aboard our small ships. And several O.A.T. adventures we offered at the time, including adventures in Egypt, Turkey, and the Galápagos Islands, featured cruise portions aboard small ships that were privately chartered. Typically, O.A.T. adventures that included a cruise segment would sail for three or four nights, and included several land stays at well. So we started playing with that model a bit …

With the purchase of the M/S River Hathor, seen here on the Nile, O.A.T. began building its award-winning small ship fleet.

In Patagonia, we were able to block space on an expedition ship for a cruise of the Chilean fjords combined with land stays in Torres del Paine National Park, Calafate and Buenos Aires, Argentina. In Antarctica, we chartered an entire ship exclusively for 3 O.A.T. groups. Then we started thinking, what if we owned our own O.A.T. Small Ships? What kinds of adventures could we offer then? First we purchased our Nile cruise ship, the 32-passenger River Hathor. We split the 32 passengers into 2 groups of 16, each with their own Trip Leader. We started joking about how we wished we could build our own ships.

Then we decided, yes, we do want to build our own ships! We had a number of choices on where to build, and we ultimately decided to work with a shipyard in Croatia since we had a regional office there. What an undertaking that was. We honestly didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. Like most construction projects, building our fleet took longer, and cost much more, than we had originally planned. But the Artemis, Athena, and Arethusa were built to our specifications and to this day they are consistently rated “excellent” by our travelers. So our foray into ship-building was a success.

O.A.T.: Our Story
In the Beginning: Making Adventure our Business
Our Philosophy: Change is Good
Growing the Business … and our Family
» The Fundamentals: Small Groups, Small Ships
The Next Chapter: More Choices, Better Value
The Story Continues: O.A.T. and YOU ...

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