Last updated: 03:44 PM ET, Tue August 09 2016

Avanti's Growth Explosion

The tour operator has expanded to Europe and Latin America - and now into Asia

Vacation Agent | Tour Operator | David Cogswell

Avanti's Growth Explosion

PHOTO: Avanti has expanded its offerings in Iceland.

Now approaching its 35th anniversary, Avanti Destinations has cemented its position on the leading edge of the tour industry. Over the past year the specialist in independent travel has dramatically increased its offerings in Europe and Latin America, and debuted its first-ever programs in Asia.

Based in Portland, Ore., Avanti was founded in 1981 by Harry Dalgaard, who began his career in the travel industry in 1968 at Pan American Airlines. In the 1970s Dalgaard worked for American Airlines, then launched Avanti Destinations as a seller of independent travel to Europe.

What distinguishes Avanti is its extraordinarily well-developed capacity for providing custom itineraries built to the specifications of clients. “I started this company for people who like to travel the way I do, independently,” says Dalgaard. “Almost half our travelers are under 50, and certainly with the millennials and the gen-xers there is a desire for more authentic experiences – a chance to meet the people and get up close, live like a local, those type of things.”

Now that authentic experiences are the rage in travel, the market is catching up to where Dalgaard was when he started his business. “I prefer to blend in with the locals as opposed to stand out. Even when I travel domestically I love to find local restaurants as opposed to chains – restaurants that have history and special cuisine,” he says. “Whether it’s Minneapolis or St. Paul or St. Louis, there are local stories, and it just brings the meal to life. With globalization, you go to a place like Vienna and you see people standing in line at Starbucks in a city famous for its coffee culture. It just blows me away.”

To help agents and their clients create their own vacation packages, Avanti provides recommended package itineraries that can be used as starting points. “That makes it possible for a client to say, ‘I just want to go to China, show me what I should see there,’” says Dalgaard. “Agents and their clients may be using those [itineraries] to get ideas from, but they are taking out this and adding that to create their own unique vacations—which is what FIT with Avanti has always been about.”

Avanti’s ace in the hole is its proprietary technology, which automates independent bookings and enables travel agents to create their own combinations of the company’s hotel, air and activity components. It provides Avanti with the power to seamlessly connect multiple destinations with air, handpicked hotels and sightseeing.

As travelers’ preferences for independent travel continue to grow, Avanti has increasingly found itself well positioned to service the new breed of independent traveler.

The company has responded to growing demand by expanding its offerings. This year it rolled out a large batch of new inventory in Europe, including 62 new customizable core itineraries, 124 new hotels and resorts, and 74 new activities. Avanti also added Croatia as a new destination in Europe, along with 13 CroisiEurope European river cruise programs and 17 Back-Roads’ escorted tours.

READ MORE: Avanti Destinations Expands Into Asia with 22 Exciting Tours

Avanti also has expanded its offerings within countries where it has been serving clients for a long time, including England, Iceland and France. Additionally, the company added Honduras and El Salvador to its Latin American offerings. Avanti’s selection of destinations in Latin America includes Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru and Uruguay. It offers two- and three-night packages that can be combined to create longer custom itineraries.

Avanti has now expanded its offerings to include six Asian countries. It’s the largest expansion for the company since it added Latin America programs to its portfolio 25 years ago. The company offers independent packages in China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, and is planning to add more destinations over time.

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Avanti Destinations Founder Harry Dalgaard has enlisted some of the industry’s heaviest hitters to form one of the most formidable teams in packaged travel.

John Hanratty, Avanti’s chief marketing officer, is a major player in the packaged travel industry going back decades, with long terms of service as a top executive with Certified Vacations, Travel Impressions and the Mark Travel Corp. He also has extensive experience operating private-label brands such as Delta Vacations, Continental Airlines Vacations and United Vacations. 

Mark Grundy, Avanti’s managing director for Asia, was president of Wendy Wu Tours before he joined Avanti. Grundy started in the tour business in 1982 as an intern for American Tours International, an inbound U.S. tour operator. In 1990 he launched his own company, Destination America, which became a market leader in the English-speaking U.S. inbound tour market. He joined Wendy Wu Tours in August 2011 as senior vice president. A year later, he was appointed president. 


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Vacation Agent Magazine

A version of this article appears in print in the August 2016 issue of Vacation Agent Magazine.