Last updated: 03:00 PM ET, Mon June 13 2016

Avanti Destinations is Bucking the Trends

Tour Operator | Avanti Destinations | David Cogswell | June 13, 2016

Avanti Destinations is Bucking the Trends

Photo courtesy of Avanti Destinations

While bad news on TV makes some people want to stay home, experienced travelers tend to want to continue to travel ever farther afield. That seems to be the finding of Harry Dalgaard, founder and president of Avanti Destinations.

Avanti’s booking trends have not been significantly harmed by recent high-profile terrorist attacks. Dalgaard has come to the conclusion that Avanti’s core clientele of experienced, independent travelers are less affected by fear when booking vacations in Europe, Latin America and Asia than are less experienced travelers.

Avanti Destinations, a Portland, Ore.-based tour operator specializing in independent, custom tour programs, went through a major expansion over the last year, expanding into Asia for the first time and greatly increasing its offerings in its home markets of Europe and Latin America. The expansion enhances the company’s overview of the industry and puts it in a good position from which to observe travel market trends around the world.

TravelPulse spoke with Harry Dalgaard, Avanti’s founder and president, and asked him to share his views and insights about the shifting world travel market.

Central and South America – Avanti reports that its advance bookings for Latin America are up more than 25 percent over the same time last year.

“The overwhelming majority of these bookings include either the Galapagos, Easter Island, Iguassu Falls or Machu Picchu – all iconic destinations,” said Dalgaard. “Our hunch as to why is that space is limited in these places, so booking in advance makes a lot of sense. Brazil makes up 15 percent of those bookings, and we are seeing good growth in Chile, Peru and Colombia.”

Europe – Avanti reports that bookings in Europe are closer in to the time of departure. The company is getting many last-minute bookings. “It’s a trend we’ve been seeing for a couple of years,” said Dalgaard. “In fact in the month of May, nearly 50 percent of our bookings for Europe were for travel within the next 90 days.”

Dalgaard theorizes that the difference between Europe and Latin America in this regard might be in part because hotel space in Europe is not as limited as in South America.

Dalgaard is also seeing travelers to Europe venturing farther off the beaten path.

“There is a definite trend among those FIT clients who book with us to go beyond Europe’s capital cities, to secondary and smaller cities and towns and the countryside,” said Dalgaard. “For example, London is slightly down compared to last year but Oxford, Bath, York and Liverpool are up. Same thing in France, where Dijon and Strasbourg are up while Paris remains somewhat down. And in Germany, Munich is a bit down but Nuremburg, Cologne, and Hamburg are all up. Because FIT travelers are experienced, repeat travelers – it makes sense that they explore further afield than first-timers who go with groups.”

READ MORE: Tour Insights: Avanti’s Second Coming

Second-tier cities also have the advantage of being out of the line of fire of terrorist attacks that focus on densely populated, high-profile locations.

In spite of all the talk of major shifts taking place in the travel market, Dalgaard reports that trends in the popularity of European destinations for FIT travelers have held remarkably steady for a long time.

“The top 10 cities have remained more or less the same,” said Dalgaard, “with the top seven rarely varying in order.  In terms of cities, Rome has always been number one for us, Paris number two and London number three. In terms of countries, Italy is number one, followed by the UK, France and Spain. Ireland is having banner years with us. Ireland has actually bumped Germany out of fifth place this year. Spain, Iceland and all Scandinavia are also up significantly.”

Asia – Avanti launched its Asia program for the first time last fall and demand for the new destination has taken off for the company.

“This is our launch year for the Essence of Asia program,” said Dalgaard, “and we are extremely happy with the results, not only in the amount of business booked, but also by the universal acceptance of the new product by all our consortia partners and independent travel agents. Japan and China have done very well, and now as we enter the peak booking season for Southeast Asia, Thailand and Vietnam are seeing very strong growth. Going forward, we are working on expanding our offerings in the countries we already carry and — stand by — we'll be adding new countries and destinations in the coming weeks.”

READ MORE: Customize Your Experience in Asia With Avanti

Although Avanti created a series of recommended vacation packages that clients could take off the shelf without having to know very much about the destinations, the company has seen a marked preference by its clients to pass on the pre-packaged vacations and to design their own custom itineraries.

“Customization is a huge trend we see in our Asian bookings,” said Dalgaard. “We created many ‘recommended vacation package’ itineraries, and agents and their clients may be using those 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.”

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