Last updated: 09:37 AM ET, Wed November 18 2015

Tour Insights: Avanti’s Second Coming

Tour Operator | Avanti Destinations | David Cogswell | November 17, 2015

Tour Insights: Avanti’s Second Coming

Avanti means “forward” in Italian. The word is associated with the French “avant-garde," meaning “advance guard” or “vanguard.” It refers to the leading edge of movement, and Avanti Destinations has earned the designation. The company has proven itself to be on the leading edge of evolution in the tour industry. And now as it approaches its 35th anniversary, the industry is catching up to Avanti, and the company is reaping the benefits of being ahead of the crowd.

Avanti Destinations, a specialty tour operator offering independent, custom tour programs, is in the process of an explosion of its offerings in Europe and Latin America, and the company is launching into Asia for the first time in its history.

The Portland, Ore.-based FIT specialist wholesaler just rolled out a huge batch of new inventory in Europe, including 62 new customizable core itineraries, 124 new hotels and resorts and 74 new activities. The FIT specialist wholesaler has also added Croatia as a new destination in Europe, 13 European river cruise programs from CroisiEurope and 17 escorted tours in Europe from Back-Roads Touring.

Avanti has also expanded its offerings within countries it has offered for a long time, including England, Iceland and France.

In August, Avanti filled out its Latin America offerings by adding two new countries to its lineup: Honduras and El Salvador.

Avanti’s president, Harry Dalgaard, said the addition of Honduras was prompted by requests from travel agents, especially in Roatan, an island 40 miles off the coast of Honduras that is popular for beaches, diving and ziplining. 

Dalgaard said combining Honduras and El Salvador with Guatemala, which Avanti already offers, is ideal for creating packages for exploring the heart of the Mayan Empire.

Avanti offers two- and three-night packages that can be combined to create larger custom itineraries. The company offers a broad selection of individual components, including air, hotels, rental cars, rail, transfers, sightseeing tours and activities for inclusion in custom packages.

The short-stay modules are designed to be suitable for combining to create larger custom itineraries. A package for exploring Honduras and El Salvador could be created through the combination of three packages.

It could start with a three-night/four-day package on the Honduran island of Roatan for beach and dive activities. That would be followed by a two-night package in Copan, including tours of the Copan ruins and the bird park. It would be concluded with a three-night stay in El Salvador’s capital San Salvador, with a volcano tour and tours of the colonial city of Suchitoto, a Mayan ruin site and Flower’s Route.

The modules are priced $429, $679 and $739 respectively, a total of $1,847 per person double occupancy.

Honduras and El Salvador round out Avanti’s selection of destinations in Latin America, which is already fairly comprehensive, including Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru and Uruguay.

Avanti is now expanding its offerings to include six Asian countries. It’s the largest expansion for the company since it expanded to include Latin America 25 years ago. Avanti will offer independent packages in China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Avanti is partnering with a variety of operators to provide its new product range, including Destination Asia in China and Japan; ICS in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand.

The ongoing expansion is so extraordinary it is almost as if the company was starting over, and in a way it is.

Harry Dalgaard, the founder and owner of Avanti, 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 one of the heavy hitters in the packaged travel industry going back decades, including long terms of service as a top executive with Certified Vacations, Travel Impressions and the Mark Travel Corp., with 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 most recently president of Wendy Wu Tours until his recent hiring by Avanti.

Grundy started in the tour business in 1982 as an intern for American Tours International, an inbound US tour operator. In 1990, Grundy started his own company, Destination America, which became a market leader in the English-only market of inbound U.S. tours. Grundy sold the company to The Travel Corporation in 1996, then spent some time in the travel technology field. He returned to the packaged travel segment when he joined Wendy Wu Tours in August 2011 as senior vice president. A year later, he was appointed president, a position he kept until recently when he moved to Avanti.  

Dalgaard founded Avanti in 1981 after learning the industry and working for Pan Am Airlines starting in 1968 and working for American Airlines in Dallas in the 1970s. He also worked for an Alaskan tour operator in Portland and ran a retail travel industry for three years before founding Avanti.

Avanti began as a wholesaler of packages for independent travel to Europe. Avanti is a wholesaler in the strict sense of the word. It does not sell to the public, but only through retailers.

Avanti expanded into Latin America in 1990, when it was still relatively virgin territory for North American tour operators.

Avanti’s not-so-secret weapon was its own proprietary technology that gives travel agents the power to electronically assemble independently designed packages online from a large inventory of individual components.

Avanti developed the technology in the ‘90s, long before the current wave of popularity of independent travel. The company was well ahead of the curve. Now it is seeing the dividends from that.

The industry has caught up to Avanti’s individually customizable vacation packages and Avanti is reaping the benefits, with double-digit growth year after year. Now the company is taking its proven formula and expanding it into Asia, and more deeply into its previous turf in Europe and Latin America.

Look out, world, here it comes.

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