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Harry Dalgaard, founder and CEO of Avanti Destinations, Inc., first announced his plans to retire back in April and made them official in late June after 37 years at the helm of the company.
And TravelPulse recently interviewed the three men responsible for carrying on the legacy of a company Dalgaard created to provide better travel options to the FIT market.
We recently conducted Q&As with Paul Barry, owner and executive chairman of Avanti Destinations, Inc; Mark Grundy, the company's chief operating officer and John Hanratty, Avanti's chief marketing officer.
Here's what they had to say about the future of the company, as well as what destinations are trending in Europe, Latin America, and Asia.
Paul Barry - Owner, Executive Chairman
With more than 35 years of experience in the travel industry, Barry became sole owner and executive chairman of Avanti in 2018. He became 50 percent owner of Avanti in 2014.
He founded FIT tour operator Europe Express in 1990 and was that company's president and CEO until 2008, three years after he sold the company.
What does it mean to be part of the leadership team to replace Harry? How do you and your colleagues go about following in his footsteps and continuing to grow what he built?
Harry loved travel. And he leveraged his many experiences and people connections worldwide to build Avanti. The company has been built around a strong service mantra and that is going to continue.
We have already taken several steps to expand our relationships worldwide and bring in additional experienced staff to help fuel our growth.
As the business has grown, we, as a team, have taken steps to look at what we've built and how to improve and enhance it. I am pleased that Avanti's growth has created opportunities within the business for staff growth. I am also pleased that several former colleagues from other businesses have joined the Avanti team as well.
Tell me about how you plan on using your time/experience at Europe Express in this role as executive chairman and owner of Avanti?
My 30-plus years of tour operator experience started at TravelBound in the 1980's. The bulk of my career was at Europe Express, where I stayed until 2008.
Then I left the industry because of non-competes, and started again in 2012 with Caradonna Adventures and in 2014 as a board member at Avanti Destinations.
In January of this year, I took full ownership at Avanti. At each of those companies, I learned different items that are all coming to bear at Avanti.
From buying and marketing strategies for FIT's at TravelBound through [business-to-business] distribution and private label programs at Europe Express to real customer focus at Caradonna.
And I have outside business interests in the sports and vacation rental businesses. Each and every experience has taught me - and continues to teach me - something new that now helps in managing Avanti and guide its experienced staff in servicing the customer.
What are some of your top goals in this position?
We are striving to continue growing through a transparent and symbiotic relationship with three groups of partners. First, our distribution partners in the US, mainly our travel agent consortia. Second, our destination management company (DMC) and vendor partners worldwide, who are the centerpiece of our service while clients are traveling.
Third, our marketing partners who are invaluable by raising awareness of their destinations, as well as the products and services that Avanti sells in those destinations.
We wish to expand our portfolio of destinations and enhance our product within existing destinations. This is a multi-year process.
Mark Grundy - Chief Operating Officer
Grundy was appointed chief operating officer and a member of the executive team in October of 2017. As chief operating officer, Grundy is responsible for Avanti's day-to-day operations, including the call center, customer service, and product development.
With more than 30 years of experience in the tour operator segment of the travel industry, Grundy served as senior vice president, then president of Wendy Wu Tours, the U.K.'s leading tour operator to China prior to coming to Avanti.
Previously, he co-founded Destination America, which was later acquired by Trafalgar Tours. Grundy began his career at American Tours International.
What are some of your main goals for Avanti's immediate future?
We are the 'travel agent's travel agent' and always want to help make the travel agent an expert on any country we offer. Our emphasis is on providing real time competitive quotations that can be converted to confirmed bookings immediately.
The consumer is more impatient than ever before, so developing procedures that allow us to provide instant communications and confirmations is essential for the travel agent community.
Product development was Harry's passion. This will continue, as we seek to develop new and innovative offerings and destinations.
What are some areas of the company that you plan to focus more on?
Technology is an important element of Avanti, and we will continue to work on developing it. Technology is what allows us to access more inventory that can be confirmed in real time. The majority of our partners overseas are now connected to our proprietary operating system.
Hiring and training is another area where we are expanding. Travel agents rely on our expert travel consultants to advise them and custom-craft unique FIT itineraries. We are currently hiring more [travel consutants], and developing training programs both here in the U.S and overseas, which will allow us to better serve both the travel agent and the travelers.
What does it mean to be apart of the leadership team to replace Harry?
Everything! Paul brings a new dynamic, which is exciting. Exceeding travel agents' and customers' expectations continues to be our main driver, along with making sure the entire team is having a good time "
Tell me about how you plan to continue to build on what he started?
Harry built a great company with incredible distribution here in America, along with long-standing relationships overseas with our DMC partners, a truly great recipe for success. His passion and determination continue to be part of our DNA. It was easy to work alongside Harry.
During the last two years, he passed the baton along to the executive team. Harry has earned his retirement, but I know he will be following our continued success. Maintaining and expanding the relationships he forged is going to be an exciting and rewarding experience.
What's trending in Latin America/Asia?
In Latin America, Costa Rica, Peru and the Galapagos are our most popular destinations, with long-term sustained growth. Brazil and Colombia are the up-and-coming destinations.
In Brazil, Rio, Iguassu, beach destinations, and the Amazon have seen the biggest increases.
In Colombia, Cartagena has always been the most popular destination, but Bogota is now receiving more interest, as well as smaller destinations like Santa Marta, which is home of the Tayrona National Natural Park, and the coffee region, and other cities, like Medellin and Cali.
Thailand and Japan are our hottest Asian destinations, with growing interest in Vietnam and China.
John Hanratty - Chief Marketing Officer
Hanratty has been chief marketing officer of Avanti since the beginning of 2015.
Hanratty manages all of Avanti's marketing and sales personnel, including six regional sales directors located in the Northeast, Southeast, South Central, North Central, Northwest and Southwestern regions of the US.
Hanratty has also served in several positions at the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA), including chairman for two years, treasurer for two years, marketing committee leader for four years and board member for 10 years.
What are some iniatives Avanti has undertaken to stay relevant in the marketplace?
Over the past three years, we totally revamped the marketing department − staffing, leadership, and the look and feel of our marketing and branding. We also expanded into the production of e-brochures to support various campaigns and topics. To aid our designers, we've added new technology and we've also upped our game in the social media arena.
The marketing revamp is basically complete, but further expansion of the team is likely as we continue to produce more topical marketing pieces to support Avanti's growth and momentum. On the sales front, we have built a solid, expanded team of highly-experienced regional sales directors covering the U.S., each with a minimum of 30 years industry experience.
As for where we will place more emphasis going forward, it will focus on two key items − continued sales growth and enhancing the traveler's experience.
Also, we will be working more closely with our consortia partners in a true, mutually beneficial partnership, sharing not only top line numbers, but additional data.
What does it mean to you to be apart of the leadership team that will replace your good friend, Harry Dalgaard?
It's obviously a big responsibility to take Avanti to a new level. Harry had the foresight to put together the right leadership team well in advance of his retirement.
First, finding the ownership leader in Paul Barry, then Mark Grundy on the operations side of the business, and myself on the marketing and sales side, all of us with many years of senior level industry experience. As a team, we are all firmly committed to seeing Avanti grow and succeed financially.
Tell me about working about Harry over the years and how you continue to build on what he started?
My relationship with Harry spans more than 15 years, and he was a good friend long before he became my employer. For many years, Harry and I worked together at USTOA, where we traveled extensively both for board meetings and out-of-country USTOA trips. We also got together every time he came to the New York area.
Harry built a great company, dedicated to an independent style of vacationing when most Americans were still traveling on motor coach tours throughout Europe. His approach of working exclusively through DMCs proved to be the right strategy and delivered the sense of security in the destination that American travelers needed to have in order to start touring on their own.
What are some goals of yours for Avanti's immediate future?
Obviously, the first goal is to continue to grow Avanti's top line sales, but with a heightened focus on increasing sales per booking.
Although approximately 50 percent of our business originates east of the Mississippi today, a huge opportunity for growth for Avanti lies along the East Coast and is a real objective for myself and my team.
Similarly, we began a targeted focus on the [home-based, independent contractor] agent segment as more and more of the agency business shifted in this direction. It has proven to be a good strategy and we are continuing to expand our business in this segment as a significant objective.
What's Trending in Europe?
In Europe, Avanti's strongest sellers are Italy, France and Spain, but bookings to Portugal, Croatia and Iceland have been growing at a terrific rate.
Joe Pike is senior editor for travAlliancemedia and has spent over a decade extensively covering the Caribbean, Mexico, Central...
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