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<p class="MsoNoSpacing">Tour operators across the board are reporting strong business, and Harry Dalgaard, president of <a href="https://www.avantidestinations.com" target="_blank">Avanti Destinations</a>-a specialist in providing independent travel arrangements-is no exception.</p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">"Things are very robust," Dalgaard told TravelPulse. "I've been speaking to a lot of travel agents, and everyone is very positive. Everyone had an extremely good year, and everyone is very optimistic about next year. Retail travel agents, suppliers-I haven't heard anyone say it was an off year, or that next year isn't looking good."</p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">Dalgaard observed the same trend as the tour industry in general: A pick up after the election and no lapse since then.</p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">"I guess a lot of people were indecisive about travel," said Dalgaard, "and after the election and stock market rising, it's been going strong ever since. There's no dip."</p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">
</p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">It has been a much better year than the previous one.</p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">"Looking back to 2016, we were up slightly, but it was more traumatic. There seemed to be more terrorist incidents throughout year. I think that probably dissuaded people. And there was the preoccupation with the election."</p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">The travel business in 2016 was dealt a crippling blow when a <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36801671" target="_blank">truck ramming incident took place in Nice</a>, France, on Bastille Day.</p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">"That really dissuaded a lot of people from traveling to Europe in the fall," said Dalgaard.</p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">This year Avanti has seen a bounce back: "Overall I think American travelers have become more inured to incidents and more confident to travel by themselves."</p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">As travelers become more experienced, they become more confident with independent travel, Avanti's specialty for decades.</p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">"We're seeing it," said Dalgaard. "I talk to a lot of travel agents, and I particularly see it in Midwest, where traditionally travel was group escorted. And it's still there, but we've really seen uptick in independent travel. People that have experienced group travel are traveling on their own. They have that confidence and that desire to blend in more with the locals."</p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">Somehow, bad news seems to have reached the threshold of pain. Instead of staying indoors, travelers are going forth into the world.</p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">"There are so many distractions," said Dalgaard. "It seems to me we go from political crisis to terroristic event to an act of nature, hurricanes that are devastating to the Caribbean, to Key West, to Houston. It seems to be one different kind of stimulus one week and then you're hit with something other. It seems crazy. It's all happening one after the other, there seems to be no respite. Maybe that's why people want to get away and travel."</p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">Whatever it is, Dalgaard said, "FIT [foreign independent travel] travel is just booming for not only us, but for our competitors in the business I hear the same thing."</p><p class="MsoNoSpacing"><span style="font-size:small"><span style="color:#222222"><span style="font-family:arial, sans-serif"><strong ms="" style="font-size:13px; color:#333333; font-family:sans-serif, Arial, Verdana, " trebuchet=""></strong></span></span></span></div><p class="MsoNoSpacing"><b>Avanti's Underlying Strategy</b></p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">Regardless of current up-and-down trends in the marketplace, Avanti bases its growth on underlying trends of travelers continuing to become more confident about traveling independently. Dalgaard's strategy is, "to expand to destinations where there is demand for up-market but not super deluxe service.</p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">"We fill a particular need for high-end operators, for retailers that have clients that are solid four-star or four star-plus travelers who want to explore boutique hotels in Paris and Bangkok and Beijing. I think that has served us well, not only the way we've chosen our partners in Asia, but understanding that there is a market that isn't just super deluxe that needs to be served.</p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">"That's the way we'll continue to expand our destinations, by making it easy for the travel agent to connect the dots in Asia, Latin America and Europe."</p>
David Cogswell is executive editor covering tours and packages, Africa and the Middle East.
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