Travel agents logging on to avantidestinations.com will find the opening message reads, “Thank you for dropping in,” a cordial welcome to a website that aims to assist agents in making travel arrangements for clients simple, creative and profitable.
“We have been doing just that for more than a quarter-century,” says Avanti Destinations’ president Harry Dalgaard. “Providing the unparalleled travel content, flexible FIT packaging, and innovative technology—with a human touch—that goes into delivering the customized vacation that every client wants today.”
Avanti’s destinations are, of course, Europe, which accounts for just over 75 percent of the company’s bookings, and Central and South America. And according to Dalgaard, 2011 is going to be a very good year, with double digit increases in both Europe and Latin America. And while U.S. travelers are back out on the road, he reminds us that the booking profile continues to be short-stay vacations, with most trips fitting a basic 10-day/9-night itinerary that combines, say, three destinations. At the same time, he adds, today’s first-time and repeat travelers to every destination are looking for authentic, involving and people-to-people travel experiences.
Avanti Destinations is all about customized FIT travel, seemingly a good fit with today’s more savvy, and often more demanding, traveler. “Our role is to be positioned to deliver what the client wants,” Dalgaard says, and points out, for instance, that Avanti-style travel features handpicked, locally owned hotels in large and small cities, as well as inns and B&Bs, manor houses and castles in the countryside. Further—responding to new travel markets and lifestyles—in Europe the company offers modules focusing on cooking classes in Belgium, France and Italy; food and wine programs in six countries; hiking and biking in Italy and Spain; and villa and farmhouse stays in Italy. And in Latin America, where the accent is often on the great outdoors, the company’s packages incorporate kayaking, river rafting, hiking, cave tubing, eco-touring and eco-cruising. And every aspect of any vacation is commissionable, from air and accommodations, to sightseeing tours, car rentals, included meals, and wine tastings.
And where’s everyone going this year? Topping the charts in Europe, he reports, is Italy, Italy and more Italy. The first-timer to Italy does the big three, connecting Rome, Florence and Venice by rail, adding perhaps the Tuscany countryside or a short stay in Sorrento. “Italy draws a huge repeat business, because it is not only selling the art cities and antiquities, but the Mediterranean lifestyle of food and wine, great weather, fishing villages with painted houses, and a lively and colorful people,” says Dalgaard. Avanti’s Italy experiences range from a 3-night Culinary Delights of Palma package, a delicious experience in wine, cheese and prosciutto, to a 3-night Italian Countryside by Vespa in southern Tuscany and Umbria.
Surprising to Dalgaard is this year’s uptick in bookings for London and Rio. He wonders if this is not driven by special events promotion, such as the Olympics coming to both London (2012) and Rio (2016), the World Cup soccer games in Rio (2014), the Queen’s Jubilee in London next year, and this year, of course, the Royal Wedding. “For that occasion, we designed a 7-day British Royal Wedding package, offering a truly royal 6-night stay, but our best-seller is always a 6-night London & Paris with Eurostar, often adding the French Riviera.” Additionally, he reports that France and Spain look very good for this year, and there seems to be new “magic” in the Prague-Vienna-Budapest combo, which fits nicely into the U.S. market’s 10-day vacation frame, with three destinations and three nights in each.
In Latin America, Costa Rica and Peru top the customer demand list. For both, says Dalgaard, travelers have all kinds of special requests, and arrangements can be highly customized for lodgings and activities such as kayaking, ziplining, jungle stays and mountain treks. Two-country popularity honors go to the 11-night Magic of Machu Picchu & Galapagos package that includes an island cruise, and overnights in Lima, Cusco, Machu Picchu and Quito.
Avanti’s destination by destination inventory of leisure travel packages is extensive, its hotel inventory enormous, and all accessible to agent partners with easy-to-use online planning, searching and booking tools, as well as an ongoing series of destination and sales training webinars. And why not, when the company works almost exclusively with agents?