When you log onto Avanti Destinations, you are immediately advised: “If you are not a travel agent, please contact your preferred agent.” For indeed over the last 37 years, Harry Dalgaard, president and CEO of Avanti, reports “we have relied on travel agents as our sole sales channel.”
This will continue to be the business model when, as of June 30, Dalgaard will retire from Avanti Destinations, passing the reins to industry veteran Paul Barry, founder of Europe Express, and now Avanti’s sole owner and executive chairman, supported by his team of COO Mark Grundy, CMO John Hanratty and CFO Susan Marra.
Dalgaard began his travel industry career in 1968, working for Pan American World Airways, moving on to American Airlines, an Alaska tour operator, and manager of a retail travel agency. In 1981, he founded Avanti Destinations, with his eye on creating a travel company “selling the kind of travel I personally prefer: independent,” and to become a leading supplier of FIT travel, which, he points out, “was definitely an underserved market segment.”
Dalgaard was early to catch the independent travel movement and was an innovator in developing technology to automate bookings of FIT travelers, and to connect the dots to build seamless custom itineraries quickly—including hotel, rental car, tours, air and ground services—into multi-faceted and multi-destination itineraries.
Avanti began by selling custom-built independent leisure travel to half a dozen countries in Europe exclusively through travel agents. The Europe roster has grown to 28 destinations, and while European itineraries still account for the majority of the company’s bookings, Avanti added Latin America in 1990 and Asian destinations in 2015.
Without doubt, Harry Dalgaard has done a bit of traveling in his day and therefore might have some well-earned time to tend to his personal travel bucket list. Reporting that he’d like to further explore Patagonia’s Argentina and Chile and New Zealand’s South Island, he has recently been in South Africa and Zimbabwe for the first time. “Fascinating experience, African travel, and I have to say I have my eye on destinations such as Namibia and maybe Mozambique.”
We wish Harry Dalgaard a safe, customized, seamless, innovative, authentic “Bon Voyage.”