For the first time in its history, FIT tour operator Avanti Destinations is expanding into six Asian countries as part of a product line expansion that will also include new European river cruises and small group escorted tours in Europe and Latin America. Amidst news of its expansion at a recent press conference in New York, Avanti also announced its appointment of travel industry veteran Mark Grundy as managing director of Asia.
According to John Hanratty, Avanti’s chief marketing officer, the company’s induction into the Asian market, as well as the river cruising and small group escorted businesses, came as a direct result of agents’ demands. “We conducted an agent survey in spring [and] the agents wanted Asia,” noted Hanratty. “We sent out 1,850 surveys to agents who had booked with us and got a 15 percent response. The results of the survey blew me away [because] they were so favorable—89 percent [of agents] would refer us to another agent or a friend.”
In order to “offer in Asia the high-quality independent travel experience that agents have come to expect from Avanti in Europe and Central and South America,” said Avanti’s president and founder Harry Dalgaard in a press release statement, the company appointed Mark Grundy as the new managing director of Asia in June. Grundy brings with him more 20 years of experience in the travel industry, having previously worked as the owner and co-founder of Destination America (later acquired by Trafalgar Tours); as v.p. of sales and marketing at American Tours International; and most recently, as the president of UK tour operator Wendy Wu Tours. Grundy is currently developing the company’s initial Asia product offering, featuring China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Avanti’s Essence of Asia brochure is now available for pre-order at avantidestinations.com. The full lineup is scheduled to launch Nov. 30, 2015.
New River Cruises
As previously mentioned, Avanti’s new product offering will also include new river cruises in Europe.
“The agent survey also revealed more interest in river cruises, and we’re always looking for off-the-beaten-track trips,” said Hanratty. “We’re going to start with 14 cruises [in] small towns and ports the big guys can’t get into.”
The FIT tour operator is teaming up with CroisiEurope to provide these specially selected sailings through Central Europe, Germany, Portugal, Benelux countries and France. Now, instead of only being able to book pre- and post-cruise extensions, agents can book a cruise by itself or as a supplement to a longer European itinerary. CroisiEurope’s four- and five-star ships and barges feature French cuisine meals, all beverages, complimentary WiFi, Samsung Galaxy tablets for guests’ use, and accommodations for 96 to 198 passengers. Cruise itineraries and details will be available when Avanti’s Essence of Europe 2016 brochure is released at the end of this month.
New Small Group Tours
Additionally, Avanti is partnering with Back-Roads Touring to provide 17 small escorted tours in Benelux countries, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the UK. These small group tours, ranging in size from 15 to 18 guests, are led by English-speaking guides and local experts, and travel is in Mercedes-Benz vehicles. Each multi-city tour focuses on boutique properties and authentic cultural and culinary experiences, such as dining with the locals in their restaurants and meeting community members. Tour itineraries and details will also be available in Avanti’s Essence of Europe 2016 brochure.
“Training is going on with destination agents and we have FAM trips these next few months,” said Hanratty. “We’ve been doing agent dinners, and the reaction to new product has been met with a lot of enthusiasm.” Looking into the future, Hanratty theorizes that Avanti “may look at villas. Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji are also on the agent wish list. Ultimately [we] might have cruises in the Mekong Delta and other Asian destinations.” For more information, call (800) 422-5053 or visit avantidestinations.com.