After 37 years at the helm of independent travel tour operator Avanti Destinations, founder Harry Dalgaard has announced that he will retire as president and CEO on June 30, 2018.
Industry veteran Paul Barry, founder of Europe Express, is now sole owner and executive chairman, supported by the executive team of COO Mark Grundy, CMO John Hanratty and CFO Susan Marra. Seattle-based Barry has been a 50 percent owner of Avanti since 2014, the company said.
“I must admit it’s been a fabulous ride, creating a leading supplier of FIT travel to Europe, Latin America and Asia,” said Dalgaard in a written statement. “In 1981, FIT was definitely an underserved market segment. I wanted to sell the kind of travel I personally prefer – independent, not in a crowd. I used all my contacts in the travel industry along with innovative technology to create a company able to ‘connect the dots’ of multi-destination itineraries.
“Today Avanti is a major player, thanks to the support of the travel agent community. I have accomplished everything that I set out to do, so after June 30 it’s up to Paul and the executive team to take the company to the next level,” said Dalgaard.
Born and raised in Europe, Dalgaard started Avanti after working for Pan American World Airways, American Airlines, an Alaskan tour operator, and as the manager of a retail travel agency. He founded Avanti in Portland to sell custom-built independent leisure travel to Europe exclusively through travel agents. Today European itineraries account for the majority of the company’s bookings. Central and South American destinations were added in 1990, and Asian destinations in 2015.
In 2000, Avanti developed a proprietary booking engine, Tourgate, that enables the company to build custom itineraries, including hotel, rental car, tours, air and ground services.
Avanti currently employs 135 people and annually creates custom itineraries for nearly 50,000 travelers, all booked through travel agents.
In addition to piloting Avanti, Dalgaard has served in several positions at the USTOA, where currently he is vice chairman. He also has been on the advisory board of the German National Tourist Office and Atout France for many years.
“The executive team and I are totally committed to continuing in the direction Harry set for Avanti over the past 37 years: relying on travel agents as our sole sales channel, providing excellent customer service and high-quality, authentic travel experiences around the world for independent travelers,” said Barry.