Paul Barry, chairman
What is your key strategy these days and why?
Our major strategic objectives include deepening our product offerings and unique experiences in destinations we currently serve, especially in our most popular destinations. In September, we launched our large group business initiative and expect it to be a major growth factor as it gains traction. Previously we limited our maximum group size to 16 travelers; now that number will be uncapped. We have hired a highly experienced group team with many years to staff the program and have opened new offices in Barcelona, Spain, and Kirkland, Washington, to support the operation.
We have also embarked on a broad expansion of cooperative marketing programs with a number of our tourist board partners, most notably Visit Britain. This campaign features the food and drink in various locales in the U.K.
Working with our consortia partners to improve the booking conversion rate is another strategic objective. Although Avanti has a strong conversion rate compared to the industry, improving it through technology and education boosts productivity and therefore commissions for our agency partners. Avanti has more than doubled in size over the past five years. (There is now no slow season for Avanti.) With that growth, Avanti has added additional resources to service our agency partners.
With the change in ownership, significant new investment in people and technology is being made. We are installing a new phone application to better manage our calls and resources. It will eliminate the need for agents to hold for long periods of time as a result of a call-back feature similar to those many airlines use today. The other major benefit of the new system is the ability to expand our work-at-home program, which will further help to balance our daily call volume load.
We are updating our website with a new look and feel — the first phase of a multi-phased project with new navigation improvements coming in a subsequent phase.
What are your newest destinations and products?
Our custom large group program is an addition to our customized FIT lineup. It is something that agents have been asking us to support for quite some time and we now have resources to fulfill it. This June, we launched “Avanti Journeys,” which contains airfare, hotel, transfers and experiences at a fixed price. We launched our custom FIT program for Asia in 2015 and bookings continue to grow rapidly.
What are your most exotic new destinations or unusual offerings?
In Europe, we launched the Baltics: Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. The previous year we added Slovenia and Malta. We have a constantly expanding menu of unusual gastronomic and culinary products, like Pierogi-making classes in Poland, and a private cooking class in a Viennese home. We are also highlighting the Puglia and Viareggio regions of Italy.
In Latin America, we have added Chachapoyas in northern Peru, a “Flavors of Bolivia” experience, and an excursion to the Uyuni salt flats by deluxe Airstream trailer. In Asia, we have added numerous culinary experiences, such as the “Hanoi Street Food Tour” and other exotic tours, including “Hug a Panda” in Chengdu, China, at the research center dedicated to preserving this magnificent species.
What is your focus on the U.S. travel agent for 2018-2019?
Travel agents are the lifeblood of Avanti. A few dynamic things are happening in the agent segment and we are intently focused on them. The trend toward home-based agents continues to accelerate. Our annual survey shows for the first time that more than 50 percent of our respondents were home-based, and our survey is only sent to agents that have booked with us in the last 18 months. We have implemented new tactics to reach them in person and electronically, plus our regional sales team continues to identify, register and invite them to our event presentations.
We are also seeing an increasing number of Millennial agents…noticing many more Millennials at the consortia conferences and our own home-based events. We have increased our social media presence and are participating in industry Millennial symposiums.