Avanti Destinations Chairman Paul Barry says that business is good: the company has seen over 20 percent growth in bookings over the past year, with Europe and, increasingly, Asia going strong. The company is looking to drive even more business with a number of new extensions.
What trends are you seeing in the marketplace?
The number of travel agents booking their FIT clients with us keeps growing. We have seen 20+ percent growth in bookings the past 12 months. Europe continues to be the region that is most in demand, but our bookings for Asia are also increasing. The “spend” or value per booking is also increasing in all our regions. All this should help encourage more agents to try FIT if they have not yet. The number of pre-/post-cruise bookings for sightseeing and transfers (especially private ones) to hotels, airports and rail stations in major cruise ports is also on the rise. This is true in Europe, Asia and South America, for river cruise ports as well as ocean-going cruises. We offer private sightseeing and transfers in nearly 200 port cities. Another trend is booking a year in advance. Previously, this figure was about 20 percent of our total. Now that figure has risen to 30 percent. Booking far in advance is particularly important if your client wants private guides — good ones are in short supply. Authentic, unique experiences, particularly those involving food, wine/beer/spirits have been an area of increasing demand. The inclination is toward private experiences, rather than those in a group. Clients want to get the most out of their hard-earned vacations, and they are willing to pay the price to do it on a private basis.
How have you modified your offerings to meet these trends?
Avanti has always specialized in custom-crafted FIT itineraries with authentic experiences, and we are always expanding our offerings of these. We produce a steady stream of e-brochures on specific destinations and types of experiences, especially food and drink so that agents always have something new to suggest to their FIT clients. This past year we have partnered with several tourist offices to promote travel to less-touristic destinations: Britain beyond London, Finland, South Korea, Japan’s Seto region, Wales, and Italy’s regions of Piedmont, Puglia, Umbria and Sicily. While the Visit Britain campaign focused on food and wine/beer/spirits in particular and has been very successful — our bookings for travel outside of London are up 30 percent over last year.
What new destinations have you introduced this year?
We are offering some new destinations that are extensions of our existing ones: St. Petersburg, Russia, as an extension from the Baltics and Nordic countries; Morocco, which is frequently an extension from Spain; Mongolia as an extension from China; and Abu Dhabi as a stopover for those flying to Asia from the eastern half of the US.
Within the existing destinations that you offer, what’s new?
For the coming year, we have added a total of 110 new tours and 164 new hotels. Many of the new experiences are food or wine related and many are private: a private evening ramen experience in Tokyo; “Tastes of Ecuador’s Pacific coast and the Galapagos” 8-day itinerary; private Mapuche (an indigenous people) cooking workshop in Pucon (Chile) and private “Cooking Like a Local” class in Cinque Terre (Italy), [to name just a few].
What is your focus on the U.S. travel agent for 2019/20?
Because Avanti sells exclusively to travel agents, not direct to consumers, agents are critical to our continued growth and success. This past year we focused on broadening our outreach to homebased agents/ICs and are happy to report a 50 percent increase in bookings from HOAs/ICs. Our new agent portal (https://book.avantidestinations. com) has resulted in increased online bookings since it was launched in January. Many agents use the portal to initiate bookings and then complete them with a call to our travel consultants. We also offer frequent webinars on how to use the new website, and we have a eight regional sales managers across the US who can help with training.