After leading FIT tour operator Avanti Destinations for 37 years, Harry Dalgaard will retire as president and CEO on June 30, 2018, the company announced Tuesday.
When Dalgaard founded Avanti in Portland, Oregon, in 1981, “FIT was definitely an underserved market segment,” he explained. He began selling custom-built, independent leisure travel to Europe exclusively to travel agents.
"I saw the need for a specialized company focusing on FIT to Europe, when the market was dominated by escorted motor coach operators. It was a tough few years in the beginning to get my message across that FIT isn’t all that difficult, and that it’s a very good alternative to escorted travel,” he told Travel Market Report.
As the company grew, so did its offerings. In 1990, Avanti added Central and South America to its program. In 2015, the tour operator introduced the Asian destinations of China, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. Sales for the region were so robust, a year later, that it expanded to include tours in Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, South Korea and Taiwan.
European itineraries, however, still remain Avanti’s bread-and-butter, accounting for the majority of bookings. Avanti offers air, rail, rental cars, hotels, sightseeing/attractions, transfers and experiential options — and specializes in hand-picked, locally owned hotels.
Paul Barry, founder of Europe Express, is now sole owner and executive chairman. He has been a 50 percent owner of Avanti since 2014.
“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,” Barry said in a statement.
Dalgaard hopes to see Barry “continue the passion for making FIT travel accessible and easy to more destinations throughout the world.”
“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.
So what will Dalgaard take away from his nearly four decades leading Avanti?
“What comes around goes around. Treat your customers with respect, provide high quality, and they will help you grow," he told TMR. “One memory that stands out above all was when I arranged the one-and-only British Airways Concorde charter to Portland. That, and all the terrific friendships I have made with our customers and suppliers around the world.”
Dalgaard is looking forward to enjoying his retirement relaxing, spending time with family, and continuing to travel – but purely for fun.
“I must admit it’s been a fabulous ride."