Avanti Destinations, the “travel agent’s travel agent,” is having a good year, with business up 20% year-over-year. And the company is continuing to expand its already broad selection of destinations and activities in Europe, Latin America, and Asia.
Avanti is also expanding its staff, hiring new employees, and going to great lengths to make sure employees are getting the travel experiences they need to do their consulting jobs effectively.
“We’ve increased our training of our in-house consultants,” Avanti’s President Paul Barry told Travel Market Report. “We are a travel company and we want them all to share and feel that passion, the enthusiasm for places they themselves experience.”
This year, 125 out of 160 employees are traveling, and that applies not only to the travel consultants, but to support staff as well, to spread the enthusiasm and the joy of travel throughout the Avanti community.
The company continues to expand its destination coverage. In 2019, Avanti has added a number of new destinations that are available for booking now and some that will be available in 2020.
New destinations that are available for booking now include St. Petersburg, which can be visited visa-free by Americans using a special three-day visa allowance. St. Petersburg was introduced as an add-on to Baltic destinations such as Helsinki, Finland; and Tallinn, Estonia.
Also newly available are Morocco, offered as an add-on to Spain; and Mongolia, which is offered as an add-on to China.
In the third quarter of 2019, Avanti announced that it would be adding Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific for 2020. The company has also added more destinations within Asia. While it is seeing a high rate of growth in Asia, Europe still accounts for 80% of its business.
Expansion of seasonality
Avanti is benefitting from an expansion of the travel season itself. “We see an expansion of seasonality into the shoulder season,” said Barry. “It’s driven by pricing and overtourism. We are also seeing tourism spreading into the provinces.”
Many of the most popular destinations are suffering, ironically, from too many tourists. Destinations are struggling to find ways to deal effectively with the problem.
Italian Tourism is trying new ways to manage tourism to curb the problems of overtourism. Italy’s Big Three cities (Rome, Florence, and Venice) receive such a high percentage of all the visitors to Italy that the primary tourist sites are overrun with tourists, creating overcrowding and traffic problems, sometimes leading to degradation of the sites themselves.
Those cities do not want more visitors. In an attempt to siphon off some of the overflow and spread the benefit throughout the country, Italian Tourism is coordinating efforts to promote regions outside the Big Three, including Puglia, Piedmont, Umbria, and Sicily.
While most Americans still go to Italy, France, the UK, and Germany, Barry said that tourism in Europe is moving beyond the popular and iconic destinations. “Travel has increased in areas that used to be on the ‘fringe’ of popular tourism,” said Barry, “such as Greece, Iceland, Croatia, Portugal, and Scandinavia. Increased numbers of people are traveling to those places and they are seeing trends in growth.
Avanti is also seeing growth in a variety of other areas globally, including the Setouchi region of Japan, Wales, Finland, and South Korea. Avanti is working in partnership with the respective tourism offices to promote those destinations. Within the destinations, Avanti is promoting second-tier destinations, such as Finland beyond Helsinki.
Besides an expansion of the destinations that Avanti offers, the company is also adding to the activities it makes available in the destinations. It is a response to increasing demands from travelers for more specialized, customized travel packages and unusual experiences, as the traveling public evolves and travelers broaden their travel horizons.
“We’re moving beyond the basic, standard product,” said Barry, “and we’re expanding our offerings of experiences, including such things as bear watching, ice fishing, glamping in a deluxe tent over the River Kwai in Thailand, staying under a translucent dome in Colombia, and stargazing in the Atacama Desert in Chile.”
Avanti is seeing a continuing increase in clients requesting customization, often including requests that would previously have seemed strange, according to Barry.
Avanti’s new agent portal
Another big step for Avanti in 2019 has been its new travel agent portal, which was introduced last January. The upgraded technology is more flexible than the previous system. It is more interactive and gives travel agents more control over their own bookings. It allows an agent to start a booking online, fill in many of the basic details, and then call the office for help to complete it.
“Agents can pencil in what they want and then get on the phone with one of our in-house consultants to finish it,” said Barry. The increased flexibility has led to a leap forward for Avanti in efficiency and productivity.
The new booking system makes it possible to track a booking after it is made to see its current status. The system can be operated in one of two different modes, a guided mode for new users, and an expert mode for the more experienced that provides more power and options.
Initially, there was a learning curve for travel agents with the new system, but now the majority of Avanti’s agent partners are over the hump and use of the online booking system is double what it was last year. The company provides training for travel agents via webinars or one-to-one training.
The new system has been deemed a success, with up to 2,000 agents a day logging in. It has created a “huge change” in the way the business operates, and has reduced the necessity for calling in.
Beefed up operations
Avanti has beefed up its operations department, with enhanced destination support services and help in dealing with travel issues. In Europe, agents can reach an emergency contact number for help with issues that may arise.
“We’ve expanded our operations department and our support services,” said Barry. “We are more pro-active about managing and anticipating problems.”
Expanding group travel
Avanti has also grown its group travel business. Previously, the company only handled groups of up to about 15 people. Larger groups were “turned away.” But starting late last year, the tour operator brought in new experts in group travel, and is now doing a brisk business with closed groups, special interest groups, affinity groups, pre-formed groups, sports groups, and families.
Furthermore, the increasing use of virtual technology has led to a compensatory trend of people wanting more engagement. “People are looking for more contact now,” said Barry. “Social media isolates.” Social media addiction leads to a need to break away from the screen world and experience real, hands-on engagement. Avanti is seeing the effects of that trend in its booking patterns, requests, and the increase in group travel.
With the ever-increasing presence of AI and virtual technology, Avanti has noted travel trends that reflect the need of travelers to balance their high-tech experiences with high-touch experiences, and getting “off the grid” is increasingly seen as an attraction in itself.