Mark Grundy, managing director of Asia for Avanti Destinations // © 2016 Avanti Destinations
Feature image (above): Visitors traveling with Avanti to Laos may see Wat Xieng Thong, a Buddhist temple in Luang Prabang. // © 2016 Avanti Destinations
Avanti Destinations began sending its first FIT customers to Asia earlier this month, launching a new product line of 22 completely customizable itineraries across six countries and more than 30 cities.
The packager started selling independent travel products and customizable vacations to Europe in 1981, later adding similar products in Central and South America. But according to Mark Grundy, Avanti’s new managing director for Asia, more and more Americans are heading to Asia, making the region the fastest-growing destination for U.S. travelers.
“Last year, about 4.2 million Americans went to Asia,” Grundy said, noting that the largest draws were China and Japan, two of Avanti’s six new Asian destinations. “Approximately half of those [4.2 million travelers] went to China, and about 25 percent went to Japan.”
Adding Asia’s two heavyweight draws was an easy decision for officials planning Avanti’s new venture, according to Grundy, but he says seasonal travel patterns played a role in the company’s decision to also offer trips to Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.
“We also wanted to add Southeast Asia because the travel times are in the winter, when people aren’t going to either China or Japan” Grundy said. “For Avanti, not many Americans go to Europe in the wintertime, so strategically we were trying to find some destinations that could add revenue in months when we are quite slow — and Southeast Asia fits that bill.”
The former head of Wendy Wu Tours, Grundy says Avanti has also taken some bookings for Singapore and will consider other destinations in Asia as well, should travel agents reach out with specific requests.
“I’m not ready to say we’re all things Asia,” Grundy said. “We look at what the request is, and then we make a determination of whether or not we’ve got the ability to handle it.”
More destinations are already being seriously considered for Avanti’s 2017 Asia brochure, according to Grundy. But he wasn’t yet ready to share which nations the company will add next year — in part because the company only shipped out its first Asia brochure earlier this month.
Grundy encourages agents to reach out to Avanti with requests beyond China, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, and he reminds travel pros that the company’s new customizable Asia FIT itineraries can be filled out with a range of activities you simply can’t offer in larger group travel settings.
“In many ways, if something is in a brochure, people don’t want to do it,” he said of many American travelers, who may be in search of experiences their neighbors haven’t already booked.
“When they go back to their boardroom or their golf club or their book club, they want to be able to throw out an experience that will make people say ‘Oh wow. I didn’t know you could do that,’” Grundy said. “Again, because these are private holidays for individuals and couples, there are lots of things you can do that you can’t do with a group.”
Grundy says some of the experiences Avanti offers can’t be found on its website or in a brochure, because they don’t want competitors “to steal away” the unique activities. But agents should be quick to enquire with the company’s reservation agents about opportunities to really personalize their client’s experience.
Grundy offered a few examples of activities that Avanti customers can enjoy in China.
“In the ‘hutongs’ (narrow streets or alleys) in Beijing, we take you into a private home, where you’ll take a private cooking class and learn to cook in a wok,” he said. “Or when you got to the Terracotta Army in Xian, you can be led by the chief archaeologist there, who will take you right onto the floor with the Terracotta warriors themselves.”