Avanti Expands In Asia, Cites Travel Agent Support

Mount Kinabalu Park Heritage Site. Photo: CEphoto, Uwe Aranas

FIT tour operator Avanti Destinations’ three-year plan to expand its offerings to Asia is off to “a great successful start” mostly because of “the support of travel agents,” managing director for Asia Mark Grundy told a group of travel agents in Huntington, NY earlier this month.

Avanti just completed the first year of its Asian expansion and sales for the region have been robust, Grundy said. Its original six destinations—China, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia—sold strong in 2016 and bookings for 2017 have already exceeded those numbers.

The region, one that Grundy calls the fastest growing one in terms of popularity amongst U.S. travelers, is becoming more and more attractive partly due to an increasingly strong U.S. dollar—but also, Grundy said, due to the work of agents.

“We sell our products exclusively through travel agents. It’s something that is built into the company’s DNA,” he said.

Grundy hopes that the new offerings from Avanti—tours in Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, South Korea and Taiwan—will build on it 2016 success. (Dubai, while not officially offered, is available for pre- or post-tour stopovers, something Grundy said is particularly attractive for east coast travelers).

The new Asian tours include “Indonesia: Private Day in the Life of a Balinese Farmer,” which includes a five-hour tour in Tabanan, learning how to make local dishes and time working in in a field; “Malaysia: Private Kinabalu Park and Poring Hotel Springs Tour,” which includes a drive along mountains road, a walk in the city’s botanical gardens and a soak in a hot spring; and “Philippines: Private Shark Encounter,” which includes a visit to Tumalob Falls and exploration of the jungle around it.

Those new offerings bring the total number of Asia countries available to tour with Avanti to 14, each fully customized and directed by local private guides from the moment travelers arrive, something the tour operator specializes in (Avanti moved 40,000 people globally in 2016, each one on a customizable itinerary).

Each trip also includes everything clients need, from air, rail rental cars and hotels to sightseeing and attraction tickets, transfers and experiential travel options.

As far as agent help, Avanti employs 20 travel consultants for its Asian journeys to assist clients in their travels, so even if a client can’t get in touch with an agent half-the-world-away, they’ll be able to get the assistance they need. Those consultants also can assist agents with personalizing each available tour for their client.

“Avanti is committed to having experts talk to you, the other experts,” Grundy said.


German Christmas Market Attack Leaves 12 Dead

Twelve people were killed and many more were injured on Monday evening when a truck drove through a crowded German Christmas market in central Berlin.

The truck, which was registered in Poland and filled with steel beams, came to a stop on a sidewalk near the market, leaving a trail of destruction in Breitscheidplatz Square near Kurfürstendamm Boulevard, one of the busiest shopping districts in the German capital. At least 12 people were killed and more than 40 people were sent to nearby hospitals.

According to reports, police arrested a suspect but say they are unsure he was the driver; a passenger died at the scene.

The U.S. Department of State had issued a travel alert to U.S. citizens traveling in Europe during the holiday season last month, cautioning tourists to “exercise caution at holiday festivals, events, and outdoor markets. U.S. citizens should exercise vigilance when attending large holiday events, visiting tourist sites, using public transportation, and frequenting places of worship, restaurants, hotels, etc.”

The attack bears a resemblance to July’s Bastille Day attack in Nice, France, when a lorry ran through a crowd, killing 86 people and injuring 200 more, but officials are not sure this is related in any way.

The incident occured near the Kasier Willhelm Memorial Church.

Travel industry reacts
Christmas markets are a popular destination for river cruise companies, though it’s not clear if any were in the area or if future sailings will be affected.

AmaWaterways told TMR it had no sailings in the area and no activities or guests were impacted.

Avalon Waterways also had no sailings in the area, though it said in a statement that it was “disheartened to get the news of the tragedy in Berlin today” and that its “thoughts are with those affected by this senseless act.”

Viking River Cruises told TMR that while no Viking guests, crew or itinerary were directly impacted, it was “saddened to learn about the incident on Monday in Berlin, and our hearts go out to the families of those affected…The safety and security of our guests and crew is always our top priority, and we will monitor the situation closely as the investigation develops.”

Berlin Airport has not been affected by the incident, either, as planes are taking off on time.

Some airlines are offering travelers options to return home early.

British Airways says it is contacting passengers in the city with a range of options, which include flying home early if space is available on flights. EasyJet also is offering travelers in Berlin the option of flying home early.

Diane Bean, a travel agent with Off On Vacation in Bangor, ME, said that it’s painful anytime there’s terrorism in the world, but this attack hit her hard because it took place in her hometown.

“I was born in Berlin and lived there as a child and again as an adult. I am so incredibly saddened. My mother called me immediately. My son messaged me. [We’re] all in shock,” she told TMR. “But as a career travel advisor, I will continue business as normal and I am not going to cancel the plans for my European Christmas Market River Cruise in 2017.”

Bean also noted that this event underscores the importance of travel insurance. “I share the importance of travel protection with all of my clients; I can’t remember the last time one traveled without the purchase of it. Many clients ask my thoughts on buying it and I tell them, if they can afford the loss of their entire trip and possibly a Medivac back to the United States then pass. If they buy it and don’t use it, then consider it money well spent and be thankful you didn’t have the misfortune to need it.”

Christi McGown, an agent with Cruise Planners in Bowling Green, KY, sailing with Avalon this week, reported on Tuesday that she just left the market in Passau about 30 minutes ago. “I’m seeing enhanced security at all of the markets, and I’ve encouraged our group to continue to be aware of our surroundings and step aside if something feels or looks off with the travelers around them.”

But they remain intrepid. “We will visit Nuremberg and Prague later this week,” she said.

There is one Insight Vacation Group in Berlin; the tour directors have advised that all guests are doing well and are enjoying their holidays. All trips are operating as scheduled. There is also a Trafalgar Group arriving tomorrow; they will “review their program,” said Insight Vacations president Phil Cappelli.