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It’s Still Early But Avanti and USTOA Are Optimistic About Europe Bookings

Avanti and USTOA are the names of two companies that are producing a new way to travel. They are starting out in the UK, but plans are to expand to other countries.

It’s early days yet but it looks like the UK and US are going to book well their European destinations for the summer. The UK is on course to be the busiest UK holiday destination in 2016. The annual growth rate has been running at around 6% for the last few years and the current booking rate is running close to that. The US is also a very strong market and the current numbers show that they are booking 6-7% ahead of the 2016 season.

The most recent issue of  Avanti  has a review of a couple of travel companies, specifically USTOA and Avanti . Avanti provides services in many European countries, including the UK, Austria, Sweden, Switzerland and Italy, while USTOA provides services in the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain. In the review, Avanti is quoted as saying that UK business has been “good” since the Brexit referendum, while USTOA has been “very good” since Donald Trump became president.

As airlines restore or expand service on more European routes and European countries develop special protocols for international visitors, we expect passenger numbers and new bookings to reach 2019 levels by the end of the third quarter of 2021, said Paul Barry, CEO of Avanti Destinations. While Barry notes that it is still a bit early to predict final booking results for 2021, he is optimistic. Terry Dale, president and CEO of the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA), tells Travel Agent we’re pretty optimistic… We conducted a survey and eight out of ten active members are enthusiastic, cautiously optimistic about things in the third and fourth quarters of this year. According to Dale, USTOA members continue to provide the trade association with positive feedback on the company’s performance. He also believes that cooperation between tour operators and travel consultants is of great value in the event of a pandemic. Although Dale stresses that one can never be too optimistic, we are convinced that things have definitely changed. In addition, USTOA members reportedly noted that the European Union had come forward and stated: We are ready to welcome American travelers. Each of these measures makes a big difference. Dale stated that while it is still up to each EU country to put in place the appropriate measures for their country and protect their citizens, this is a very important step on the part of the EU. According to Dale, members of the USTOA survey ranked Italy as the most popular European destination for 2021 and 2022, while Greece, Iceland, Ireland and Germany were also high on the list.

Travel trends in Europe

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With the opening of Europe, Barry sees these emerging trends in customers ordering his brand’s custom FITs. Several places, close together: While custom multi-destination FIT itineraries have always been and continue to be a specialty of Avanti Destinations in Europe, we are seeing a trend toward trips that combine multiple destinations in one country rather than traveling to multiple countries, says Barry Travel Agent. Italy and Greece are high on the list of customers travelling to Europe this year. Ireland, Iceland, Spain, Germany, Switzerland and Croatia are also among the best vacation options. Before COVID-19, Greece was in the top 10 [for Avanti] but never had that kind of success, says Barry, who notes that it’s definitely on the hot list. One of Avanti’s offers is for Greece for six nights: The beauty of the southern Peloponnese, with daily sailings from Athens. Guests will spend two nights in Athens, one night in Nafplio and three nights on the coast of the Peloponnese. Any other insights? By 2020, almost all Icelandic orders from Avanti stops were on their way to Europe. says Barry : We now see travel itineraries about Iceland, but also combinations of Iceland with other European countries, such as Greece. Acropolis of Athens, Greece // Photo: TomasSereda/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images If you’re booking a tour with multiple sights, Barry says, it’s just as likely to be a classic combination of popular cities like Budapest, Hungary; Prague, Czech Republic; and Vienna, Austria, as it is a combination of lesser-known cities like Amsterdam, Netherlands, and Budapest; Munich, Germany, and Portugal; or Rome, Zurich, Switzerland, and Helsinki, Finland. Iconic city plus secondary or remote facility: When travelers plan a vacation in Europe, they often book an itinerary that combines the capital or a popular city with a secondary city in the same country, or combines a city with more remote locations where the main attractions are rural or natural, Barry says. He gives the examples of Croatia and its islands, Lapland in Finland and Greece and its islands. Barry also indicates that in Iceland some 50 % of Avanti nights are booked outside Reykjavik, and similarly 55 % of Avanti nights in Ireland are booked outside Dublin. Outdoor adventures or active experiences: Consultants add a wide range of activities to individual vacations, including biking and hiking. About 10 percent of optional tours/activities booked with us involve some type of outdoor activity, such as hiking or biking, particularly in locations outside of the city, Barry said, pointing to the popularity of these activities in Switzerland, Iceland and Scandinavia. In Finland and the Lapland region, for example, Avanti offers a tailor-made 10-day FIT called Fantastic Finland – Summer : Helsinki, Ruka-Kuusamo, Rovaniemi and Kemi. Travelers will explore Helsinki, discover Finnish wildlife in the Ruka-Kuusamo region on a hike in Oulanka National Park or spot bears, and board a traditional boat en route to Santa’s village in Rovaniemi. This stay is offered by Avanti from June to August. Besides hiking and biking, Avanti also offers sailing trips, truffle hunting, mountain biking, horseback riding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, caving, scuba diving, kayaking and rafting. People want to be outside, Dale admits. They want to experience nature. Pointing out that Americans will visit U.S. national parks in 2020 and earlier in 2021, he said the trend of nature travel is also global. For Iceland, Abercrombie & Kent offers an eight-day Fire and Ice route from April to September with many outdoor experiences. It’s designed as a private tour and costs from $13,495 per person, with a double room.

More fashionable treats

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The duration of trips to Europe is increasing. In addition, they become more private in many ways. Barry has noticed an increase in bookings for private tours and excursions and private transfers. Booking tickets and day trips in advance has also become the norm, given the increased demands for programming at museums and other attractions. Additionally, Barry said, many travel advisors are making it easier for cruise line clients transition to FIT travel on land by adding extensions before or after the cruise. The 2022 Holy Game performances in Oberammergau, Germany, are becoming increasingly popular with American travelers booking vacations in Europe. // Photo: manfredxy/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images According to Avanti and other USTOA members, the 2022 Oberammergau Passion Play, held every 10 years, has always been an attraction. Moreover, even before the pandemic, the trend was to travel in small groups, Dale said, noting that the pandemic has accelerated this process because people want to travel with trusted family and friends who feel responsible for following safety protocols. Even when choosing a tour, which many USTOA members (not Avanti) offer, travelers tend to opt for smaller groups. One way to discover Portugal and Spain in a small group is the nine-day Cosmos program in Lisbon, Seville and Madrid, which is an active tour. Guests will spend three nights in Madrid, two nights in Seville and Lisbon, and one night in Coimbra, Portugal. This affordable 2022 tour starts from $1,199 per person based on double occupancy. Small group visits should continue in the coming years. This is a very strong trend, and I think it will continue for the foreseeable future, Dale notes. People want to travel in small groups and with people they know. And what is the most important advice Barry gives to people going to or living in Europe? We can’t say it enough, he insists, book early.

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