Travel entrepreneur Michael Distler goes the distance for clients — such as traveling on his own dime to navigate COVID-19 protocols so his clients don’t have to.
Travel can be a headache to schedule. But for others, it’s an adventure. Especially if your travel company is named Avontuur Travel International Inc.
Translating to adventure in Afrikaans, Avontuur is a new adventure and luxury travel agency with offices in downtown Sarasota and Naples. CEO and Founder Michael Distler started the company after spending more than 15 years in the luxury travel industry within the Virtuoso Verified Travelers network.
Travel is something that comes easy to Distler. From traveling the African continent to planning photo safaris, you could say he’s an experienced traveler himself. Something that didn't come as naturally? The creative design of starting his own business.
“It was a fun learning process of having control of the creative design,” he says. “It’s been a fun ride.”
Of late, Florida is becoming a home to more permanent residents, which Distler says was a factor in choosing to settle the business here. “It seemed to be the right fit,” he says. The doors officially opened in September, targeting high-net-worth clusters of potential clients with his pair of locations in Naples and Sarasota.
The creative process was easy at times in terms of designing the name and logo, and more in-depth at others, especially with the traveler itinerary interface Distler designed. He spent time finding one that was most appealing and easy to navigate for travelers.
The itinerary builder he ended up with allows travelers to download the itinerary to their phones so they don’t have to rely on an Internet connection to access it. “Once the itinerary is downloaded, it’s there at the touch of your fingers even without Wi-Fi,” he says.
It’s that kind of easy traveler experience Distler has built through every aspect of the company.
“Travel is supposed to be fun,” he says. That’s why Distler tells his clients to leave the majority of planning to him. “That’s something for me to worry about,” he says.
He really means it: six months ago, as travel destinations began opening up again, he spent some time traveling around the world. “I traveled throughout the pandemic so my clients would know what to expect,” says Distler.
To do this, he used some vacation time he had built up from his previous work experience, and paid for the rest out of pocket. He traveled all over the world — from the United Arab Emirates to Tanzania.
Most of his current clients followed him from his former position, while others came through word-of-mouth. Either way, Distler says people are ready to travel, which has led to a boom in business. In the past month, he’s had 30 bookings — with two of those being larger groups, one with 40 travelers.
“Most of us feel we’ve had travel stolen from us,” says Distler.
Distler is bringing it back with a bang. The company’s first guided journey is planned to set sail in October 2022 to Guadalupe Island in the Pacific. Just southwest of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, travelers will have the opportunity to dive among great white sharks. Additionally, the excursion will be hosted by Chris and Monique Fallows, experts who have studied the great whites for more than 20 years.
Many know the Fallows from the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, which features the “Air Jaws” documentary series each year. The series was inspired by Chris Fallows’ work at Seal Island in South Africa. While every destination’s price tag is different, the shark excursion is $5,250 per person.
“You’re not paying anything additional by using Avontuur,” he says. Instead of being paid directly by customers, Distler’s revenue comes from the vendors and suppliers used during a vacation.
The travel industry, can be hard to navigate, especially if you’re starting out. The money doesn’t flow until after a vacation has been enjoyed, and a lot of vacationers book months, even years in advance. Also, the travel agent business itself has been in constant reinvention mode for several years, disrupted by online and other technology advances. Luckily, Distler has a business partner that’s kept the financial stress down.
The partner, an owner of another luxury sales company, is only there to provide client market crossover assistance and additional financial backing, if necessary. Distler expects his first year investment into Avontuur to come in around $125,000.
The partner collaboration has also provided Distler insight into launching a new business. "I am very familiar with best practices from the management side of things on a day to day basis," he writes in a follow-up email, "but the first-hand knowledge from a successful owner on a few areas that were ‘new’ to me proved invaluable for setting up the company for success."
Finally, with his experience in the industry, Distler advises travelers it’s harder now than ever before to book trips. Most are starting to book for two years in advance. “I’m excited to see people traveling again,” he says, before also advising travelers to “start planning now.”