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Before entering the travel industry, Duane Penner worked in the healthcare field, where he helped integrate health-care delivery and electronic sharing of client files. He eventually became the vice president of sales at his company, but he left when the company went public in 1999, and he has been with sports travel company Roadtrips ever since. In 2013, Travel + Leisure named him an “A-List Super Agent” for being the top of the field in international sports travel events.
We recently talked to Penner about how Winnipeg, Manitoba-based Roadtrips has evolved over its 25 years in business and how the organization caters to sports lovers and newbies alike with its packages and tours.
Tell us about Roadtrips’ beginnings and its growth over the last two decades.As a Canadian company, we started as a hockey tour operator, becoming the largest of its kind in the world. Back then, people from all over wanted to visit the big arenas that were starting to close: Chicago Stadium, Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens, the Montreal Forum and the Boston Garden. We started adding additional sports, doing leisure and corporate, and have been helping people live their sports travel dreams for 25 years.
What sets Roadtrips apart from other operators who offer a similar service?Two things come to mind. First, we customize all of our trips; planning a trip is very collaborative process. We don’t want clients to feel like they’re buying something off the shelf.
Second, we do mostly FIT travel. Most of our competitors are looking for corporate groups, but we love helping couples, families and multigenerational travelers.
How do you accommodate clients who aren’t really into sports but still want to experience what Roadtrips offers? Some of the events are so iconic that people want to be a part of them even if they are not huge sports fans. I just got back from the Monaco Grand Prix, an event people want to be a part of even if they are not huge race fans because it is so glamorous, well-known and exciting.
We also get a lot of wives buying trips for their husbands’ birthdays and other occasions. There are so many other things to do at these events, such as go to parties, attend dinners, take tours around the destination, visit the spa and more. There is something for everyone, even if the sports part is secondary.
What is the most popular trip you offer? The Summer Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup are our two biggest events. The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is becoming more popular, as the location is exotic and the race circuit is spectacular.
How does Roadtrips support travel agents?We provide electronic brochures, conduct three-way calls with clients, run agent promotions, hold webinars and visit in-office for travel agent education. We very much value our agent partners, and we want to provide them with as much as we can to help them help their clients experience these events.