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Prairie lad now high-end travel guru

City firm's Penner on magazine's expert list

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Duane Penner: attends elite events

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Duane Penner: attends elite events

WHO knew a southeastern Manitoba farm boy would become known globally as the go-to travel agent for high-end international sporting events?

Those are the bragging rights Duane Penner now has.

Penner was included on this year's Travel + Leisure magazine's A-List of the World's Top Travel Specialists. Of the 161 agents listed, he was the only one in the International Sporting Events category.

Penner is the vice-president of sales at Roadtrips, the Winnipeg firm founded in 1992 by Dave Guenther. Since then, the firm has filled a void in the market for travel to expensive international sporting events.

Penner, who is a partner in the firm, has been with Roadtrips for 15 years.

"We have coveted that list for a long time," he said. "It's the who's who of niche travel from around the world. High-end U.S. and Canadian leisure travellers see the list and figure if that is the person who's the expert, I want to call them."

The company's bread and butter is arranging trips for its mostly U.S. clients to Summer and Winter Olympics, World Cup soccer and Formula One racing, and especially the Grand Prix of Monaco.

In fact, the company's only office other than its Winnipeg headquarters, is in Monaco.

"I have gone to everything we do," Penner said. "I go to the Grand Prix of Monaco every year because I'll have lots of very high-end clients there. I'm at the Summer and Winter Games and I've been back and forth to Brazil for a few years now planning for next year's World Cup and the 2016 Olympics."

The firm figures it will send about 600 people to the World Cup.

The company has between 15 and 20 agents and despite the high-profile nature of the events it concentrates on -- including Wimbledon and the French Open tennis championships and Champions League soccer events -- Penner said there is surprisingly little competition.

"If you were looking to do a Super Bowl trip, you could find 25 places in a hurry who would help, but for instance there were very few doing customized trips to the Summer Games in London," he said.

It's not just tickets to the event and a nice hotel. For a price, Penner can hook you up to attend exclusive behind-the-scenes access.

"There are very few companies anywhere, and even fewer in North America, that can arrange for you to meet F1 teams at almost every F1 stop," he said "If you want to meet the Red Bull team or the Ferrari team, that's something we can get you into. Not that I will guarantee you will hug Lewis Hamilton... but it's a very exclusive way to see F1."

While Roadtrips has to work hard every month, it may not have to worry about the economic conditions throughout the world, because the kind of travel packages they're putting together are so expensive, the clientele has to be sufficiently well-heeled just to think about.

"We aim at the very top end of the travel market," he said. "Those people tend to go regardless of whether the rest of us are hurting or not."

During the London Summer Games, Roadtrips booked 26 different family groups, each of whom were billed in the six figures. Penner likes to point out one family in particular was billed a total of $750,000.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 27, 2013 B6

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