When Dave Guenther founded his sporting-events travel company, Roadtrips, it was all about arranging modest little trips for fans following their favourite teams on the road.
Back in the 1990s, that was still pretty exotic for Winnipeggers who’d just experienced the ignominy of having their hometown hockey team kicked out of the big leagues.
But over the course of the past 27 years, Roadtrips has moved itself way up the value chain, so now it’s the go-to high-end travel company for the most expensive sporting events around the world.
Never mind arranging hotels and tickets for a Jets game against the Hawks at the United Center in Chicago. Now, Roadtrips books some of the most expensive hotel rooms years in advance for events such as the FIFA World Cup. If you’re planning to be in Qatar in November and December 2022, Guenther might be able to hook you up. He’s already secured a good number of swanky hotel rooms in Paris for the Summer Olympics in 2024.
"For bespoke custom packages of sporting events around the world — particularly those aimed at the high-net-worth traveller — we are pretty much the crème de la crème," said Guenther, stepping out from a lunch at Joey Polo Park.
He’s not bragging. His little Winnipeg company — which still operates in the city with a staff of 15 to 20 people — is now the official sports-event trip planner for New York-based Travel Leaders Group, which acquired Roadtrips in 2016.
Even though Travel Leaders Group is one of the largest retail travel companies globally — with more than 6,000 travel-agency locations worldwide representing more than 52,000 travel agents spanning the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the U.K. with more than US$20 billion in revenue — Roadtrips was a key addition to its portfolio, adding that special value proposition just for the high-end sports enthusiast.
With customers around the world, including well-known international celebrities, there’s not really much networking advantage for Guenther to be attending chamber of commerce events.
The biggest event for that highly sought-after sliver of the market returns next summer to Tokyo, which will host the Summer Olympics.
The Olympics is Guenther’s personal favourite event and he and most of his Winnipeg staff will be there on the ground, along with about 30 subcontracted Japanese staffers to help host more than 500 Roadtrips clients.
Those big international events are now what take up much of the company’s resources. And whereas North American sports-league games used to be its bread and butter, Roadtrips now limits its events to about 20 to 25 per year, including the Olympics, the FIFA World Cup and jet-setter events such as the Monaco Grand Prix, the Kentucky Derby, the Super Bowl and the Masters golf tournament.
"It’s true that the number of events has gone down, but the value of our average invoice has always climbed," he said. "At some point, we did start doing less of the lower-value invoices. Now, typically we focus on the luxury segment."
For instance, of the 500-plus clients Roadtrips will take to Tokyo, the invoices will range from $15,000 to $60,000 per traveller.
But it’s not all so straightforward. The World Series, for instance, is a headache.
"We went into the week before last with five different hotel contracts in place for multiple destinations and we’ve also got the ticketing and servicing side of things as well," he said. "We make promises based on the fact there are multiple cities it could be in. Fortunately, we have folks we know who can provide what we need in those different places."
The things they need that Roadtrips can procure are, for instance, tickets to exclusive parties such as the Barnstable Brown Derby Eve Gala in Louisville or the Amber Lounge in Monaco put on by Formula One drivers’ wives and girlfriends and hosted by Prince Albert of Monaco.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.