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This story originally ran in the Sept. 5, 2019 issue of Travelweek magazine. To get Travelweek delivered to your agency for free, subscribe here.
TORONTO — If the name David Boigné rings a bell, it’s because he’s worked with some of the biggest brands in the travel industry, including Jonview Canada, Exotik and Boomerang Tours, Intair and TravelBrands.
If the name David Boigné doesn’t ring a bell, it’s possibly because he’s been under the radar as of late, pulling together all the elements for his latest travel company, 5Continents.
To hear Boigné tell it, he didn’t even plan on staying in the travel industry after his departure from TravelBrands, where he was Vice President of Specialty Products – Exotik & Boomerang Tours (renamed Exotik Journeys in 2018).
“I had no particular intention of doing anything else in travel,” says Boigné. A successful venture into the restaurant industry with Montreal’s Invitation V, a chic vegan dining concept, was his key focus. “And then I started to call my travel clients, to tell them I was getting out of the travel industry. They said ‘But what about our business?’ And I said ‘That’s no longer on me.’ And they said those groups aren’t going to happen without me.”
Talking to his travel industry friends and colleagues didn’t just pull Boigné back to the travel industry. The conversations essentially mapped out his new business plan for what became the already successful 5Continents.
Billed as ‘the link between the travel trade and the world’s best inbounds, in a safe and secure environment’, 5Continents works with travel agents and tour operators to facilitate connections to inbound operators worldwide. More than a GSA, the company specializes in group itineraries but also takes on FIT as well.
It’s a concierge-style approach, says Boigné. “I think that’s what’s lacking in the industry right now: customization.”
Agents looking to make arrangements for their groups or specialized FIT clients often go direct to their preferred inbound operators, or they get in touch with a tour operator on this end and that company takes care of the inbound arrangements.
It’s a system that works for many, says Boigné. “Some agents go direct through inbounds; others go to their preferred tour operators. We’re not here to change any of that. That works. What we’re offering is a bit of a revolution in the industry. We do everything from A to Z and the inbounds’ overseas offices pay us to handle the North American business. Some of the big tour operators have many, many divisions and this is a very small part of their business. For us, this is our focus, this is what we do.”
5Continents is 100% dedicated to the travel trade and does not sell direct.
Boigné gives the example of an agent booking a group into Russia. “The agent may be dealing directly with people in Russia and it’s hard to know if they’ll understand what the agent is looking for. We know what you’re looking for. We know you want centrally located hotels. We know where you want to send your clients. We know what you want and we’ll make sure it happens because we have over 30 years of experience dealing with Russia.”
He offers another example, of a recent booking to Kuala Lumpur “where we found the only French-speaking female guide in the city, with driver, for the clients.”
The company brings together the expertise of receptives from all around the world, he adds.
5Continents has a team of more than 40 people in key destinations globally. That makes a difference when agents need answers on a question now, not a few days from now. “An agent will ask us a specific question about a tour for their booking and we’ll get the response in real time, with no time lag because of time zones. People expect quick time frames when it comes to answers.”
Invoicing is in the destination’s currency or in Canadian dollars and pricing is typically net, with the exception of guaranteed tours which include a 14% commission.
Earlier this year Boigné hired another industry veteran, Michèle Rauzon, as 5Continents’ National Director of Sales & Development, Canada & the U.S. Rauzon had a successful career at Alio for 18 years. Rauzon is at industry events and trade shows and visits agencies on sales calls. She’ll also be helping to organize education tours and webinars.
Based in Montreal, 5Continents is already licensed with Quebec’s OPC, which offers customers protection regardless of where they live in Canada, and will get its TICO license soon too, says Boigné. He’s not daunted by going national. “When I took on Exotik, it was 100% Quebec. I said, ‘Let’s branch out into the English-speaking market’. It’s not an easy thing to do. But we did it.”
Destinations for groups already on the books for 5Continents in 2020 run the gamut from Malta to Bali to Montreux to Singapore to Vienna.
The company is heavily into MICE groups but also works with leisure agents on FIT itineraries. “We’re going to customize your leisure group with little tweaks, little attentions,” says Boigné. That could mean anything from a crepe workshop in France’s Brittany region, to high tea at a botanical garden in Christchurch, NZ, to early hours access at the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg. A recent booking – for a whopping $90,000 for two – saw a Grace Kelly fan treated to a drive in a convertible once owned by the actress and princess.
“That’s really what excites me, creating an experience,” says Boigné. “I don’t know the whole world but I know a lot of people who know people. This is all I’ve been doing for the past 30 years, connecting to people.
“As much as everything has gone digital, there’s still a place for personalized attention.”
Personalization comes at a price but 5Continents isn’t purely a luxury operation, he says. “We do long stays in Portugal, long stays in Malta, and those prices are unbelievably low. It’s a mix of high and regular.”
5Continents is foreseeing a long and enjoyable road ahead, says Boigné. He knows what he wants, and he also knows what he doesn’t want. “We don’t want to become a super big operation. Profitability is important but when it’s the main focus sometimes bad decisions get made. We just want to have fun and do things the way I think they should be done.”
The company’s website is https://5-continents.ca/.
5Continents is hosting a travel trade event on Sept. 17 at the Four Points by Sheraton Toronto Airport in Mississauga, ON, where agents and tour operators can meet the 5Continents’ overseas teams and get ideas for incentive groups, student groups, leisure groups and FIT opportunities. The event starts at 6 p.m. and includes a sit-down dinner and free parking. For more details contact firstname.lastname@example.org.