It’s currently the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. For the first time in what seems like forever, Chris Pronger is nowhere near an NHL arena, or the game he played so phenomenally well.
The Hall of Fame defenceman, Hart Trophy winner and two-time Olympic gold medallist, stepped away from a front office job with the Florida Panthers earlier this year. He is now focusing on Well Inspired Travels, the boutique luxury travel company he manages with his wife Lauren.
Chris Pronger and wife Lauren
As much as hockey consumed his life, and as driven as he was to succeed, retirement is a welcomed change.
“It’s been really good,” says Pronger, a bruising blue-liner who played 18 years in the NHL and won a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.
All-in or All-out
“I’m a firm believer in being all-in or all-out,” he says. “Wishy-washy doesn’t work. That’s especially true when you’re investing time and money and resources into growing a business. And then ultimately providing a first class, five-star service. That’s what our clients expect. We try to exude that.”
Well Inspired Travels is a passion project for both Chris and Lauren. It is built on their intimate understanding of the demands placed on elite athletes. These are similar pressures high-level executives face when travelling for business or pleasure.
“They want their privacy,” says Chris.
Privacy is paramount
“They want to be able to take a vacation and turn their brain off and recharge their batteries. I would say that that’s the biggest component our clients deal with on a day-to-day basis, is the fame and notoriety of who they are, what they do.
“And I think for us, having been in their shoes and knowing exactly what they’re going through, we totally understand. It’s about being as discreet and private. We do not talk about our clients, and we don’t name drop. In other words we don’t do all the things that some people might.”
Their company is rooted in a deep passion for travel both Chris and Lauren developed at an early age. Lauren travelled the world with her family after her father, the late Bill Breece, was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. She was just six years old.
Breece was expected to live no more than two years after his diagnosis. He wanted to make the most of the time he had left. The family’s first trip to Europe was a restorative experience that seemed to fill him with joy and vitality. A subsequent trip to Asia also appeared to help.
“We were all certain that what kept him fighting for his life was the excitement and, ‘OK, I’m going to make this next journey,’ ” says Lauren. Her father also explored holistic treatments that helped him keep going until surgery ultimately saved his life.
“Restorative is probably one of the most powerful words for my beginning understandings of what travel can do, because of that. Seeing my father that way,” she says.
“But also, it was a time for our family to bond and heal from being pretty traumatized by what my dad was going through.”
Travel advice for pro hockey players
After they got married, Lauren and Chris Pronger travelled extensively together and with their three kids. Lauren posted about their trips on a private social media account. Many other pro athletes and their partners followed along. Several people sought her advice.
In many cases, the players were from small towns in Canada and the U.S. They had just signed their first big professional contract. Now they had money to travel, but they didn’t know where to go or where to begin. Their partners also reached out for tips about family vacations and other getaways to help with the strain professional sports can place on marriages and family life.
“We’ve essentially been through it all,” says Lauren. “And I would say that one of the biggest layers of Well Inspired Travels, and something that Chris and myself are extremely proud of, is the mentorship.
“If you look at all the layers of the onion, that’s probably the core of it. Because a lot of times the level of curating these trips that we’re doing, and the in-depth detail to make it a trip of a lifetime, you’re really becoming friends [with clients].
“Chris is obviously very highly recognized as a Hockey Hall of Famer and essentially done it all. So there’s a trust factor there. We really enjoy that mentorship time, because it’s not easy.”
Along with their staff, the Prongers create unique, individually tailored luxury travel experiences. Those trips are intended to be in-depth, reflective and transformative.
Every conceivable detail of each trip is covered. That includes the best accommodation, private charter flights, ground transportation and dozens of other VIP amenities. They’ve designed trips to Paris, Morocco, Tuscany, Thailand, Manhattan and more than 100 other destinations.
“I would become a little unglued if I wasn’t able to train the way I wanted to train and prepare the way I wanted to prepare,” says Chris, recalling his playing days. “And when we’re traveling you want to make sure you have all that.
Melding health and travel
“That really helped form and guide my vision for travel and where we’re going now with respect to our company. The health and wellness – mind, body, spirit – are so important to travel.”
Athletes need to always be in the best possible position to win. And taking care of their bodies is essential. Proper training facilities, proper diet and good mental health are all crucial.
“C-level executives and business owners are of the exact same mindset. The drive and the desire to get to the top. Then the will and determination to stay at the top and be even better,” says Chris.
“There are so many synergies amongst that group. It’s a great fit for what we do and how we do it.”
Running a travel company during a pandemic is challenging. However the Prongers use the time to refocus and connect with clients via Zoom, phone and email. They want to grow organically, attract the right kinds of clients, and serve those clients as best they can.
Five-star level of service
“It threw us for a loop to a certain degree, but it also presented us with an opportunity that I think we took full advantage of,” says Chris Pronger. “The best marketing tool we can have is word of mouth. It’s about providing the ultimate level of service and satisfaction to our customers and our clients. As we know, sports is a small world, much like business. Word of mouth creates the buzz.”