While not many make the leap from backpacker to travel professional, Chad Clark of Chad Clark Travel Ventures in Phoenix, Ariz., is one who did.
In fact, it was a backpacking trip that inspired Clark to create a travel business focusing on the type of unique, authentic and local experiences he encountered on that trip.
In addition, Clark has a rather unique business model, developed in part from what he learned during a previous career in sales.
Clark originally aspired to be a television executive like his father, who worked for ABC TV for 40 years.
An internship at a radio station in Phoenix launched him on his way to a radio career that may have mirrored his father’s, if he hadn’t taken a five-week backpacking trip through Europe at the end of that internship.
In spite of successful radio jobs in Phoenix and Los Angeles, Clark could never quite get that travel experience out of his mind.
He recalls sitting in his stockbroker’s office one day, listening to the man’s eventual plans to get a villa in Italy.
“I was 27 years old and said, ‘I want to travel around the world,’ and he said, ‘What’s keeping you from doing this right now?’ I was not married and had no responsibilities except a car lease,” said Clark.
So a year later he took off for another backpacking trip—this one a 15-month, round-the-world trip in which he experienced everything travel has to offer, including playing golf at all the British open golf courses and participating in as many sports and other activities as he could squeeze in.
Clark did return to media work, launched Fox Sports Arizona in 1996 and ran its ad sales department for four years before joining AOL. He later started and sold a vending company and worked on business development projects for a design firm.
A fateful suggestion
But a friend suggested a career in luxury travel, and the owner of Camelback Odyssey Travel, with which he is now affiliated as an independent contractor, invited him to attend Virtuoso Travel Week.
“The one challenge for me as I was looking around the rooms [at Virtuoso Travel Week] was trying to figure out how they were making a living off of a 10% commission. I couldn’t wrap my arms around that,” Clark said.
His experience in sales, however, compelled him to look deeper.
A different service fee model
“We [Clark and his wife] learned what financial advisors were charging their clients and their work is very similar in terms of the level of service, so we developed a service charge,” Clark said.
His service charge, however, differs from a per trip fee.
Instead Clark offers to take care of all of his clients’ travel arrangements for an annual fee of $10,000. About 15 percent of his clients pay that fee; the rest are charged on an a la carte basis.
Clark has created another innovative strategy—he has trademarked--called the Chad Clark Travel Ventures Certified Experiences.
The experiences include anything from a dive bar to a Michelin restaurant to a sea kayaking experience in New Zealand. They are things that Clark has experienced that he wants to share.
Once Clark decides to certify something, he sends the provider a letter and logo they can use, then asks them to submit a photo holding the logo which he posts on social media.
The certification program highlights the type of places Clark experienced as a backpacker.
Although his clients – typically 50- to 70-year old CEOs and high and ultra-high net worth families and individuals—are far from the backpacking crowd, they too want travel experiences that are unique, authentic and local.
Clark’s goal is to make sure they get them.