• Chimu Adventures is a specialist travel agency. (Supplied)
Chimu Adventures was founded by travel junkies Chad Carey and Greg Carter, who turned to friends to raise $40,000 to launch the business.
SBS Small Business Secrets
26 Feb 2017 - 5:05 PM 

When Australian expats Greg Carter and Chad Carey sat down over a beer in London 13 years ago, they could barely afford their drinks.

The pair spent most of their funds on travel, but it wasn't until that evening in 2003 that they found a way to pay the bills - without hanging up their backpacks.

"We had maybe 20 quid between us, basically no money, so we went around to friends and family to ask about starting a business and they all laughed at us at first and thought it was a joke," Greg admitted.

"Luckily a couple of our mates had money from working hard at uni, which we certainly didn't!"

They raised $40,000 and began selling trips to Peru from laptops in a London apartment, quitting their day jobs after four years to bring the venture home.

"Nine years ago is when we really thought okay this has legs and we got a tiny office in North Bondi and hired our first staff member," Greg said.

Their backpacks are now suitcases, and empty wallets have made way for an empire; the two mates have seventy staff and Chimu Adventures owns offices around the world.

"There has been a considerable expenditure involved in that, but it also gives us something that is impossible to replicate. At the Olympics, for example, we had people that knew what was happening immediately and could be in contact with our clients on site and it makes them so much more comfortable."

The company also owns two boutique hotels in South America, the latest a 25-room facility in Lima.

As well as controlling the supply chain and profiting on all elements of a client's trip, owning on-the-ground services gives them control over native workers' conditions and wages.

"We can use well-paid porters and guides and know they are in good conditions and are being paid fairly, because there are no minimum wages in South America, so this gives them more security and puts money back into their villages," Greg said.

When a customer asked for assistance getting to Antarctica in 2008, the business expanded into unchartered waters.

That first trip inspired many more, and Chimu Adventures now works with 25 vessels around Antarctica, selling hundreds of cruises to the South Pole every year.

The cost of marine fuel and of hiring the vessels makes getting 'bums on seats' crucial, to make back the cost of each expedition.

"There is a high cost and a high risk involved in these trips, so we need 80 to 120 people on each one to make sure it is viable, so that is where we do have to try to get as many people as possible."

Despite the associated costs and complications of voyaging exclusively to far-flung destinations, the founders say sticking to exotic places has insulated them from market shocks, such as a weakened Australian dollar.

"During the GFC we started expanding, we actually were growing in that time, because our key demographic is retirees, who are looking at these places as ticks on their bucket list - so they will be going even if it is 10, 20, 30 per cent more expensive now than five years ago, because that's just what they'll do."

Greg's own bucket list is far from complete; via the business' charity arm, M.A.D Projects, Chimu Adventures has micro-financed more than 700 ventures in Latin America.

"There is a lot more we want to do. We want to give back and bring something into the communities in these places. It might be as simple as a few hundred dollars buying a delivery man a bicycle, but that is how these villages function and we want to continue helping however we can."

Every year, Chimu Adventures chooses charities to sponsor on an Antartic Adventure.

In March 2017, Chimu is raising money for breast cancer charities Love Your Sister and the McGrath Foundation.

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