Brad Norwood founded Springdale-based Executive Golf Packages three years ago and began to build a career that drew upon his hospitality background and combined his loves of sports and travel by allowing him to plan golf vacations and experiences for others.
Since then, Norwood said he has gained a following in Northwest Arkansas and in those three years has brought 300 patrons to the annual Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga.
As the golf trips became more popular, Norwood began to get requests to plan vacations surrounding other sporting events — like the Professional Bull Riders World Finals and The Breeders’ Cup World Championships — and he obliged.
“The answer is always yes. I never turn anybody down,” he said. “I didn’t have the resources, but I went and found them.”
Norwood brought a group to the Breeders’ Cup last year, and the addition of a horse racing event to his repertoire opened a world of opportunity, he said. In July, he rebranded his company as DreamIt to offer a broader range of experiences.
In sports tourism, Norwood is tapped into a growing niche, according to an annual report from the National Association of Sports Commissions. Estimated visitor spending associated with sports events in 2016 was $10.5 billion, showing a 10% increase from 2015 and more than one-quarter growth since 2012.
Norwood designed a vacation package for this year’s Breeders’ Cup, set for November, and has sold the 10 available tickets, he said. The package included a ticket to the two-day tournament, with seats in a climate-controlled environment and food, with optional accommodations including an open bar add-on at the tournament, a three-night hotel stay, round-trip race-day ground transportation and private air travel, according to dreamitpro.com.
Norwood has packages for the National Finals Rodeo, New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys home games and college football games. His slogan is, “everything from the Super Bowl to the Kentucky Derby.” And it’s literal. The listing for DreamIt’s 2018 Super Bowl LII ticket package includes upper-level, corner seats that are close to the end zone at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, three-night accommodations at the AC Hotel Minneapolis Downtown, a pre-game party, round-trip game-day transportation and a weekend pass for the light rail, starting at $9,995 per person, according to the website. The 2018 Kentucky Derby package includes Millionaires Row tickets, with indoor dining and access to a private viewing platform, along with a three-night hotel stay for $10,400 per person.
Though all-inclusive sporting event packages are listed on his website, Norwood said he handles events by request, too, and wants to take on non-sports events, including concerts, personal vacations, or, for example, the annual hot air balloon festival in New Mexico, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
“Any experience people dream of, we can make happen,” Norwood said. “I tell people all the time: If you give me enough time and money, I can get you to the moon.”
Norwood said not all his trips are big-ticket items, that it’s a “misconception” about his business that booking with DreamIt means taking a private jet. Private air travel is often an option for clients, but Norwood said he also has helped people procure commercial flight tickets. Other individuals handle their own travel arrangements. It’s up to the customer.
Norwood isn’t just selling vacations. He’s selling unique experiences.
For example, he started this summer sponsoring a meet-and-greet “Dream Table” for the NWA Touchdown Club, presented by sports radio host Bo Mattingly. The club meets weekly, and the lineup for guest speakers this fall includes Arkansas Razorbacks head coach Bret Bielema, Chris “The Bear” Fallica of ESPN’s College GameDay, University of Arkansas athletics director Jeff Long, and former professional football player and Razorback safety, Ken Hamlin.
Through Norwood’s “Dream Table,” NWA Touchdown Club members and Norwood’s clients are given an exclusive opportunity to meet with speakers, take pictures and get autographs before each weekly luncheon.
Norwood handles outings of a broad range of sizes and distances, he said. For example, he’s arranging accommodations for a group out of Little Rock to come see the rock band KISS on Sept. 28 at the Walmart AMP in Rogers.
The common thread on trips he plans, Norwood said, is a high standard.
“I’m first class all the way. That’s the only way I do it. If you’re shopping for the best deal, price-wise, I’m not your guy. I’m all about the experience,” he said.
At the same time, Norwood asserts “90% of the time” his customers do not pay more than they would with the going rate on their own. He often buys packages from suppliers and is paid a commission. Other times, he works for a fee that is figured into the cost.
“I’m a professional and have to make a living,” he said.
In fact, Norwood cleared about $250,000 in gross revenue for 2016 and plans to grow this year.
“My expectations are to see a 40% to 60% increase,” he said.
Last year’s numbers were almost completely based on golf business, and he believes a more expansive menu will reflect on the balance sheet.
“The events are more expensive, more than just a $500 round of golf.”
Norwood is also planning to expand the scope of his customer base. Now, most of his clients are in Northwest Arkansas, but he is working with his corporate contacts to go national. He’d also like to focus more on corporate and incentive travel.
Nationwide, an estimated $127 billion was spent in 2016 on meetings, events and incentive travel, according to the U.S. Travel Association. U.S. firms spent $14 billion on incentive travel alone, according to the Incentive Research Foundation. Close to 40% of firms that made at least $1 million in revenue offered travel packages that year to motivate their people.
Norwood believes incentive travel will result in more individual business, too.
“My dream is to have 10 to 12 clients where I’m their coordinator for incentive trips that trickle down into individual trips. For example, if a CEO hears from his lead salesman: ‘Man, I didn’t qualify for the end of the year trip this year, but I still want to go there. Who put that together?’ he can say, ‘Call this guy,’” Norwood said.
ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS
Running DreamIt is all about connecting with people, “like just about everything else in life,” Norwood said.
“The relationship with my corporate contacts and vendors is what makes me reliable in my relationship with my clients,” he said. For example, Norwood is a certified Sandals specialist.
Before Norwood started his business, he worked 12 years as a teacher for ages 10 to 18 at a juvenile detention center. His move to the travel industry marked a return to a previous career path. In 2002, just out of the University of Arkansas — where he studied education and resort management — Norwood worked about a year as assistant director of recreation at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort in Destin, Fla.
Hospitality and teaching each allowed Norwood to make a difference in others’ lives, he said. “I love to help people, but it’s much more fun to help people go on trips than to help people that are in jail.
“There’s nothing better than taking these people to somewhere they’ve never been, where they’ve always wanted to go and seeing the joy they get from it, whether they’re there to entertain clients or they’re there with family and loved ones. That gives me pure joy,” Norwood said.