A members-only model is helping restaurants, luxury travel survive

Phil and Erin Lockwood never imagined their family would be traveling more during the coronavirus pandemic. But since joining the vacation club Inspirato last September, the parents of three have swapped one annual trip to, say, a Disney theme park for villa rentals in Cabo San Lucas and Costa Rica.

Inspirato LLC’s new subscription model, starting at $2,500 a month, made it an easy decision for the Lockwoods, who split time between Denver and Coronado, Calif. “Booking a trip usually came with an overwhelming feeling of ‘Where do I start?’ but now it’s like a shopping spree,” says Phil, a 47-year-old marketing agency owner. He is currently prioritizing single-family homes with private pools, full kitchens, and grocery shopping services to avoid sharing amenities with other travelers.

While the rest of the tourism industry hangs on for dear life, private travel clubs are on the rise. Booking activity at Inspirato is 30% higher year over year. Its competitors, Exclusive Resorts LLC and Essentialist, reported record-breaking membership sales in 2020.

“We budget our lifestyles around subscriptions to gyms, Amazon Prime, Netflix,” says Sean O’Neill, an editor at the travel industry trade site Skift. “People want to travel. Give them a subscription and help plan it, and it’s very appealing.”

For these purveyors, locking in clients with a recurring fee brings much-needed cash flow and stability in uncertain times, while consumers get a trustworthy partner in a familiar business model.

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