As a father of 5 children under 12, Joe Batal wasn't ready to give up his love of adventurous travel. But the uncertainty of renting hotel suites or vacation homes for a family of 7 became increasingly complicated.
On a whim, Batal joined the travel subscription service Inspirato. The travel company leases high-end properties from their private portfolio, in an effort to make the rental process more dependable. This summer, Batal and his family traveled to Hawaii, staying in Inspirato homes and using their private concierge to book snorkeling in Maui and golfing in Kauai. "It's helped us figure out how to continue to vacation the way we want to vacation," says Batal who pays $600 per month for access to properties in addition to the cost for each home rental.
More than just a place to stay
Batal is part of a growing number of travelers who are seeking an option between costly hotel suites and one-off home rentals—and are willing to pay for it. Travel clubs or vacation clubs strive to offer plenty of space, concierge-level services, and well-maintained rental properties that are only available to members. Much of the popularity comes down to the amenities, which are guaranteed no matter where you go, says James Henderson, chief executive of Exclusive Resorts, which has more than 350 residences and roughly 4,300 members. "Since we own the majority of our core residential portfolio, we can customize and maintain every detail from the furniture and fixtures, to the cutlery in your kitchen," says Henderson.
The offerings are meant to minimize the unknowns of renting homes directly from owners via rental websites and offer hotel-level services. Travelers pay ahead of time to get access to stays while taking advantage of other concierge offerings during their trips. Payment models vary and can rival country club style fees. At Exclusive Resorts, members pay a $150,000 initiation fee and can book properties for as many as 60 nights per year for $1,400 per night.
Despite the costs, exclusive travel clubs have made a comeback since the pandemic because they offer a level of predictability when booking 5-star beach homes, European villas, or pool-equipped homes within exclusive city neighborhoods, says Henderson, who adds that 2022 was its best year for new membership sales since 2012. This past summer, the company's 4- and 5-bedroom villas in Tuscany were the most booked. Many of the travelers are looking to travel comfortably in larger groups and are making up for lost time not traveling during the pandemic. "People have definitely migrated in the pandemic and want to travel within safe sanctuaries," he says.
An option for large groups and families
Fans say the travel club offerings also make it easier to feel confident when exploring in larger groups far from home.
Last summer Omar Shahine took a trip to South Africa with 12 family members, including his sister and her children. As a member of Exclusive Resorts, Shahine worked with the company to book luxury villas, wine tastings, and private chefs. The family was able to replicate a hotel-like experience without actually being cramped into a hotel room, he says. "A hundred percent of what we did from the moment we landed until we departed was curated for us," says the Seattle technology executive.
At Inspirato, travelers pay $600 monthly for Inspirato Club, which gives them access to vacation homes, resort suites or rooms, and luxury housing options from a variety of partners at an additional cost. Those who pay for Inspirato Pass, which costs $2,500 per month, have the booking privileges without additional costs. Those with a Pass membership have no limit on the number of trips they can take each year but need to wait until checking out from one home before booking their next trip.
Homes include daily housekeeping and can be as large as 8 bedrooms, with amenities including game rooms, pools, access to golf courses, and plenty of outdoor living spaces, says chief executive Brent Handler. This year, the most popular destinations include Vail, Colorado, Los Cabos in Mexico, and Turks & Caicos. When booking, travelers work with concierges who know their preferences. "Those relationships are very important to our members," he adds.
A home away from home
Sam Walker, a retired beer executive who volunteers in public service says he's now flexible enough to travel several months each year. Renting larger homes allows him to invite his adult son and his family. "In the past, I would go on rental websites and try to find cool places to stay, but there was no quality assurance to that," says Walker, 64, who is based in Denver.
For an entry fee of $300,000 he bought into a company that allows members to book nights over an entire portfolio of properties over the course of 10 years. Members can travel a minimum of 15 nights per year, with maintenance expenses totaling roughly $16,000, which are shared among the members. At the end of the 10-year period, the company sells properties from its holdings and a portion of any potential profit may go back to the members. "I like the idea of actually owning something and potentially sharing in the return," Walker says.
This year, Walker stayed on Hawaii's big island in a 4-bedroom casita-style home with a group of 7 that included his sister, his adult son, and his son's fiancée. The home allowed the group to do different activities while gathering for dinners at home and enjoying each other's company. "We are homebodies—even when we travel," he says.