Enlivening Exclusive Resorts: Moving Forward in the Destination Club Industry
Bovey Castle, England
As with many great ideas, this one started small, and from unpleasant, stressful experiences. Exclusive Resorts was originally founded seven years ago, by Brad and Brent Handler, two brothers who had consistently experienced classic vacation dilemmas with their own families. When traveling with children, grandparents and friends to high-end resorts and hotels, they experienced the same problems again and again: not enough room, no kitchens, child-unfriendly spaces, and the distinct impression from some hotel staffs that larger families with children were noisome rather than welcome.
At the same time, a new luxury travel idea was already in the air. That year, 2002, a company called Private Retreats, based in Telluride, Colorado, was launched to address the same vacation dilemma. It was called a destination club, a new idea with a model that combined two vastly different yet already successful industries: the country club and the fractional jet business. From the country club model came the idea of paying a membership deposit and annual dues, and from the fractional jet world came the idea of paying the dues and deposit in relation to the amount of time the potential member wished to use, so there was a range of pricing, usually from one month to three, or more or less. But in both cases, the member did not own or invest in the club, or the homes, instead he or she paid to use, and so it was called a non-equity club.
Los Cabos, Mexico
Soon after Exclusive Resorts began operation in 2003, the sales team received an email from a prospective member whose name was Steve Case, asking for more information on the burgeoning club. They initially thought this was a practical joke, but it turned out the email was from the same Steve Case who had built AOL. He had experienced the same vacation dilemma, and was intrigued by the simplicity, scalability, and potential of the model. He eventually invested, then became majority owner (and recently, Chairman). Even back then, he saw the power that the Exclusive Resorts concept might have to change the way families enjoy time together – and sensed it held so much promise, so much life.
Lake Tahoe, California
Lake Tahoe, California
What Steve Case, and many others saw, was a new vacation possibility that eventually became the Exclusive Resorts vacation experience: seamless, individualized designs for members and their families, combining well-parsed ingredients of sanctuary/adventure with retreat/social gathering. Perhaps a little more of one aspect for families with adventurous children, a little more of another for multi-generational families, all balanced in multi-million dollar residences, in significant destinations. In addition, Member Services Managers are assigned to each member family, so that in addition to acquiring concert/theatre tickets, making dinner reservations, and coordinating private chefs to cook at the members' residence – whatever is wanted or needed – the club also became a trusted resource for introducing new experiences to the families.
After a mere seven years, a very short time in the grand scheme of business life, it is arguably the best known destination club in the world. With 3,500 members, and just having celebrated its 100,000th vacation, it is a continuing success by anyone's standards. It also stands apart in many ways from others in the industry, which in recent years has suffered growing pains from well-publicized bankruptcies, including Tanner and Haley (the club that the original Private Retreats morphed into). Exclusive Resorts has avoided these difficulties due to the strength of it model combined with a dedicated and impassioned group of people from both the real estate, travel and member-centric hospitality fields.
Kohala Coast, HI
Today, the destination club industry is emerging from 2009, AKA the Annus Horribilis, where many clubs hung on by a thread, or collapsed altogether. Exclusive Resorts, however, survived. Though they did sell fewer memberships, they expanded their real estate portfolio by opening 49 new residences at Miraval, near Tucson, Sea Island, Georgia, Kapalua Bay, Hawaii and Lake Tahoe. They also brought members to Antarctica, on one of their signature Once In A Lifetime experiences. And most recently, Exclusive Resorts created a new strategic partnership with the Americas Group, as they work together to create greater connectivity with affluent travelers in Latin America.
Real De Mar, Mexico
"Exclusive Resorts started as a small, family oriented club, and now with our Once in a Lifetime trip to Australia in 2010 we'll have brought our members to all seven continents," says Jeff Hartman, Senior Vice President. "No matter where our members travel with us, we strive to fulfill the promise behind our motto There's No Place Like Together. We create special times and places, helping make memories that become family legacies. That's our mission, and we see it as both priceless and timeless."