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Tourism in a Bubble – Membership Has Its Advantages

Since March of this year, lockdowns and border shutdowns have devastated the travel industry. Many airlines, hotel chains, and even Airbnb have had to make serious adjustments. But not every company in the travel and tourism sector is necessarily hurting. In fact, membership tourism is actually thriving. With a premium now being placed on traveling safely, several premier travel memberships are doing quite well. And it looks like more companies are jumping on board.

Unlike routine travel, membership tourism caters to a select group of individuals willing to pay a premium. For members, an array of services is provided that makes them feel more secure and safe. Prior to COVID, traveling safely was certainly attractive. But today, this is one feature that ranks near the top of the list. And given that so many other routine forms of travel have limitations and inconveniences, it’s really not surprising.

“We signed members in August that have been in our database as prospects 10 years ago and decided now, at this time, they wanted the security and trust that we can offer.” – James Henderson, CEO, Exclusive Resorts

Membership Tourism – A Unique Niche

As the name may imply, membership tourism refers to elite travel clubs that only cater to their select members. Usually, membership requires some type of initiation fee, which can be rather hefty. Likewise, members are usually required to pay an annual fee, or they must commit to a certain amount of travel. In return, they receive special services and amenities that routine travelers don’t enjoy. Dedicated concierge services, flexible cancellations, private air travel, and access to many premium activities are among these inclusions. Some even offer private medical services if required.

A couple on a bench in the middle of nowhere
Membership tourism means travel in a bubble, thereby limiting exposure to COVID.

Naturally, these types of membership tourism businesses provide luxurious experiences for their members. Not only do they enjoy traveling safely, but they also enjoy traveling in style. Interestingly, the types of businesses in this sector are somewhat varied. Some own dozens of properties throughout the world where their members can travel. Others provide opportunities for exclusive community memberships in a single destination. And still, others have more dynamic travel that caters to their specific member’s travel wishes. Regardless of the specific model, however, all businesses offering membership tourism seem to be doing rather well.

“COVID has taught us, if nothing else, life is short. Instead of waiting to retire in five years, do it now … build your dream home!” – Brittanny Havard, Director of Marketing, Alpine Mountain Ranch & Club

More Than Just Traveling Safely

Within a couple of months after lockdowns first began, it was apparent that membership tourism would be in demand. Those who insisted on traveling prefer to be traveling safely. Therefore, cleanliness, security, and health protections were features that these travelers wanted. Some even chose to play it real safe with virtual travel experiences. But the membership tourism business provides much more that attracted customers. For one, these clubs and resorts ease the burden of planning. With all the restrictions and cancellations policies in place at the time, this was hugely attractive as well. By reducing the level of travel uncertainty, these travel clubs had a major advantage over other travel offerings.

In essence, membership tourism provides privatized travel. Exclusive destinations and experiences are offered to members only. Private air travel, access to elite golf courses, convenient ski slope access, and many other options are routinely included. At the same time, most clubs are truly exclusive with many being by invitation only. For better or worse, many saw this as an additional layer of protection and security in the age of COVID. In essence, membership travel clubs provided a type of protective bubble that eased many individuals’ anxieties.

“There’s a desire for more space, professional management and cleanliness standards that far exceed the norm. Right now, current owners want to buy more: more units, more time, bigger accommodations.”- Jason Gamel, President and CEO, American Resort Development Association

Membership Tourism Businesses in Demand

Several companies have now entered into this sector including the well-known Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard in L.A. Soon, it will only accommodate members who will join by invitation only. But many other businesses are currently in high demand since the pandemic struck. The following are among those doing well as the demand for traveling safely and securely has increased.

  • Exclusive Resorts – The membership tourism company has over 400 destinations in its portfolio. Likewise, in addition to luxury and exclusivity, it offers a number of private travel experiences. But its membership fees aren’t inexpensive. Initiation fees for Exclusive Resorts are around $150,000, and members must commit to 15 days of bookings per year.
  • Manifest Travel – This high-end membership tourism club targets more of a small group type of travel. This is naturally appealing if traveling safely is a focus. Tours are arranged on private planes, and membership costs $2500 annually. Likewise, the average price of these trips usually is around $6000.
  • Alpine Mountain Ranch and Club – This exclusive members’ club is located in Steamboat Springs on a 1200-acre ranch. Membership is acquired by purchasing a home within the community and participating in a tiered annual membership plan. The average cost of a home at Alpine is around $5 million. And members receive exclusive access to premier golf courses and ski slope access as well as 5-star dining.
  • Moonlight Basin – This is another destination membership club located at Big Sky, Montana. Homeownership in the community as well as an initiation fee of $100,000 allows access to all amenities offered. In addition, there is an additional $13,000 annual dues required as well.

A Temporary Fad or a Lasting Trend?

Given the costs involved, the chance that membership tourism will be a lasting trend isn’t likely. But even before the pandemic, many businesses in this sector were thriving. The recent boost stems from the value that people are currently placing on traveling safely. Some are even taking flights to nowhere just to travel. But that doesn’t mean these members travel clubs won’t continue to do well long-term. Over the long haul, these travel opportunities will continue to appeal to a niche consumer class. But for now, membership tourism is enjoying the ride. They certainly weren’t happy about COVID. But they’ve been able to introduce their offerings to many new travelers who might have never considered them before.

 

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The Modern State of Telehealth Services – Pandemic Catalyzed, Practicality Driven

Telehealth services were effectively a non-thing a couple of decades ago. Some academic centers provided remote health services to some rural areas. In 2011, only a third of hospitals even offered telehealth services in some capacity. But today, more than 80 percent now provide these services either part-time or full-time. And that number is increasing quickly, especially in the midst of a pandemic.

You might suspect that the COVID-19 pandemic can account for much of this growth. Indeed, it has played a role. But that role is one that has been educational more than anything. Even before virtual remote care was seen as a means to avoid coronavirus infection, telehealth benefits were being recognized. Many healthcare providers and patients alike were already on-board. But now, having been forced to seek medical care online, increasing numbers of patients and clinicians are seeing telehealth benefits. And several innovative companies are attending to this growing demand.

“When facing any health crisis, including this pandemic, we’re uniquely positioned to understand the consumer and patient needs and how to address them…Utilization of telemedicine for virtual visits through MinuteClinic is up about 600% compared to the first quarter of 2019.” Larry Merlo, CEO of CVS

Telehealth Benefits for Patients

For years, specific segments of the population have appreciated the telehealth benefits. Those in rural areas or who need specialized care may have to travel long distances to receive the appropriate attention. Telehealth, however, allows technology to connect patients and providers virtually, which often avoids this travel time. Likewise, there’s no sitting in a waiting room waiting for an appointment. When the provider is ready, the remote examination takes place. This is the type of convenience many patients now recognize.

Some telehealth apps on a phone
Telehealth benefits include convenience and–of course–lowered exposure to pesky viruses one might encounter in a doctor’s office.

Naturally, one of the major telehealth benefits is the avoidance of exposure to communicable diseases like COVID. But at the same time, telehealth services are enabling better care in other areas for patients. Specifically, the ability to monitor chronic disease or post-operative care at home can be performed virtually. Some companies are now expanding telehealth services into mental healthcare as well. As a result, remote virtual care is providing healthcare access to some populations that were previously limited. And in a much more convenient way.

“Our focus is on creating real solutions for the mental health crisis and these new offerings will allow Mindleap to have international reach and affect more lives during these times of crisis.” – Nikolai Vassev, Founder of Mindleap

Telehealth Benefits for Providers

Though often overlooked, there are a number of telehealth benefits for providers as well. By seeing patients virtually, office staff generally have less of a burden. Less office space is required, and physicians can even choose to address issues remotely while mobile or at home. This not only allows providers to be more efficient, but it also reduces the amount of travel they need to do as well. Just as patients are enjoying the Come-to-Me Economy with telehealth services, so are providers. As a result, they are able to render care faster and more efficiently.

Naturally, cost is a big issue in healthcare, and many tout telehealth services as being cost-effective. For several years, many insurance providers refused to pay for virtual care, or they paid at a reduced rate. Today, however, the vast majority of states now have parity laws requiring payers to accommodate telehealth services. With this in place, it is now clear that more advanced telehealth platforms are helping providers be more cost-efficient. Plus, the reduction in-office visits, emergency room visits, and hospitalizations are saving the system as a whole. These cost savings will ultimately be the biggest driver of change in telehealth adoption.

“There is no doubt that we are seeing positive momentum and that awareness has increased. Telemedicine is now a household term.” – Lewis Levy, MD, Chief Medical Officer of Teladoc

Movers and Shakers in Telehealth Services

While several innovative companies now exist in the telemedicine and telehealth sector, Teladoc is becoming well-known. Most telehealth companies are seeing double-digit growth, but Teledoc exceeds this substantially. In the last year, the company reported a 203% year-on-year growth in telehealth visits for its clients. Likewise, Teledoc enjoys a 90% retention rate among its clients. It also has reported an 85% revenue growth annually as well. In a global market expected to be worth $185 billion by 2026, Teledoc is leading the way.

Teledoc has several notable clients. For one, CVS utilizes Teledoc telehealth platform for its MinuteClinic. Likewise, Teledoc has rapidly advanced its footprint through a variety of acquisitions. The most notable one as of late is that of Livongo Health Inc. Livongo brings a more robust AI-data-driven platform to the table that is actionable and offers personalized care. It also has greater experience in specific chronic disease care like diabetes. And it too has a high client retention rate at 94%. These companies combined are expected to advance telehealth benefits to an even greater scale.

Teladoc has also recently expressed the importance of serving mental health patients through its platforms. But they are not alone. Mydecine Innovation Group Inc. has a robust mental health app designed for telehealth services. Called Mindleap Health, a number of telehealth services are offered including several 30-day transformation programs. These range from substance use to mood disorders, and they are providing telehealth benefits to an expanding population. As these care options grow in telehealth services, there’s little doubt telehealth will become an established mode of patient care.

A Panoply of Virtual Care Offerings

Within the healthcare sector, a number of innovative changes are occurring. Several technology companies are exploring AI data-driven strategies to improve healthcare outcomes. Some of these actually involve using data insights to better connect patients and doctors. Within the telehealth sector, a number of companies are offering a spectrum of platforms as well. These range from portable technologies and mobile health apps to live video-chats and digital data transmissions. The advantages of these telehealth services are increasingly becoming apparent. And oddly enough, we have the pandemic to thank for this, at least in part.

 

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Robot Judges and Algorithmic Bail – The Digitalization of the Justice System Is Here

Politicians on both sides of the aisle have encouraged legislation guiding prison reforms. It’s well known that many prisons suffer from overcrowding. Likewise, state budgets often suffer from the cost demands incarceration hold. In addition, the judicial process is often slow adding insult to injury. And there’s always that risk that a false verdict might be awarded. Given these issues, some are advocating for artificial intelligence in the courtroom to be used. And some are even encouraging the use of a robot judge.

This may sound far-fetched, but in reality, the digitalization of the courtroom is already here. In some states, money bail is being replaced with AI algorithms to determine risk. In other countries, a robot judge already decided more routine judicial cases. Without a doubt, there are a number of advantages to having artificial intelligence in the courtroom. But there are likely to be some notable risks as well. Within this brave new world, determining how these new technologies can best serve justice will likely be a major challenge.

“In a legal setting, AI will usher in a new, fairer form of digital justice whereby human emotion, bias and error will become a thing of the past. Hearings will be quicker and the innocent will be far less likely to be convicted of a crime they did not commit.” – Terence Mauri, Founder of London-based policy institute, Hack Future Lab

All Rise for the Robot Judge

Robotics is being used in a variety of settings today. Logistics and delivery robotics are nearly essential to be competitive in many sectors. Surgical robotics is also advancing rapidly. But a robot judge is not something many people saw coming. Despite this, these AI machines are already being utilized in some countries to handle judicial cases. Specifically, China has been employing artificial intelligence in the courtroom since 2017. A robot judge is used to hear specific cases such as trade disputes, e-commerce liability claims, and copyright infringements. To date, over 3 million cases have been handled by a robot judge in China.

A robot holding the scales of justice
An artificial intelligence in the courtroom certainly means more impartiality!

In many cases, these types of cases never actually appear before an actual robot judge. For many, the artificial intelligence in the courtroom consists of a process where opposing sides upload legal documents. The AI device then analyzes the information and determines a verdict based on law and facts. Naturally, this saves a tremendous amount of time and human interaction. Backlogs of cases have declined as a result, which makes this type of system efficient and economical. But these types of cases are much more straightforward than others. Those involving human sentencing and verdicts are of greater concern.

Recently, reports in the United Kingdom suggest that a similar system should be in place with the next 50 years. A robot judge will be able to determine guilt or innocence using a variety of techniques. Data involving body language, hand gestures, eye movements, body temperature, and speech will be used in reaching a verdict. Reportedly, the artificial intelligence in the courtroom should be within 99% accuracy in its determinations. Here again, the time and costs saved in such a process make this system quite appealing. But when dealing with human rights and freedoms, not everyone is on board.

“Over the past few years, people have begun to understand what risk assessment tools are. And the more we explore them, the more we realize they’re a huge danger to the goals of the bail reform movement.” – John Raphling, Senior Researcher on Criminal Justice, Human Rights Watch

Artificial Intelligence and Bail Determinations

While a robot judge is not yet determining more serious crimes, judicial systems are starting to go down this path. We have already seen digital systems being used in COVID. Currently, in California, citizens will vote this November on a state referendum concerning a change in the bail system. Instead of traditional monetary bail, a risk assessment tool is being proposed to replace it. This algorithmic system involves the use of artificial intelligence in the courtroom to determine a person’s risk. Based on demographics, background, and criminal history, it is decided whether or not release is granted while awaiting trial. If the results are favorable, the accused is released. If not, they remain incarcerated.

The reason that many favor this use of artificial intelligence in the courtroom involves discriminations. Current monetary bail systems can discriminate on the basis of poverty. This places some individuals at risk of losing their jobs, home, and children’s custody if they cannot afford bail. Of course, there are always bail bondsmen, but these have costs down the road. In reality, some simply confess to crimes they didn’t commit simply to avoid the potential repercussions. Because of this, many advocate for the algorithmic system.

Unfortunately, artificial intelligence in the courtroom for risk assessment has potential flaws as well. Because these systems used demographics and past data to make these determinations, inherent biases exist. Higher rates of African-Americans are incarcerated than Whites, which could make an algorithm more likely to discriminate based on race. If so, then this will be no better than the existing monetary bail system. In fact, it could be worse. These expose the types of problems the judicial system faces when employing artificial intelligence in the courtroom.

“The idea that people are inherently risky needs to change. The problem with risk assessment tools is that everyone is ranked as having some kind of risk.” – Meghan Guevara, Executive Partner, Pretrial Justice Institute

A Major Work in Progress

If the reports from the United Kingdom are correct, it’s a good thing that we have 50 years to sort things out. Reports may suggest high levels of accuracy in determining truth and guilt. But in reality, these anticipated results may fall short. Likewise, judicial leniency in appropriate cases is an inherent part of the system that a robot judge may not grasp. And existing uses of artificial intelligence in the courtroom for release risk assessments are not ideal. In New Jersey, these algorithms have reduced incarceration levels for those awaiting trial by 27 percent. But it has not changed racial disparity data at all. This supports the notion that these systems can have inherent biases because of the way they determine results. Regardless, efficiency and cost savings will likely push these technologies forward in the courtroom. Hopefully, over the next several decades, we can sort out just how the digitalization of the courtroom will take place.

 

Want to make 2021 a better year than 2020? Then check out PROJECT BOLD LIFE: The Proven Formula to Take on Challenges and Achieve Happiness and Success.