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Tourism in a Bubble – Membership Has Its Advantages

A couple on vacation on a lonely beach

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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