During the past decade the traditional retail bricks and mortar travel agencies, once considered gateways to the world began to disappear from the landscape. Yet there has been a resurgence in the marketplace concerning retail outreach by travel related businesses. Liberty Travel, a mid-priced travel agent and tour operator recently opened a flagship location close to Grand Central Station in Manhattan. Relais & Chateaux, a luxury consortium of member hotels and restaurants operates their Maison des Relais & Chateaux in Midtown Manhattan; a boutique set within the base of an office tower offering guests a cozy sitting area, a demonstration kitchen and a reservation agent available for booking member hotels, lodges and restaurants around the world sitting at an antique desk equipped with a computer and land-line telephone.
Now it is Denver’s turn and locally based Destination Club Inspirato is literally reshaping the service orientation of the luxury travel experience. It has been almost 4 years since I had written about the launch of Inspirato (link below). Since that article was published, the US economy has climbed out of the worst recession since The Depression, airlines are once again flying at full capacity and a lot has happened at Inspiratio since their launch in January 2011. With the opening of Inspirato’s new Member Experience Center within the Cherry Creek Shopping Center I had the opportunity to enjoy a Question and Answer Session with Founder and CEO Brent Handler:
Joseph Sobin (JS): At present, how many vacation residences does Inspirato offer its members worldwide?
Brent Handler (BH): We have more than 360 vacation options – including more than 240 Signature Residences – in 85 destinations around the world. Our Signature Residences average more than 3,500 square feet and the average value is more than $3 million. Members also enjoy expertly curated Signature Experiences all around the world and Signature Stays with iconic hotels and resorts.
JS: Inspirato literally changed the Destination Club model overnight by offering the Destination Club experience with fees which are a fraction of the traditional Destination Club Model. Coming out of the recession, I assume this model was a true home run?
BH: Absolutely. Inspirato has been growing at a tremendous rate since we launched in January 2011, which is a clear indication that we are filling a need that discerning travelers were hungry for. And, you are right that we truly revolutionized the destination club model. Inspirato was the first club to lease rather than purchase its vacation residences, which preserves the high quality of the destination club experience while avoiding the six-figure, upfront fees previously common in the industry.
Our members pay a one-time Initiation Fee, plus an Annual Membership Fee and then can travel as much or as little as they like, paying only for the nights they use. As part of their membership, members enjoy our hallmark Inspirato Signature Service, including the services of a Personal Vacation Advisor to help them plan their travel and the services of an onsite Destination Concierge to ensure all their needs are taken care of once they arrive at one of our homes.
Unlike online vacation rental agents who simply broker third-party properties, Inspirato fully manages and controls each Inspirato Signature Residence for the exclusive use of our members, investing an average of $50,000 in high-end furnishings, linens, kitchens and other upgrades to ensure each home in or portfolio meets our high standards. That certainty and reliability combined with our personalized service is what keeps our members renewing each year.
JS: With Inspirato based in Denver and with local membership exceeding 500 families, how does the new retail location at The Cherry Creek Shopping Center enhance amenities for Inspirato members.
BH: The Cherry Creek member experience center will serve as a clubhouse of sorts for our Denver-based Inspirato members. They’ll be able to meet face-to-face with their own Personal Vacation Advisors, explore destinations for their next Inspirato vacation and attend special members-only events. It also allows us to showcase our growing portfolio of vacation residences, as well as our personalized service, in a unique environment.
JS: Inspirato offers its members vacation residences in the Rockies including the major ski resorts of Colorado, options in Hawaii and Mexico. Any new and/or unique destinations i.e. urban, up and coming, in consideration?
BH:We are constantly adding new properties. In fact, just this week we released 19 new vacation options, including four(4) four-bedroom villas in St. Martin, French West Indies and two new beachfront, three-bedroom homes in Bahia Beach – both new destinations – as well as new Signature Residences in existing destinations like Dorado Beach, Puerto Rico and Vail. We also introduced Signature Stays in Nevis, Big Sur and Snowmass Village.
Looking forward, we’re looking to add more depth to our portfolio in destinations like South Florida and Hawaii. One our most unique offerings, however, are our Signature Experiences, which really allow members to get outside of their comfort zones. Right now we have Signature Experiences planned in Antarctica, Bhutan and Morocco, just to name a few.
JS: As an American Express card holder I have received promotional materials directly from Inspirato. How has your partnership with Amex been worked out and do you have other partnerships our readers should know about and/or in the pipeline that you can discuss?
BH: Our partnership with American Express has been fantastic. American Express is a brand known around the world for their commitment to luxury, service and reliability. Those are the exact same values we aspire to everyday at Inspirato which is what made the partnership so natural from the beginning and what makes it so powerful today. Our club name “Inspirato with American Express” allows Inspirato to benefit from American Express’ global reach and universal brand recognition while American Express is able to introduce the destination club concept to Cardmembers and provide them special Inspirato membership offers. It’s been a huge win-win. We also have partnerships with other leading luxury and travel brands including Solairus Aviation, ClubCorp, Savoya, Luggage Forward and Core: Club. And, we have another big partnership in the works. Stay tuned for that announcement in the upcoming weeks.
JS: The world of travel is changing with one hotel operator testing acceptance of electronic butlers. Inspirato has always been known and respected for personal service from membership orientation to trip planning to post travel questionnaires; is personalized service in jeopardy or do we need to embrace as the future?
BH: On the contrary, I think there needs to be a return to customer service. At Inspirato, we are working to perfect the art of anticipatory customer service, providing a customer experience that meets even the unexpressed needs of our members. The club-based model allows us to created personalized, customized experiences for our members based on their individual preferences. Every member is assigned a dedicated Personal Vacation Advisor to answer questions, help plan vacations and make suggestions to enhance the travel experience. Once members are in-residence, Inspirato Onsite Destination Concierges take care of their every need, including pre-arrival grocery shopping, arranging restaurant and activity reservations and serving as a local resource. And the club gets better the more members use it because we continue to gather information about a members’ likes and dislikes, preferences and interests. That means that every vacation gets better.
JS: Beyond Cherry Creek Mall, Inspirato is opening additional locations in Vail, California and other destinations. How will you measure the success of these venues?
BH: Our focus in these membership experience centers is on educating consumers about what it means to be an Inspirato member, and inspiring them to embrace vacations as a vital aspect of a life well lived. That’s why these experience centers are staffed with Personal Vacation Advisors who will help consumers explore first-hand the many services and benefits of membership. Our mission as a company is to change the way family and friend experience the world together, and our experience centers will showcase as we deliver on that promise.
JS: One last question: Where do you see Inspirato in 10 years?
BH: We have extremely happy members, so we are clearly doing something right, but we can always get better. Our goal is to further disrupt the global luxury travel industry by continuing to be innovative and focusing on providing exceptional service and enhanced value for our growing membership. I am a guy who dreams big and never stops pushing. So you can expect big things ahead for Inspirato and our members.
The Inspirato member experience center will focus on educating visitors and thus prospective members on the attributes of being an Inspirato member and inspiring them to embrace vacations as a vital aspect of a life well lived. To facilitate this educational and marketing program, the center will be staffed by Inspirato Personal Vacation Advisors, the true front-line of personnel who interact with members concerning vacation opportunities, amenities and associated concierge services.
JS: Brent, thank you for your time and we are looking forward to your additional partnership announcements.