Destination clubs: Departures deluxe

Written by ProfitGuide Staff

Picture yourself stretched out on the balcony of a Miami oceanfront condo, soaking up the April sun. Then, bathe for a summer day in the antique comforts and culture of an old Tuscan villa. Next, imagine a snowswept Central Park and the bustle of Christmas shoppers as viewed from your 5th Avenue apartment. How about enjoying all three experiences, not in a lifetime or a decade but in the same year? Without the upfront costs of ownership or the restrictions of time-sharing?

This could all be yours through a luxury destination club.

Relatively new players in the travel industry, destination clubs are modelled on the country club concept. Members pay an initiation fee plus annual dues to access a club’s portfolio of private homes and resorts. The five-star accommodations appeal to travellers who crave luxe amenities and services but don’t want to saddle themselves with the limited location and schedule of a time-share or the responsibility of owning a vacation home.

“People want the comfort and consistency that second homes in resort areas have traditionally provided. However, a million-dollar second home that sits empty 11 months of the year doesn’t make sense,” says Chad Garrod, VP of marketing strategy and planning at Vancouver-based Intrawest Corp., which runs Club Intrawest. “Destination clubs break the real estate into smaller pieces, making membership affordable. People also want the confidence of [booking] a vacation with the option of skipping the research that accompanies travel to new places.”

The rising popularity of destination clubs mirrors the rapid growth of the travel industry, which is being driven by baby boomers. These “young seniors” have cash and are seeking high-quality holidays, says Christiane Théberge, CEO of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies. “They are mostly free from family obligations, are highly educated and they also live a very stressful life, most of them. They want to give themselves a treat.”

From its launch in 2002, Exclusive Resorts of Denver, Colo. has grown from 100 members to 3,000 and has a long list of potential members waiting to join, says Heather Musselman, VP of corporate communications. Virtually non-existent a few years ago, today there are over 25 clubs to choose from, most of which are U.S.-based.

The price of admission? Depending on the club and membership package, you’ll pay an initiation fee or deposit ranging from $30,000 to well over $1 million, plus annual dues of $1,000 to more than $65,000. This buys 10 to 60 days per year at destinations around the world. You choose the dates, locations and size of the accommodations. You can also expect assistance with trip planning, conciergeservices and access to amenities such as spas, golf courses and fine dining. Fancy a cabernet franc or lobster tails for dinner? Some clubs will do your grocery shopping before you arrive.

Calgary stockbroker Andrew Judson has been an Exclusive Resorts member for four years. His family has used its membership to visit Florence, Maui and other locations in the club’s $1-billion portfolio, often bringing along extended family.

Judson stays at the club’s apartments in New York and London when travelling for business, and has taken clients golfing in Scottsdale, Ariz. “The properties have all been fantastic,” he says. “They look brand new, they’re extremely well taken care of and the staff do a tremendous job.”

Judson chose a destination club over other options for the chance to travel widely. “[Exclusive Resorts has] managed growth effectively and maintains good accessibility, even though the number of members has grown,” says Judson, who is such a believer that his family recently purchased a second membership for his wife’s use. He also plans to try the club’s “Once in a Lifetime Experiences,” whichtake members to exotic locales such as Bhutan, Patagonia and Antarctica.

Canadian-run Club Intrawest appeals to active individuals who love mountains, beaches and golfing. It offers eight resorts, including digs in Whistler, B.C., Palm Desert, Calif. and Zihuatanejo, Mexico, plus access to cruises, bike tours and other vacations through a variety of partners.

If you’re not sure that destination clubs are for you, start small. “My suggestion to new members is to get started with a $30,000 to $50,000 membership and enjoy it for a year or two,” says Garrod. “If you find yourself needing more vacation at our luxury clubs, the membership can be increased with a simple phone call.”

Wherever you land, know what you’re buying. If you quit, some clubs refund 80% to 100% of your deposit, others require you sell your membership. Be aware that you may not always get the accommodations you’d like when you want them, especially around traditional holidays. Still, with multiple properties to choose from, your biggest hardship may be choosing between skiing in Vail, Colo. or soaking up the sun in Turks & Caicos.

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