Andria Gutierrez is a marketing executive in Lake Tahoe, California, who loves to travel – but doesn’t love the time that goes into researching vacations. “When I was younger, I planned all my own trips,” she says. “But now that I own a business, I just don’t have the spare hours anymore.” By Devorah Lev-Tov
That’s why she recently joined the Club (from $24 per month/INR 1,783) from Allcall, which offers personalised itineraries and exclusive deals to members. She’s already taken three trips via the travel club, including a multi-state ski trip and a vacation in Baja California, Mexico. “The team is incredibly helpful and responsive,” Gutierrez says. “They make the planning process so efficient.”
While some established outfits like Exclusive Resorts (from Rs 1,11,45,300 or $150,000 for a 10-year membership) and Wheels Up (from $17,500/INR 13,00,285 per year) have catered to the ultra-wealthy for years, a number of new travel clubs are opening their doors – at just the moment when many Americans are taking their first big trips since the start of the pandemic. One reason is, of course, a new obsession with safety.
“Health has become the paramount concern of our members,” says Melissa Biggs Bradley, founder of Indagare (from $395/INR 29,349 per year), which plans and books trips for its members. “We have a ton of information on COVID protocols, and the team takes care of understanding those, even as they change all the time.”
There are other factors at play. “I’d travelled independently for decades,” says Suzy Kellems Dominik, an artist from New York City. But hearing about an opportunity to visit Modena, Italy, with acclaimed chef Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana was enough to convince her to join Prior (from $249/INR 18,501 per year), a company that started out in 2019.
“What’s so interesting is that they have this access,” Kellems Dominik says. “It’s intellectual and emotional travel – the imagination is just endless – and they curated a group of very interesting people who were all like-minded around food.”
That ability to open doors is also drawing travellers who don’t normally think of themselves as joiners. Around half of all millennials are now considering signing up for some form of a travel club, according to one industry survey, outpacing the interest from Gen Xers and baby boomers. Even Exclusive Resorts, which charges at least $1,395 (INR 1,03,651) per day for trips on top of the cost of membership, has seen a surge of interest from young families. The company just notched its best December in nine years, despite the pandemic.
So which of these clubs is right for you? It all depends on what you’re looking for – and how much you’re ready to invest.
For Upscale Private Stays
Exclusive Resorts has a portfolio of nearly 400 vacation homes, plus members-only cruises and expeditions. Inspirato (from $600/INR 44,581 per month) has the keys to villas in 150 locations; members can also jump aboard cruises arranged by the company. A more affordable choice is Koala (from $99/INR 7,355 per year), which allows travellers to book one-off stays in time-shares in the US, the Caribbean, and Mexico.
For a Like-Minded Community
El Camino (from $150/INR 11,145 per year) began as a small-group-trip operator focused on Latin America, but recently unveiled El Camino Travel Clubhouse, a platform that allows members to participate in virtual events and chats about upcoming trips. Manifest (from $2,500/INR 1,85,755 per year), which debuted last August, has chapters in cities across the United States. “We create a social aspect, with people getting to know each other outside of just travelling together,” founder Jeff Potter says.
For Feel-good Trips
The upstart wellness website and app MyLifeWell (from $10/INR 743 per month) went live last year with virtual fitness classes and a selection of workout gear. Now it connects subscribers with travel advisors who specialise in booking wellness retreats at Canyon Ranch and Six Senses properties, among others.
For the Commitment-phobic
The high cost of clubs has historically been a barrier to signing up. But this spring, Prior lowered its $2,500-a-year (INR 1,85,755) price tag to Rs 18,501 ($249), in an effort to draw together a more diverse group of adventurers. “I don’t want a club in the sense of shutting people out,” founder David Prior says.
Editor’s Note: Keeping the current situation of the pandemic in mind, T+L India recommends every reader to stay safe and take all government-regulated precautions in case travel at this time is absolutely necessary. Please follow our stories on COVID-19 for all the latest travel guidelines.