Destination clubs arrived on the scene less than 10 years ago, but they quickly gained popularity, and today there are about two dozen clubs in existence. More and more affluent consumers are turning to destination clubs as an alternative to owning a pricey vacation home. As the industry continues to grow, many destination clubs are charging top dollar for memberships in an effort be the most exclusive, the most extravagant — or simply the best. Deposits can top the million-dollar mark.
But is the hefty price of membership truly worth it? Many would say yes. Destination club members not only lodge at million-dollar homes in some of the most desirable vacation spots, they also enjoy over-the-top amenities and top-notch customer service. Gourmet kitchens, complimentary cars and a concierge to make dinner reservations are increasingly standard amenities. Today’s clubs really wow their members with fresh-baked cookies in the oven, the fridge stocked with a favorite beer and a Lincoln Navigator in the garage.
“The appeal of traveling around the world with family and friends and having the amenities of a five-star hotel has really resonated with people,” says Todd Harris, senior vice president of member services at Exclusive Resorts.
With more than 3,000 members, Exclusive Resorts is the largest destination club, and it boasts a variety of membership options. They have just restructured their pricing matrix, giving prospective members a choice of six plans (with the additional option of paying a one-time fee for the right to book during prime holiday weeks).
The most expensive configuration? A 60-night plan with the option of booking a week during Christmas, New Year’s or Presidents Day weekend will set you back $564,000 with deposit and fees. And that’s before figuring in the $59,900 in annual dues.
According to Harris, members typically join at a less expensive level and then upgrade. “Members like to come into the club and make sure it’s everything they think it will be ... After a year, most members upgrade.” Upgraded membership comes with its perks, like the ability to purchase more holiday reservations. For instance, members with a 60-night plan can purchase up to three weeks of access to holiday reservations. Members with 40- and 50- night plans can purchase two weeks of holiday reservations, while 20- and 30-night members can only buy one week of holiday reservations. Members at the 10-night level don’t have any access to holiday reservations. Holidays tend to cost $49,000 to $79,000, depending on the week.
Some destination clubs, like newcomer Everlands, don’t offer different levels of membership. Instead, all members pay the same deposit and annual dues. Everlands is also one of the few clubs where the members collectively own the properties.
While Everlands commands one of the highest deposits at $1 million, part of each deposit goes to the Everlands Conservation Initiative, a non-profit focused on conserving Earth’s lands and waters. “We bring extraordinary people together to embrace the outdoors and reconnect with nature, but we also have a conservation ethos,” says May. Everlands tends to choose older properties in need of repair when expanding its portfolio. “We are looking to return existing properties back to their original splendor with eco-sensitivity.”
Dubbing themselves an “experience club,” Everlands offers members the standard high-end amenities and then some. The club plans to offer photography workshops, watercolor classes, visits from acclaimed poets and special yacht usage at a variety of their properties.
Most of these activities will be covered the membership, but Everlands would not cover activities that most people aren’t interested in doing, like a three-day hike into Yellowstone; that would incur an a la carte charge. Regarding exactly which activities Everlands will provide, May says, “Each property is unique and we’re learning as we go.”
Things are not going well for all high-priced destination clubs. Once the leader of the pack with a $3 million deposit, Yellowstone Club World (an ultra-luxury destination club that emerged from Yellowstone Club, a private ski and golf community in Montana) recently put a hold on new memberships. “Membership structure is being re-evaluated,” says Mike Curran of Yellowstone Club World.
Perhaps there is a cap on how much people will pay for access to a portfolio of luxury vacation homes. But the destination club industry continues to evolve, which means we haven’t seen the last of multi-million dollar deposits.