Travel Trend: Club Culture

Photos by Paul Alexander

Investing in travel: membership has its privileges

It seems the fly-and-fry getaway is on the wane. When it comes to holidays, the boomer generation is looking for a deeper, more meaningful experience. Of course, this cohort is also the newest to join the snowbird contingent, strongly entrenched in a go-south attitude that’s been around since we could hop in the car and head for the border to the warmer waters off Florida, the arid golf courses of Arizona and the wallet-friendly RV parks of Texas.

Many of us are still spending our winters Down South, but we’re also looking farther afield at destinations into which to invest our time – and our money.

According to Frank Shaw, foresight director for the Centre of Future Studies, “People are spending more money than ever before on the life enriching experiences, such as luxury small indulgences, and travel trends reflect this.” Shaw, who assisted in putting together a report published by the online travel group Travelzest in association with the Centre for Future Studies, notes that both men and women are putting a high emphasis on “me time” and are looking to blend hobbies with holiday making. “That might mean arranging a trip to Verona and booking tickets to an opera at the same time,” he says.

Sure, there’s something to be said about consistency, the ease of a turnkey solution that a condo in Miami or a time-share in Puerta Vallarta can provide, but is that all there is? Some winter travellers already have that condo and want to venture out, or perhaps we’re not quite ready to settle down in the same place every winter (or spring, summer or fall, for that matter).

In recent years, companies such as Exclusive Resorts are addressing this go-global idea. It’s a vacation club, a property owner/manager, a concierge service and a curator of holiday properties all wrapped into one. Villas in Tuscany, cabins in Whistler, pieds-à-terre in Paris, the company owns more than 350 properties in 75 destinations around the world, all of which are accessible through membership. Think a villa vacation versus a traditional hotel but with all the five-star amenities intact, without having to ever traverse a lobby for that morning coffee.

And it seems it’s not on a whim: more retirement financial planners are finding that travel is taking a higher priority as one of the key items on their clients’ wish lists when it comes to investing in their later-in-life plans. “In the current economy, we’re seeing our clients put an emphasis on the cost of living when looking at retirement planning,” says Brigitte Parent, senior vice-president, individual insurance and investments, Sun Life Financial Canada. “This year’s Unretirement Index shows that 25 per cent of Canadians rank travel as becoming extremely important to them as they age.”

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A recent poll commissioned by Waterloo, Ont.-based Demeure, an online marketplace geared to both travel suppliers and service professionals, as well as consumers to list properties, revealed that 55 per cent of Canadian travellers are comfortable with the idea of renting someone else’s vacation home, particularly if it has been vetted and features a local contact; and 23 per cent of current vacation property owners are eager to travel somewhere new for a change. The company offers a unique technology called Marketplace Management System, says Peter Schwartz, chairman and CEO of Demuere (demeure.com).

“Our solution can help vacation and destination clubs by offering value and improved experiences to their members,” he says. “Among the benefits of our platform is a portfolio of 2,400 curated properties and a network of on-the-ground property hosts that brings it all together in a networked community.”

Yet, “Almost 10 per cent of Canadians place saving for a vacation or other leisure as their No. 1 financial priority,” says Parent. And that thinking goes beyond the present to building on it for the future.

“It is important for boomers who are planning their retirement to simply allow themselves to dream for a moment and visualize what their desired lifestyle will be,” says Brigitte Felx, a Montreal-based financial planner at RBC financial planning. “I am asked by some of my clients whether or not they will have the financial capacity to travel in retirement. Others want to know if they will be able to buy a second home or invest in ownership in a vacation property. All of these considerations can be built into a financial plan for successful retirement.”

Felx calls these boomers in the active phase of retirement. “Here, they can do what they have always dreamed of doing: moving to a different home/location, travelling, achieving everything they want to as long as they are in good health,” she says. “In this phase, retirees will want to take a large portion of their income – this can be between $10,000 and $12,000 annually or more to cover the costs of their lifestyle.”

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So we want a break but maybe we don’t want to work as hard to ensure it goes as seamlessly as possible. Toronto resident Marshall Zaitlen, 57, decided to sign on with Exclusive Resorts in 2007. “For most Canadians, it really comes down to the service and experience you are able to provide,” says Zaitlen.

Companies like Exclusive Resorts also provide a global view, allowing their members to go beyond the beaten snowbird-summer home path. “The main reason I chose to join versus purchasing a cottage was because of variety,” says Zaitlen. “I don’t want to keep going back to one place. Plus, there are the hassles of second home ownership like maintaining, cleaning, paying a mortgage, when you are an owner.”

One of the main concerns about owning a vacation property is the cost to maintain it year after year, Schwartz concurs. “Purchasing a second home is a significant investment,” he says. “And according to our survey, many owners feel guilty travelling to other locations knowing they have this investment sitting unused.” This way of thinking, he says, is giving rise to the “collaborative economy” in the travel industry. “The collaborative economy enables both travellers and vacation property owners to get what they want through better utilization and understanding the resources, such as vacation properties, that are already available.”

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For its 10th anniversary, Exclusive has designed a travel card called GATEWAY that for the first time provides non-members three weeks of access to the Club’s properties, as well as what the company calls custom journeys (safari in Kenya, anyone?) and events (The Masters golf tourney – fore!). The card comes with a $32,550 price tag, but can be used over three years at a fixed rate of $1,550 a night.“Our travel products can be customized to best fit your lifestyle,” says Kristen Nolte, SVP of Marketing for Exclusive Resorts. “We now have a product to suit every taste and budget. While our flagship membership product will always offer the best long-term value and full suite of VIP benefits, the new GATEWAY card means you can travel with us for three days or three weeks with no long-term commitment required. Just buy the days you want and use anytime over three years.”

If you’re interested in full membership, in addition to a one-time upfront initiation fee (which starts at approximately $40,000 for a three-year membership), annual dues for 2-, to 30-year membership plans with Exclusive Resorts are approximately $1,000 a day for 20 days a year (or $20,000). You can also opt in to select more days to as many as 60 days per year. Sounds expensive? We thought so but then we did the math. Rent a five-bedroom villa (with full bathrooms in each suite) in Tuscany for seven days. Invite some friends or family and split the $7,000 five ways. And that includes an ambassador who gets to know your likes and dislikes prior to departure as well as your own private concierge on site to show you the ropes, the area and take care of just about any requests you may have. Cooking classes, tickets to museums, rental cars with maps and directions, you name it.

Interestingly, the Demeure poll revealed that 25 per cent admitted a cause of [vacation] stress was a lack of local knowledge, not knowing where to go, what to do and how to get there.

Still think it’s out of your league? Along with the new short-term membership plans and the Gateway travel card, the company is also offering a Gateway Escape, short stays that can be purchased for a 3-, to 7-day vacation at a flat rate of $1995/night. www.exclusiveresorts.com/gateway

Unlike time-share, the membership is for life, and it can be passed along as an inheritance to immediate family. All the heirs have to do is keep up the annual dues to carry on your wanderlust legacy. “[It] has made it possible for us to travel with friends and family, impossible any other way unless we rented an entire hotel floor,” says Zaitlen. “It has encouraged us to visit destinations we might not have even considered.”

For more info, call 866-865-4712 or got to www.exclusiveresorts.com.

For more photos, click the pages below.

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