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Exclusive Interview with Brent Handler, CEO, Founder of Inspirato, The World’s Largest Destination Club
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Exclusive Interview with Brent Handler, CEO, Founder of Inspirato, The World’s Largest Destination Club

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Brent Handler, and his brother Brad, have both become legends in their field, as they were the first to co-found one of the highest end destination clubs in the world. After almost a decade however, Brad left Exclusive Resorts, and worked with Brent to create another club, this time a less expensive one called Inspirato. Based on similar consumer-centric travel principles as Exclusive Resorts, this club opened up significant luxury travel possibilities to the mid-level aspirational.

Because the pricing was so moderate while the residences and travel experiences were so luxurious, Inspirato became an exceptional success. I talked with Brent recently, and asked him about how he saw Inspirato as a symbol of the wants and needs of the new generation of travelers.

Pursuitist: Much has changed since we first met back in about 2004, when Exclusive Resorts, a destination club that you and your brother Brad founded, was just beginning to become popular. I have since written about your new club, Inspirato in October of 2011, when Inspirato was gathering strength. Now, you have partnered with American Express, and your full name is Inspirato with American Express. Are you surprised that from then to now, that Inspirato has become the largest destination club in the world, numbering over 4000 members, surpassing even the membership number of Exclusive Resorts?

Brent: I am not really surprised at this. I am surprised we don’t have MORE members! I think our success underscores a natural evolution in what the affluent traveler wants and needs right now.

Pursuitist: I did ask you in our first interview what were some lessons learned that you garnered from your time at Exclusive Resorts? Can we revisit that question?

Brent: Yes! The long and short of the lessons learned from my co-founding Exclusive Resorts deals again with this evolution of what travelers want and need. Back in 2003, when we started Exclusive Resorts, we thought that owning the real estate and fixed membership dues ideas were the most viable. This worked really well — and ER was enormously successful. But by the end of 2009, we began listening to customers who rejected the ER premise. I have always thought we learn as much from those who reject the proposition as those who accept it — the same premise obtains when you understand that you can learn more from your errors than from your successes.

So by 2010, we had a clean slate, and started Inspirato using basically two new principles: we did not want to own anything directly, we believed in long term leasing. And we did not want a fixed reservation system. We thought we could do better for the customers who did not want to book their vacations a year in advance. So Inspirato is based on the needs of this new generation: we are asset-light and highly serviced.

Pursuitist: If you had one attribute you could describe that you think made such a difference in membership acquisition, what would it be?

Brent: I think, again, when we learn more about what customers want, and we have the model scalability to put these ideas into place, success occurs. In our case, we have seen they wanted more flexibility, also more immediacy. By that I mean, when they want to travel, they don’t have to make reservations months and months in advance. They want to go when they want to go, and usually sooner than later.

Pursuitist: I am curious as to what new dimensions you are offering to your members.

Brent: We have a program called ACCESS, available first come, first serve to all our members, where we are working on getting them one-time unusual experiences. At the upcoming NY Fashion week in September, they will meet the Marchesa designers. And then there are our members-only cruises, where we travel and sail together. We also are becoming more involved in adventure travel. In all these cases, we want our members to experience things they never would have, had they not traveled with us.

Pursuitist: From AMEX/Harrison Group’s Survey Of Wealth And Affluence In America, it was said that the consistent components of any high end product or service involves scarcity, craftsmanship, legacy and worth. How do you define an Inspirato vacation experience in those terms, especially in worth?

Brent: The worth of the Inspirato travel experience combines as it further defines all these aspects: scarcity (as these travels are time-limited,) craftsmanship meaning how the itinerary is well-sculpted and how it becomes seamless for the traveler, legacy meaning how many positive memories are created through our travels. All of these things define the worth of the Inspirato experience.

Pursuitist: What are the membership tiers and fees and annual dues for Inspirato?

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Brent: As you know, we have partnered with American Express, so AMEX cardholders get $2,500 off their initiation fee of $17,500 and $400 off their annual fee of $3,000 every year. So the core membership price to join is $17,600. But there are two other types of memberships: the Trio for members who want 3 plus bedrooms or less, and the Flex, for people who can vacation anytime except high volume periods, likes Christmas and Easter. In both cases, their pricing is the same: $2500 off the initiation fee of $7,500 and $400 off the annual fee of $3,000 (same annual fee). So Trios and Flex members pay $7,600 in year one.

Pursuitist: The motto for Inspirato is The Luxury Of Certainty — could you explain what that means to the Inspirato Traveler?

Brent: What we wanted with this axiom was to have it define and transcend who we are without sounding elitist. We wanted to have the meaning of luxury counterbalanced with a word that came up time and again with what our members and our potential members wanted, and that was certainty: certainty of great service, great homes, memorable experiences. And that combination – the luxury of certainty defines our mission and vision perfectly.

Facts And Stats

Inspirato by the numbers:
– 4,000 total members with 1,000 members added in 2013
– Nearly $500 million worth of luxury residences and villas
– 262 travel options in 67 destinations around the world
– $3.6 million, average value of an Inspirato Signature
 Residence
– More than 38,000 vacation nights completed

Online at http://www.inspirato.com

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