The travel subscription economy is taking off, with clubs such as Manifest offering their members a menu of exciting getaways – plus the peace of mind and convenience that comes from a hosted experience. Olivia Palamountain reports
Just as Globetrender predicted in its Future of Luxury Travel Forecast: 2020-2025, “Elite Subscriptions” are a hot new trend for the decade ahead.
Newcomers include the likes of Manifest, a private jet subscription service come travel agency hybrid that offers independent and small group adventures for a membership fee of US$2,500 per year.
Members enjoy getaways within the US – all via private air travel – selected from a menu of curated experiences (think yoga, culinary, sporting and adventure trips), exclusive partners and preferred pricing. The team will plan itineraries from start to finish or can even go off-grid to create bespoke journeys.
Trips are lavish and cost on average between US$3,500 and US$8,000 per person to include all of the above plus luxury accommodation, guides and activities, most meals, and limo service to and from the airport.There are masses of escapes to choose from such as glamping under a meteor shower, wine-tasting in Ojai and the cheeky sounding Royal Gorge Romp, an adrenaline-filled weekend of helicopters, ziplining, white-water rafting and mountaineering that accommodates guests in either riverside yurts or a luxury southwestern-style villa.
Manifest’s chapters are capped at 175 members and some already have waiting lists. The service is currently in six US cities (including Denver, Phoenix, and Los Angeles) and 12 more are rolling out in 2021.
Manifest is not the only private club on the up. Booking activity at Inspirato is 30 per cent higher year-over-year, while its competitors, Exclusive Resorts and Essentialist, reported record-breaking membership sales in 2020, according to Bloomberg.
Members-only Exclusive Resorts owns about 400 private residences and villas, complete with concierge services, flexible cancellation policies and partnerships with both a private jet operator and a private medical service.
Club access comes at a pretty punchy price. After an US$150,000 initiation fee, members must book a minimum of 15 days per year, which at US$1,395 per night, translates to an annual cost of at least $20,925.
Even the more affordable timeshare model, which brokers in the promise of flexibility, spacious accommodations and familiarity, require an average initiation fee of US$20,000, reports The New York Times.Why are these clubs booming when the rest of the industry is struggling to stay afloat?
“We budget our lifestyles around subscriptions to gyms, Amazon Prime, Netflix,” Sean O’Neill, an editor at the travel industry trade site Skift tells Bloomberg. “People want to travel. Give them a subscription and help plan it, and it’s very appealing.”
“Trust has become hugely important,” adds David Prior, who runs a two-year-old private travel club called Prior. Essentialist CEO Joan Roca agrees, attributing the sector’s growth to the heightened value of expert travel recommendations while navigating the pandemic’s uncertainties.
Lauren Sloss, writing in The New York Times, says that the ability to take care of things is a part of the promise of membership travel, even if the ask has shifted from an exclusive dinner reservation to an option for medical evacuation.
Club benefits often center on easing the burden of planning and uncertainty; now, safety is an essential part of that. Those benefits vary, of course, and are largely tied to the cost, and type, of the club you’re joining.
Even hotels are being affected by the subscription economy. After last summer’s announcement that Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont would be transitioning to a members-only hotel, Freehand Hotels has launched the Freehand Club, which gives frequent travellers unlimited stays from US$2,499 per month.