Luxury Hunter: Brent Handler, Founder, Inspirato

Months ago, I read somewhere: “For setting a new business one should not only study the market scope but also the market gap.” And in absence of market gap, the foremost step is to understand the potential of creating a market via surveys before even entering in the industry with your idea/startup. And I can’t agree more on it.

Luxury travel is a space that never seems to meet the saturation needle and there is always a scope for entrepreneurs to let their imagination go wild and create a service that is picked by travel enthusiast and adventure lovers.   Brent Handler, co-founder, Exclusive Resorts is known for his understanding of affluent travellers and here shares his thoughts with us on the launch of Inspirato, a set up that combines the best features of villa rental with the services and amenities of private vacation clubs.

1)    From where did you get the idea of collaborating independent villa rental with personalized services of private luxury vacation clubs to cater to affluent class? What’s so unique about it?

What I am really passionate about – and best at – is building new companies.  I get real satisfaction from creating businesses that tap into new market segments in highly innovative ways. I am very proud of what we built at Exclusive Resorts, the company that my brother and I co-founded, which became a very large and successful business. But after I left, I realized that there was a real opportunity to create something new in the luxury travel market that appealed to even more people – what we call the “everyday affluent” – by making the travel experience available at a value that isn’t offered anywhere else. I did a lot of research, particularly on the highly inefficient vacation rentals market, and concluded that there was a huge growth opportunity for a new business that could combine the many benefits of vacation rentals and high-end fractional clubs, but have none of the drawbacks.

The result is called Inspirato, which offers the quality, consistency, personalized services and amenities, access to resorts, etc. that you’d find in a high-end fractional or destination club, along with the flexibility and pay-as-you-go structure of vacation rentals, but for substantially less money upfront and without the long-term commitment or inflexibility. We have created a rational, sustainable business model that is attracting a lot of attention. We have over 60 members in just the first 3 weeks of business, along with more than $100 million in leased real estate (40+ properties in 10 destinations.)

2)    Is it only villas that are accessible via Inspirato or a discerning traveller can expect access to more luxurious properties?

Inspirato members have access to luxurious properties in 10 destinations. Each property has an average value of just under $4 million and features all of the luxurious amenities and touches that affluent travelers expect, such as simple-to-use A/V equipment (Apple technology), fine Italian linens, fine china and glassware, and much more. The homes are all spacious and can  accommodate more than one family. The homes range in size from the smallest at 1,708 sq. ft. in downtown Aspen – a hard-to-come-by ski-in/ski-out property on Aspen Mountain – to the largest at 11,000 sq. ft. and eight bedrooms on the Caribbean island of Anguilla.

3)    Which continents /countries do you currently cater to?

At this point, our membership growth is coming from the U.S., Canada and Latin America, and our vacation destinations are located in areas where those people travel (Caribbean, Rocky Mountains, Mexico, etc.)

4)    How do you manage to build such an exclusive portfolio of elite properties worldwide, wherein each unique residence offers a concierge to insure ultimate worry-free escape? Are these properties owned by Inspirato?

Inspirato does not own any properties, rather we lease them on a long-term basis so that we can fully control and manage the experience for our members. This strategy enables us to respond to market shifts and our members’ wishes. We have hired destination concierges in every location who are dedicated to assisting our members with all of their activities and needs on-site.

5)    What is the business model of Inspirato?

We charge a non-refundable initiation fee (currently offered to friends & family for $9,500), an annual renewal fee of $2,500, and variable market rates for each property a member books. The average nightly rate is about $1,000, though some rates are offered for just a few hundred dollars. We lease all our properties – we have no mortgages.

6)    Is the membership to the initiative by invitation only or involves some payment mechanism or both?

Our membership growth is purely by word of mouth, and we expect to continue to grow largely through member referrals. In our first month we sold more than 70 memberships through referrals alone. Members pay the initiation fee by credit card on our website.

7)    Do you think Inspirato will bring revolution to the $24 billion luxury vacation industry? Where do you see the industry rolling in next five years considering we have models like Inspirato?

We are not aware of any other company doing anything like this. There are private clubs that own properties for their members to use, but those require six-figure initiation fees from members and tens of thousands in annual dues to access those homes. For the vacation rental industry – which is estimated to be a $24 billion industry – there is no other company that has taken over properties available on the rental market with long-term leases and customized them to provide a branded experience just for the members as Inspirato has. We see a huge opportunity to transform this industry by offering something that consumers want – consistency, reliability, peace of mind and spacious, luxury accommodations – at a value they can’t find anywhere else.

8)    Whom do you consider as your peers?  What is your opinion about Quintess, PeakPropertiesVail, LuxuryRentalsAspen and PrivateTradeWinds?

Inspirato is really creating a new niche in the luxury travel market. No other company offers the flexibility, ease of use and choice of a villa rental company and combines it with the level of service and amenities of a private luxury club like Inspirato does.  We are the only company to provide the kind of high-touch vacation experience for our members from one trip to the next by leasing, controlling and managing a portfolio of luxury properties.

9)    How luring are your properties against the one with existing businesses like Vrbo, HomeAway, TheSociety, known for luxury vacation homes? Pen down an inviting list of benefits one can expect from Inspirato?

Unlike online vacation rental services, Inspirato curates exceptional vacations for its members by selecting the very best vacation homes in sought-after destinations through long-term leases, typically for three-to-five year periods. This strategy allows Inspirato to provide a consistent, hassle-free, branded experience on every trip. Inspirato also provides members with proactive, dedicated vacation planning services from a Personal Vacation Advisor and takes care of members’ needs on-site through a Destination Concierge team.

Inspirato eliminates the time, risk and headaches traditionally associated with planning vacations. For example, a portfolio of hand-selected homes ensures consistency and quality of each home, eliminating the risk of renting a sub-standard vacation home, and the endless hours searching online. Further, Inspirato.com features detailed, salient information and photos about each residence and its destination. Through the intuitive Inspirato.com website, members are fully informed but not overwhelmed, which is so often the case when planning vacations online. In addition to these benefits, due to our long-term leasing strategy, Inspirato is able to offer below-market rates that are substantially lower what you would find searching online broker listings or renting a comparable property directly from a resort.

10)  How does having “Personal Vacation Advisors” add to the luxury experience for your affluent clientele?

A key benefit of an Inspirato membership is the Personal Vacation Advisor, who develops relationships with members and learns their preferences to better suit their vacation experiences. PVAs are available to answer members’ questions about each home and destination in the portfolio, make suggestions for future travel, and serve as their advocate and service representative for all aspects of membership. Because of the PVAs, members are not starting over with the research and planning for their next vacation, as they would if they were just booking a property online and trying to negotiate with brokers or owners. Our club is a community of luxury travelers, so the PVAs have the members’ best interests in mind at all times.

11)  Guide us through the assistance/comfort one gets prior to arrival at the destination for vacation.

Prior to arrival, the destination concierge will contact each member to arrange logistics for their trip. This includes pre-provisioning of groceries, dinner reservations, spa appointments, tee times, etc.  They can also arrange transportation to and from the property.

12)  What are your growth plans for Inspirato?

We expect to continue to grow largely through word-of-mouth and member referrals. As our membership grows, we will continue to add new properties and new destinations that cater to our members’ demands. We also plan to launch some experiential travel programs in the near future as well.

Few more shots from their portfolio properties:

We thank Brent for taking out time for our savvy readers who definitely love such travel experiences.

P.S: Care to check our previous one-to-one with other Luxury Hunters

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