A fully-stocked penthouse, a lincoln navigator in the garage, and a concierge on speed dial: welcome to the world of luxury vacation clubs, where a local company is redefining the business
(page 1 of 2)A RAY OF MIAMI SUNSHINE peeks through the window shades and streams onto the king-size bed, with its six-inch pillow-top mattress. I feel like I’m sleeping in a cloud. And I could be. I’m on the 55th floor of one of Donald Trump’s towers, perched on the edge of the Atlantic ocean. Below, down there in the real world, palm trees blow in the breeze, cabana boys drag lounge chairs across the sand and heap them with towels. A man drives past on a tractor, manicuring the beach, while froth-topped waves lap at the shore. Up here, in this grown-up Fantasyland, I awake to the sound of wind and surf. I pull back the Italian bedspread, prop myself up on a half-dozen pillows, and wonder whether the thread count of these sheets is higher than my bank-account balance.
I’m staying at a property owned by the Lusso Collection, a luxury destination club headquartered in Eden Prairie. Lusso is a cross between a time-share and an international country club. The name means “luxury” in Italian and it comes at a luxury price: Members pay a $400,000 deposit and $28,000 in annual dues. In return, they receive what amounts to unlimited access to multi-million-dollar properties around the world.
Lusso has homes in 13 locations, ranging from New York City to Hawaii. In the Bahamas, Lusso’s three houses are part of a bayside development managed by the Ritz-Carlton. The club’s new $4 million, 4,500-square-foot lodge at the base of Aspen Highlands looks like party pad for Hollywood-types. And if I didn’t know Lusso owned Casa Lolita, a sprawling, gated compound in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, I’d guess it was Salma Hayek’s summer home.
Here in Miami, Lusso owns a two-story penthouse with marble floors and floor-to-ceiling windows; a gourmet kitchen with granite countertops and a Sub-Zero fridge; big-screen TVs in each of the three bedrooms and two common areas. The enormous rooftop hot tub looks like it could hold the entire Miami Dolphins cheerleading squad. The apartment is so big, in fact, that it comes equipped with walkie-talkies. It is not until the second day that I discover the fifth bathroom.
Luxury travel is the fastest-growing segment of the travel market—a $400-billion business in the United States—and the elite travel club concept is a new trend that’s evolved to meet demand. As aging baby boomers move into prime second-home purchasing years, many will consider destination clubs as an alternative.
Two years ago, Steve Greer launched the Lusso Collection hoping to gain a piece of the market. While he knew that affluent travelers were willing to pay for the highest quality experience, he was surprised to find something else. “When we set the club up we said, ‘This is going to be an extremely luxurious experience that people are willing to pay for,’” Greer recalls. “But we’re finding that people are seeing it as a compelling economic value.” Welcome to the world of luxury travel, where you can talk about a two-story penthouse in terms of a bargain.
LUSSO WAS BORN out of Greer’s personal experience traveling with his wife and infant son. In February 2003, Greer, a British national who came to Minnesota a decade ago to oversee operations at Rapala (the fishing lure company), decided to plan a golf getaway to Scottsdale, Arizona with his wife—their first trip as parents. The couple quickly realized a hotel room wouldn’t suffice when traveling with a baby. They would need to rent a condo and a car, arrange for a crib and high chair, and lug a baby seat on the plane. “There were all these moving parts,” Greer says. Once they arrived in Scottsdale, they found that they needed to locate the nearest Target and grocery store to stock the condo with supplies—but there was no Internet in the place to look things up, and no one to ask for assistance.
Still, Greer and his wife enjoyed their trip so much they considered buying a second home in Scottsdale. “Within the space of five minutes we’d talked ourselves in—and then totally out of it,” Greer says, walking through his rationale. “How many times a year are we going to travel? Maybe four.
If we own a place, are we going to feel that we have to go to that place every time to make use of it? Then we thought we could buy a home and rent it out—but then you have the headaches of second-home ownership.”
Greer and his wife turned to the idea of fractional ownership. Greer was aware of one luxury vacation club at the time, but instead of joining it, he decided to combine his background in finance and hospitality with his interests in travel and real estate to set up the Lusso Collection.
Greer raised capital and bought five properties before selling his first membership, in December 2005. Today, there are 23 properties and 110 members. Greer says membership will never exceed 5.5 people per property—a ratio that is the lowest among the 20-or-so clubs in the industry. And it helps ensure that only half of the properties are occupied at any given moment, so access is virtually unlimited. So far, Greer says, there has always been at least one property available on any given day.
Could I join Lusso and hop from one property to the next, spending the entire year on vacation? “Theoretically,” Greer says. “If you had a private jet at your disposal.”
Greer’s strategy is to differentiate Lusso from other clubs by its small size and by its level of service. In providing everything from complimentary airport transfers to pre-arrival grocery-shopping services, Greer hopes Lusso can eliminate many of the hassles associated with travel. “People think it’s all about properties,” Greer says, “which, to some extent, it is. But the reality is, it’s a hospitality business.”