No doubt you’ve heard the phrase “people want what they can’t have.” Call it the writer in me, but I would actually amend that statement to read: “people want what they can have and others can’t.” Exclusivity is a powerful tool. It’s the reason sneakerheads stand in line for hours to score limited edition kicks, beauty enthusiasts constantly refresh their browsers waiting for a special eye shadow palette to drop, and foodies log onto Resy at midnight to snag a coveted reservation. Purchasing and dining habits are just two examples of this phenomenon that very much extends to travel as well. Because if the hospitality industry knows one thing it's how to commoditize exclusivity. From that perspective, it’s not entirely surprising that members-only clubs are having a moment, particularly within the hotel space. In truth, the concept is hardly new. But it’s the pivot towards targeting travelers that’s most captivating to me — and seemingly the many folks trying to get on *the* list.
It’s impossible to talk about the history of social clubs without mentioning the past segregation of races and sexes. The new guard, however, seems acutely aware of the reasons its predecessors became relics and is moving forward with a far more modern mindset. In short: inclusivity matters even in the most exclusive environments. Obviously, not anyone can join these clubs. Memberships are limited and expensive. Thus, you need to be well-connected and financially solvent to even be considered. But in 2022, it’s essential for the most successful (profitable, but more than that covetable) members-only clubs, whether in the co-working, fitness, or hospitality space to be diverse, creative, and cool. That’s how places like Equinox (which calls itself a luxury fitness club) and Soho House keep winning.
Over the last few years, the trend of private members’ club-meets-hotel concepts that require a key — literal or figurative — has skyrocketed. As a result, plenty of different types of properties with varying models have popped up. “Lifestyle hotels are refreshing their structure and adapting to deliver great programming, stylish environments, and great F&B outlets. It’s a natural progression and a response to what consumers are asking for — particularly across the U.S., where we’ve seen an uptick in social club memberships to the point that many have long waitlists,” explains Steve Shern, General Manager at Kimpton Cottonwood Hotel. “These days, more travelers have discretionary income to allow for a club membership, which creates another opportunity for hotels and resorts.” It’s also safe to say that Covid boosted the status of staycations. And the idea of an elite vacation just a few minutes from home still retains its appeal even after (most) people have resumed traveling both domestically and internationally. So joining a club with hotel perks nearby definitely makes sense now more than ever — provided you can get in, of course.
If you’re familiar with one members-only club with a hospitality component it’s probably Soho House, which first opened in London in 1995. Over the past nearly two decades, it’s grown to include a portfolio of 33 Soho Houses across the globe, from Malibu to Mumbai, where members can reap the privileges of swish overnight accommodations and chic areas to work and hang out. Membership Collective Group (MCG), the parent company of Soho House, also counts nine Soho Works outposts, The Ned London, The Ned NoMad, Scorpios Beach Club in Mykonos, and Soho Home amongst its rapidly growing collection. The Saint James Club in Paris and the Four Seasons Hotel London at Ten Trinity Square — home to the Ten Trinity Square Private Club, a partnership between Reignwood Group, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, and Château Latour — are other long-standing favorites across the pond.
“After launching The Ned London five years ago, we are thrilled to be making our mark with the first international location in such a vibrant place as New York City,” says Gareth Banner, group managing director of The Ned. “While there’s no shortage of members clubs and luxury hotels in Manhattan, The Ned NoMad offers a distinct experience.” Set within the iconic Johnston building on the corner of 28th and Broadway, the buzzy newcomer features Cecconi’s — the modern-day Italian eatery already fuels members (who get benefits like priority booking and discounts) and diners at Soho Houses in Dumbo, Miami Beach, and West Hollywood — and 167 rooms. While a Ned’s Club membership bestows exclusive access to spaces including The Dining Room, the rooftop terrace, Ned’s Club Upstairs, The Library, The Magic Room, and the mezzanine at Little Ned. Luckily, you don’t have to be a member to stay the night in one of the cozy bedrooms or sprawling Rotunda Suites. Though, it will cost you at least $875.
In a city like the Big Apple, The Ned NoMad isn’t the only exclusive enclave. The stunning new Aman New York on 57th Street boasts a private members-only club called the Aman Club as well as polished (and pricey) rooms for well-heeled travelers. Located on the water in the Financial District, Casa Cipriani New York integrates both members-only club areas and 47 overnight accommodations appointed with custom-made Italian furnishings for non-members who want to relish in the storied grandeur for an evening. Fasano Fifth Avenue, the first U.S. property for the Brazilian hospitality group, reserves certain suites for members only.
Over on the West Coast, you’ll find a handful of Soho Houses around greater Los Angeles. Pendry West Hollywood gives guests the chance to dine at two Wolfgang Puck restaurants and soak in stunning skyline views, while The Britely reserves a few Martin Brudnizki-designed spaces like a cinema room and music venue exclusively for members.
At the Carillon Spa & Beach Club, the club arm of the Carillon Miami Wellness Resort, it’s all about wellness and a healthy lifestyle — something that feels very on-target for the current self-care push in travel and beyond. What’s great about membership at this SoFlo hotspot, which costs between $7,500 and $10,000 annually, is that it comes with a ton of privileges including unlimited access to the massive fitness center, thermal hydrotherapy circuits, pools, the serviced beach, and guest passes, plus resort credits and discounts on social wellness events, hotel stays, dining, and spa services.
Kimpton Cottonwood Hotel in Omaha, Nebraska recently debuted The Cottonwood Hotel & Pool Club, a members-only destination with just 100 spots that supplies exclusive stuff like comped stays, remote office space as well as the use of the fitness center, hot tub, and seasonal swimming pool. Rates start at $2,500 plus monthly dues for a solo membership. Tesserae — which advertises itself as an “exclusively inclusive [club] destination for events, entertainment, and epic good times” — crowns the top of the Thompson Buckhead in Atlanta. Even the smallest state, Rhode Island has a private rooftop club called Bellini Rooftop, which is open to members and guests of The Beatrice, a high-end hotel in downtown Providence.
There’s clearly a market for this increasingly exclusive hospitality model. It will be interesting to see if more hotels jump on the bandwagon and whether it’s a flash-in-the-pan trend, a shift in the way we travel entirely, or something in between.