Hospitality startups put 'creatives' spin on private clubs


While private members clubs are far from a novel concept, a new crop of hospitality players are putting a fresh spin on the time-honored concept.

"There have always been social clubs, beach clubs, pool clubs, etc., but what we're starting to see is more hybrid reconfigurations of club membership, hospitality and amenities," said Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute, a research and training company.

Pedraza credited players like Soho House, which initially targeted what he described as a more "creative" demographic, with pioneering a modern take on the private members club.

Since then, that target market has come to be known as "creatives." In hospitality marketing parlance, "creatives" describes a sort of amorphous demographic defined vaguely as "artsy" people of a creative bent: musicians, painters, actors, sculptors, writers, etc., whether they are amateurs or professionals.

Launched in 1995 in London, Soho House now has nearly 25 clubhouses worldwide, with membership access to the network priced at approximately $3,300 annually. While each Soho House varies, many offer amenities like meetings spaces, bars and restaurants, event venues, a spa and a hotel component, with most accommodations available to nonmembers, as well.

"A lot of hospitality companies want to adopt this approach, especially at the high end," Pedraza said. "They understand that people want to be with like-minded people, and right now, the membership model is very popular. These companies have massive overhead, so it becomes a big benefit to have that steady, reliable revenue."

Among the more recent entrants into the space is Fitler Club, a private members facility with a hotel that debuted in Philadelphia this summer. Featuring 14 guestrooms, a gym, workspace and private offices and culinary and event venues, the club's member base includes high-profile names like Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, former NBA star David Robinson and actress Holly Robinson Peete, among others.

Memberships are tiered by age, ranging from $2,000 to $5,000 for an initiation fee and then a monthly fee of $200 to $500.

Nonmembers can book hotel rooms at Fitler Club, and the hotel is open to working with the travel trade and advisors. Nonmember rates start at roughly $450 per night. Fitler Club rooms can be booked directly online, and the club has also released some limited inventory on HotelTonight.

Nonmembers are automatically made temporary club members when they book a room.

Fitler Club founder David Gutstadt said, "For nonmembers, our membership fee is embedded in the room rate. Everyone effectively is part of the club during their stay."

Gutstadt added that Fitler Club is designed to reflect the "Philadelphia of today," with additional Fitler Club outposts being considered for Boston, Toronto and Washington.

"There really hasn't been a new social club in Philadelphia and in many other markets for many years," he said. "We try to reflect the city as it looks now, which is much more diverse, and we're also more represented in newer industry segments, attracting entrepreneurs, creatives and technology folks."

Also promising a more inclusive social-club experience is the Battery, a San Francisco concept that opened in late 2013. The club offers members a restaurant, library, gym, spa, wine cellar, event spaces, several bars and access to various programming. Additionally, members can get involved with smaller subcommunities, including the LGBTQ group Battery Fab, the female empowerment network Women of the Battery and the black professionals group Battery Recharge.

The Battery also offers a 14-room hotel, which is available to nonmembers starting at around $495 a night. The Battery's hotel works with the travel trade, offering commissions and listing on Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Tablet Hotels.

The club has ventured deeper in the travel space with its Battery Travel offshoot, created in partnership with Oregon-based travel and tour operator Modern Adventure. Battery Travel itineraries include getaways to Los Angeles, Alaska, Portugal and Oaxaca, Mexico, that range in price from around $3,100 to $5,000 per person.

Meanwhile, in Budapest, the private members club BrodyLand has emerged as a hotbed for artistic and cultural exchange.

Co-founded by William Clothier and Peter Grunberg, BrodyLand opened its first venue, Brody House, in 2009, offering event and work space and an 11-room boutique hotel.

Today, the club has four Budapest outposts, including the events venue the Studios; the 17-apartment hotel the Living Quarters, which also houses the cafe/bar known as the Workshop; and the Writer's Villa, which can sleep 16 and also functions as an event space.

"BrodyLand's roots are in a bohemian lifestyle," said Julia Csonth, head of marketing and public relations for BrodyLand.

"We're more easygoing than a traditional members club and focus on building a community from the arts."

BrodyLand's membership pricing is relatively accessible. A basic BrodyLand annual membership starts at $123, while a student membership starts at $56. Nonmembers can book rooms with BrodyLand at rates between $100 to $200 per night. Nonmember guests can also access the group's events and spaces during their stay.

BrodyLand's relatively laid-back approach to eclectic community building appears to have struck a chord, and the club now reports a membership of well over 1,000.

Among the creatives who have been spotted at BrodyLand venues are film and TV stars such as Jennifer Lawrence, Harrison Ford and Chris Noth.

That combination of celebrity cachet, creativity and authenticity is one that the Luxury Institute's Pedraza said gives BrodyLand and other social club players a leg up in the competitive hospitality space.

"People want to bond over events," Pedraza said. "Millennials and Gen Z are very in tune to this. It's a paradox, because they are very much the most digital generations, but they do still have this need to belong to something, and this trend reflects that."


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