Members-only clubs were very popular throughout history. Outside of university settings, private clubs were prominent features of urban areas throughout the 20th century. But as the Internet created new channels for like-minded people to congregate, membership clubs diminished radically in popularity.
Recently, the tide has come back in. Riding a wave of disenchantment with the digital experience, membership clubs are more popular than ever. Global behemoth Soho House has 19 locations catering to its 71,000 members, which usually include rooms for overnight stays alongside exclusive bars, restaurants, rooftops, pools and events.
“People always want what they can’t have, and they want something that’s special,” says private club consultant Frank Vain. The new clubs “have redefined special. There’s an anticlub aspect to them that is creating a buzz.”
As membership-based brands push further into hoteliers’ territory, it’s useful to consider their appeal -- and apply any potential learnings to the hotel experience.
Lean into history
Hoteliers seeking a modern brand perception are often reluctant to highlight legacy. However, the benefits to promote history have never been greater. It's not just millennials interested in the past; travelers of all kinds appreciate the legacy of a place. The businesses that shape a specific place are crucial to this appreciation of place.
One of the oldest members clubs is Boodle’s, in London. It was founded in 1762 by the Earl of Shelbourne. The rich tapestry of history imbues the club with a reputation for quality and longevity -- two qualities that certainly are welcome for any hotel.
So, if you have a history, be proud of it! Don't shy away from highlighting what makes your space historically significant. And if you're able to make a connection with history that also ties into a modern design, your hotel will be well-positioned to sit astride the past and the future.
Foster community through events
Events drive reputation. And we don't mean happy hours! We mean smart, appealing, and well-executed events -- because fostering a true community requires well-thought-out events.
Remember that one of the most valuable elements for any member that joins a club: networking within the context of a robust event calendar that isn’t repetitive or uninspired.
Events are a great tool for hoteliers looking to engage the local community. Consider offering low-to-no fee event rentals to certain organizations, such as professional networking associations. Hosting these events is your chance to showcase your space and build up your word of mouth marketing among target demographics.
Events outside the typical promotional-type offerings also engage staff by creating opportunities for you to connect your hotel to the community they live in. Events can range from social to educational, with some hotels even focusing on science-based talks to help improve wellness for those who attend.
Nurture a familiar-but-local experience
Experiencing a destination “like a local” Is a global mantra for the hospitality industry. This concept has been used so much that it’s nearly become meaningless. Even so, travelers often seek out familiar brands, with known quality standards, while still offering an atmosphere of local conviviality.
The key to successful hospitality across locations is to provide a familiar experience with a distinctive local vibe. By nurturing a community of locals that frequent your hotel, you bring the local vibe organically to the property.
Members clubs follow this maxim by designing a familiar-yet-distinctive physical experience. The design of the space is typically welcome, lush, and inviting. It's a space that members want to hang out in and time and time again. And that's essential because clubs want members to return regularly to spend money!
Clubs also imbue local flavor. Thanks to investments in design, furniture, and fixtures, members get the feeling that they are at a club in a specific location, so the space is both inviting and familiar. All without being boring or losing a sense of place.
Consider a members-only experience
While this isn’t appropriate for every brand, a members-only experience could become a healthy side business.
Especially given the fact that many hotels and restaurants offer a token “locals” discount -- and also given the reality that demand for memberships often outstrip supply. Soho House, which has a staggering 27,000 people on the waitlist, recently told the Wall Street Journal:
“Ultimately, there’s more demand than supply,” said Soho House’s Chief Financial Officer Peter McPhee.
Ask yourself: Is there a particular demographic that you're targeting with your on-property offerings? If so, can you craft a membership that focuses on solving 1-3 needs of that demographic? Is there a natural fit with a celebrity visionary that might find inspiration in filmmaker’s David Lynch’s Parisian private club Silencio?
Even if it's an unpaid membership, the data, engagement, and brand loyalty are valuable assets in the long term. After all, ancillary revenue doesn't only have to come from room upgrades, food and beverage, spa, and activity add-ons!