Destination club Inspirato with American Express has grown very rapidly since its launch in 2011. Its members have exclusive access to a collection of luxury vacation homes and can participate in members-only experiences and VIP events. SherpaReport talked to founder and CEO Brent Handler.

Inspirato Punta Cana Residence

Tell us about highlights in 2013 for Inspirato?

Last year was a very big year for Inspirato. In March 2013, we announced a partnership with American Express, under the new club name "Inspirato with American Express," as well as our plans to enhance the club experience for members and set a new standard in luxury travel. This was a huge step for us, allowing us to accelerate growth and raise awareness about Inspirato with consumers. We then launched Inspirato for Business in April, a program designed for businesses to incentivize top performers through reward travel. Finally, in December, we announced the combination with Portico Club. The combination makes Inspirato the largest destination club in the world, both by number of members and the value and size of our real estate portfolio. So, yes, 2013 was a banner year for Inspirato across the board.

What are key plans for the club this year?

This year our priority has been improving the member experience. We've seen that as companies scale up, they generally need to dilute their customer relationships in order to increase capacity. But we've done the complete opposite. As we have scaled up, we have intensified our member relationships and have become even better at getting a 360-degree view of what our members need and want. By really getting to know our members, we can provide them better vacation experiences, which is what Inspirato is all about. We're also adding new vacation options for our members in the form of Inspirato Signature Experiences, incusing our members-only Eastern Mediterranean cruise this summer and a 2016 Antarctica Expedition, and through Inspirato Signature Ticket, which provides members VIP access to celebrated events like the Super Bowl and New York Fashion Week. We also continue to grow at an impressive rate, which is great for our members as it allows us to add new destinations and new properties to the portfolio. We've already added 80 new Signature Residences this year and continue to add more each month.

What types of members are joining the club this year?

We're seeing a wide range of members joining Inspirato. They range from young entrepreneurs to retired senior executives of large corporations and from single or newly married to large families. Geographically, our members are primarily from North America – U.S., Mexico and Canada – but we do have international members from Asia, Europe, Australian and South America.

 Inspirato Tuscany Residence

Which are the most popular destinations amongst members?

Our most popular destinations include Vail, Colorado; Los Cabos, Mexico; Punta de Mita, Mexico; Hawaii – both Maui and the Big Island; Tuscany; Wine Country in Sonoma, California; Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; Grand Cayman; and Costa Rica.

What is the main reason your members cite for joining?

There are a variety of reasons our members join Inspirato. Part of it is that they are tired of playing vacation roulette when renting vacation homes online...when you have no idea what you're going to get until you arrive. Other members are considering buying a second home but don't want the hassles, the expenses and the lack of variety that a second home locks them into. There is also the value that we offer – the quality of residences that we provide is unmatched in the marketplace at our price.

But these are all practical reasons and I believe many of our members join for emotional reasons as well. We create memories for our members that are irreplaceable. Family bonds are strengthened, new friendships are formed while on vacation, and our members recognize this and want that experience to be a part of their lives.

Inspirato Vail Residence

Are you noticing any new trends amongst members and their travel?

We're seeing an increase in members traveling with their extended families and groups of friends and sharing the vacation experience. Spending time together and investing in memories is becoming more of a priority. We're also seeing members express an increased interest in traveling further afield and seeking out new experiences. This is part of why we've expanded our Inspirato Signature Experiences and Inspirato Signature Ticket programs – because our members want to be pushed outside their comfort zone. Foodie travel is also a big trend, which complements the experiential component of traveling to new locales – exploring local markets, meeting chefs, preparing the cuisines of a new country – all these activities help you feel more connected to a place, in addition to guaranteeing a great meal.

Brent Handler MonteCarloOf all the things that members can ask their PVAs to arrange, what are the most popular, can you give us some examples of the unusual ones?

Some of the most popular requests for our PVAs (Pesonal Vacation Advisors) include planning celebrations – family reunions, birthdays, graduations - as well as girls/guys weekends away. Another very popular request is a private chef experience.

In terms of unusual requests, we've had PVAs plan surprise vow renewals and marriage proposals, even intimate weddings. One of our PVAs and our onsite destination concierge team recently planned an extravagant luau in Hawaii for 30+ people on very short notice. We've even flown in a member's private wine collection to the Caribbean so they could enjoy their most special bottles while on vacation.

Another fun example of our staff going above and beyond...a member was taking his fiancé on a surprise trip to Italy. Since it was a secret, he needed to pack for her but had no idea what to bring. Our Destination Concierge in Italy, Simona, set up a Skype call with the member who gave her a virtual tour of his fiance's closet so she could pack for her. Simona said if he had been on his own, he likely would have brought only her sneakers and no other footwear – obviously unacceptable to any woman visiting Italy.