Inspirato, a Denver-based luxury destination club, plans to hire its 500th employee by year’s end.
The Denver Post
By: Emilie Rusch
May 5, 2016
Inspirato, a Denver-based destination club that caters to luxury travelers, is in the midst of a major growth spurt, set to reach 500 employees by year’s end and more than double its office footprint in Lower Downtown.
Launched in 2011 by Exclusive Resorts co-founder Brent Handler, Inspirato now counts more than 12,000 members taking advantage of its private network of multimillion-dollar vacation homes, travel experiences and special relationships with upscale hotels worldwide. Initiation fees for the club start at $7,500, with monthly dues of $325. Members then pay per night for accommodations they book.
“The reason we came up with the company is because we knew there was a really large market of people who were looking for a better way to vacation in a safe manner, for options in homes, hotels and experiences, all with an adviser to help them put it all together,” Handler said. “We’re continuing to grow very aggressively in terms of selling memberships, revenue and employees.”
That growth has meant adding jobs and square footage to its Denver headquarters.
Since the beginning of the year, Inspirato has increased its workforce by 66 employees, bringing the total to 428. Plans call for the company to reach 500 workers by the end of 2016.
To house that growth, Inspirato has signed a lease for three floors of the historic Sugar Building, located at 16th and Wazee streets.
Once renovations are complete later this year, the addition will bring the company’s total footprint to about 68,000 square feet, making the travel company one of the largest office tenants in LoDo.
The company will continue to occupy all 36,000 square feet of the historic Peters Paper Co. Warehouse building at 1637 Wazee St., less than a block away.
Handler said while it might have been more efficient to move the entire operation into a larger, more traditional office building, the company never seriously considered leaving LoDo.
“We knew early on that would mean a campus. Frankly, this building won’t be enough for our growth plans, either,” Handler said. “We plan on being a long-term part of the community in this small sector of LoDo.”
Beyond any emotional attachment to the area, though, Inspirato is also betting on the recruiting advantage that being in LoDo provides, he said. Most of the new positions will be in tech, sales and what the company calls “travel advisers,” employees who work directly with club members to plan vacations.
“We’re hiring just out of college — or a few years out of college — smart, motivated employees, and they do not want to work in the Tech Center,” Handler said. “They want to work at the center of the action.”
Nationwide, the “shared economy model” has been experiencing a resurgence in recent years in the luxury travel world, said Milton Pedraza, CEO of New York-based research firm Luxury Institute.
“The idea is popular because who wouldn’t want multiple home availability at the right time, with a great concierge and pay a fraction of the cost?” Pedraza said.
“But it’s how you actually deliver that promise that really matters,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of players go down. They think they’re in the business of selling memberships, but they’re really not.”
Inspirato’s model “really hits the sweet spot of where the consumer is going,” said Richard Ragatz, president of Ragatz Associates, an Oregon-based resort real estate industry consulting firm. “Inspirato is a very innovative, creative concept that’s doing very well.”
In 2015, the shared-ownership industry — which includes timeshare properties and destination clubs — booked $505 million in sales. Sixty-two percent of that came from destination clubs, such as Inspirato, according to a report from Ragatz Associates.
Inspirato has distinguished itself from other timeshare and destination-club players with its lower cost of entry and no long-term commitment, he said. Younger travelers, in particular, like the variety, convenience and flexibility the clubs can offer.
“Millennials are much less enthusiastic about purchasing real estate with a deed in perpetuity, and they don’t want all the burdens that go along with ownership,” Ragatz said. “They don’t want to put all their discretionary income into one home.”
Unlike many of its competitors, Inspirato operates the vacation residences through long-term lease arrangements, instead of purchasing them. This allows the company to avoid the six-figure initiation fees that some other clubs charge.
“We essentially tried to take the best parts of renting a vacation home, which was becoming popular with Airbnb and HomeAway and VRBO,” Handler said. “We came up with a concept where we could have a club structure — people pay a fee to join, but then they get these homes taken care of as if you were in a hotel. They’re fully serviced, there’s housekeeping, there’s a concierge.”
As far as their new offices in the Sugar Building, plans call for exposing as much of the original 1906 structure as possible, said Mark Sheldon, Inspirato’s vice president of asset operations.
Work on the three floors will be done in phases and be completed by the end of the year.
“The first thing I did was tear out the walls,” Sheldon said. “Now, when you walk up into the space, instead of seeing hallways, you see every window.”
In a separate project, the design details of which were approved by the Lower Downtown Design Review Board late last year, the property owner plans to build a four-story addition with a glass facade where now a narrow parking lot sits behind the building on Wazee.
Inspirato will take three of the floors, with the ground floor serving as the travel company’s main entrance. The addition, expected to be completed by the end of the second quarter of 2017, will increase Inspirato’s footprint by another 12,000 square feet.
“These commitments to the people and the places we occupy are all part and parcel to what we’re building here,” Sheldon said.