There's finally a publicly traded player in the nascent destination-club industry. Fortress Investment Group's
BelleHavens and Crescendo will become the Abercrombie & Kent Residence Club this summer, taking on even more members. Unlike the more popular practice of timeshares, destination clubs offer lavish getaways in multimillion-dollar homes. Members pay hefty, mostly refundable deposits, followed by annual dues to cover the costs of maintaining the properties, running the club, and acquiring additional properties. Luxury travel pioneer Abercrombie & Kent will soon be able to offer its exotic getaways, such as African safaris and Galapagos cruises, alongside the 43 ritzy club homes it will control by the end of the year.
With the real estate downturn burning vacation-home investors, destination clubs are a way to offer picky travelers a diverse portfolio of high-end vacation choices without the chore and expense of personal upkeep.
It was really just a matter of time before the big boys moved in. I figured that timeshare giants like Wyndham
There's certainly plenty of growth potential here. The industry's largest club, Exclusive Resorts, actually has a waiting list of 181 prospective new members, according to industry watcher Halogen Guides. When you can't acquire properties quickly enough to accept new members, it's easy to feel upbeat about the future.
The second- and third-largest clubs announced their merger several months ago, with further industry consolidation likely as smaller clubs unite to take advantage of the economies of scale that Exclusive Resorts is now enjoying.
The industry's growth potential will never be as large as the timeshare industry's. Destination clubs' five- and typically six-figure initial deposits limit the potential audience to well-heeled luxury travelers. However, you have to admire an industry that is growing at a time when estate homes and beachfront getaways now sell for fractions of the peak value they sported just two years ago.
Abercrombie & Kent has sent well-to-do travelers on exotic safaris for decades. This time, it's the one looking for adventure. Welcome to the jungle, Fortress.
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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a member of the Private Escapes destination club, though he hardly considers himself fancy. He owns shares in Disney. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.