The JustLuxe Interview: James Henderson, CEO of Exclusive Resorts

Exclusive Resorts

Exclusive Resorts, the high end, arguably best known destination club, has been in existence since the early 2000’s. Founded by Brad and Brent Handler, two brothers who shared a vision of a better vacation, with a logical second home alternative after a less-than-ideal leisure experience in Hawaii, realized soon they had a powerful idea whose time had come. Soon after the Exclusive Resorts launch, no less than 21 other clubs with a similar idea had launched. Yet many went bankrupt, and many just faded away.

But Exclusive Resorts grew deep roots, as the DNA of ER’s vision and mission -- creating a vacation experience-- remained positive, memorable, and seamless. As of this writing, the Exclusive Resorts team has provided over 300,000 vacations for its members, whether the vacation goal was a peaceful sanctuary, lively experience and all other dimensions in between.

Exclusive Resorts - Northstar Residence, Lake Tahoe

A year ago, James Henderson became the CEO of Exclusive Resorts as his high-end background, working in directorship positions in the private jet and elite yacht industries, and having lived abroad for many years, was an excellent match.  

We recently interviewed Mr. Henderson, with questions ranging from the evolution of luxury, and how Exclusive Resorts has evolved with it, to the exploration of the great new frontier in the coming years. 

JL: Originally, in 2002, ER was launched as the second destination club in the world — the first being Private Retreats which became Tanner & Haley, that bankrupted in 2006. At that time, ER was one of 21 destination clubs, most of whom also died out or bankrupted. What philosophical/visionary underpinning, did ER have that other destination clubs didn’t?

Exclusive Resorts - Islands of Islamorada Residence

Mr. Henderson: Even in the beginning, there were primary, visionary tenets than are still alive today: creating vacations that are custom-tailored, which means now, in our New Normal, providing a high-touch or a no-touch experience. We still provide, in other words, private chefs, vacation ambassadors, and others on the destination team -- who can meet members physically or virtually. However, no matter which it is, and for all our vacations, members’ privacy and security is most important to ER, and because of those elements, a sense of member trust has been created, and this underlies most feelings of unease when traveling from home, especially to a new vacation environment.  

In addition, many of our members have been with us for several years. We know them, we know their children, grandparents, most all family members, and have come to know what their expectations, likes, and dislikes are. There is a reason for this: we only take between 100 and 150 membership applications a year, as we wish to maintain a detailed, yet comfortable knowledge of our members and their lives. From the beginning, we have always been interested in the lives and life changes of our members. So really, ER has become more of a 4000-member community than a vacation club: an enclave where our members are loyal and appreciative of our effort to make their vacations peaceful or exciting or many times, transformational.

Exclusive Resorts - Surfing, Los Cabos Mexico

JL: JustLuxe has interviewed the Handlers, Philippe Bourguignon, and Jeff Potter, all former  CEOs of Exclusive Resorts before: what is it that you bring to the Exclusive Resorts table that has allowed it to grow into new areas during your tenure? 

Mr. Henderson: Two things really. First, because of my experience in the private jet and the high-end yachting industry, often, I knew the same people as those who were members or potential members in Exclusive Resorts. Their interests in the curated experience, the desire for privacy, and security are the same touchpoints as I knew before. Second, and it may be because of COVID – 19, but no matter what, we have seen more demand for membership in the past few months than in the past six years. Somehow, possibly because of COVID, the market has come to us. It may be the desire for more family adventure, or for more private time with families. 

JL: As regards diverse areas, outer space is the new, and maybe the final frontier – and it was recently announced that Exclusive Resorts and The Space Perspective have created a strategic alliance to allow Exclusive Resorts members to experience sub-orbital balloon flights on the edge of space.  What member interest in these new sub-orbital flights has ER seen thus far? 

Mr. Henderson: Many of our members are active adventurers, so when we discussed sub-orbital space flights in a balloon, many were interested. This ultimate adventure, one of our OIAL ( Once In A Lifetime) series, will be ready to go in late 2024 or early 2025.  There will be eight in the balloon, and fly to the edge of space, where you can see from an observation window, the curvature of the earth, as you see a sunrise over the earth.  It will be a transformative experience, to say the least. 

JL: From the ER perspective, how has the concept of luxury evolved from the time ER launched until now?  Which dimensions have changed, which have remained surprisingly the same in terms of ER member interests and desires? 

Mr. Henderson: Many of the dimensions of luxury have indeed evolved over the past years. Luxury used to be associated with opulence, with grandiose consumerism. Now, in our field, luxury is often associated with a curated, detailed, unique experience, often with the deeper idea of sanctuary. The ER experience, with our 350 multi-million-dollar homes, and every home operated by us, each combines the possibilities of seclusion as well as gathering – so the family can be as separate or as together as they wish.  That combination defines a type of luxury to many. Also, there is luxury in detail: having fresh food, previously ordered by the member, in the refrigerator, private chefs, great culinary experiences, and great detailed adventures. In all, having no worries, being with family, and feeling safe in a beautiful environment, this vacation is regenerative, defining a meaningful, grounded luxury experience for our members. Visit the Exclusive Resorts website for more information.

Exclusive Resorts - Horseback Riding, Sea Island,Georgia
Exclusive Resorts/Drone - The Yachting Experience

Susan Kime

Susan Kime's career combines publishing, journalism and editing. She was the Destination Club/Fractional Update Editor for Elite Traveler, and senior club news correspondent for The Robb Report's Vacation Homes. Her work has been published in Stratos, Luxury Living, European CEO, The London Telegraph, Caviar Affair, ARDA Developments, and Luxist/AOL. She was the Editor-in-Chief of Travel Conno...(Read More)

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