‘Too Many Hours Waiting for Gelato in Capri.’ America’s Affluent Travellers Head Home.
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‘Too Many Hours Waiting for Gelato in Capri.’ America’s Affluent Travellers Head Home.

Mon, Mar 11, 2024 9:04amGrey Clock 5 min

Affluent U.S. travellers may be sticking closer to home for their big trips this year, travel industry experts say.

Blame it on the soaring cost of travel, unease about the war in the Middle East, or a desire to avoid the headache of sold-out hotels and crowds in popular tourist destinations..Whatever the reason, numerous signs indicate that more Americans with an eye toward luxury travel are opting for domestic vacations this year compared with last, when they ventured abroad in the wake of pent-up demand following the pandemic.

The Arhaus Lounge on courtyard at the White Elephant in Nantucket.
Chi-Thien Nguyen/Elkus Manfredi Architects

Lindsey Ueberroth , the CEO of Preferred Travel Group, comprising more than 1,000 high-end hotels, says that while the group’s international business remains strong, domestic stays have grown so far in 2024, with bookings for the months ahead showing the same rise.

“Airfare is pricey, and some people are avoiding international travel because of the uncertainty in the world,” she says. “As a result, they’re spending their money on pricey resorts in the U.S. instead.”

Ueberroth noted that Brush Creek Ranch in Wyoming’s scenic North Platte River Valley and Montage Kapalua Bay in Maui are two Preferred Travel Group properties that are proving to be top choices among its clientele.

The Harborview room located at the White Elephant in Nantucket.
Chi-Thien Nguyen/Elkus Manfredi Architects

Travel advisors also report a rise in bookings of domestic getaways.

Erica Neher, an advisor with Altour in Paris, is also seeing a renewed interest in domestic getaways from her U.S.-based clients. She says she thinks that the prohibitive cost of top hotels abroad is partially a cause. “I’m hoping the hotel prices start to come down because [uber luxury] travel is becoming unattractive to even those with no or unlimited budget,” she says.

Michael Holtz, the founder and CEO of the global travel firm SmartFlyer, says that its business is up 25% so far this year compared to last.

“Our U.S. bookings are robust. Domestic travel is easier than going abroad, and it can also be less expensive yet more luxurious,” he says.

Holtz cites the all-inclusive Twin Farms in Barnard, Vermont, as an example of a coveted U.S. hotel and says that it’s a scenic resort with great accommodations, cuisine, and service—a place where “the staff accommodates every guest need or want, plus more.” Destination-wise, he says that SmartFlyer’s clients are favouring Hawaii, Jackson Hole, Charleston and Nashville for their stateside forays.

The most significant evidence that affluent travellers have returned to domestic escapes comes from luxury properties themselves, many of which saw a wane or decline in business because their usual guests chose to go abroad as the world opened up from pandemic shutdowns.

Take Post Ranch Inn, a scenic 40-room oceanfront resort in Big Sur, California, where room rates start at US$1,625 a night. Co-owner and managing partner Mike Freed says that occupancy has consistently averaged about 80% a year since the property opened in 1992. Last year was the exception when the number softened.

“There’s no question that many of my regular guests over the years opted for international travel in 2023. Most went to Europe—Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal,” Freed says. “However, they’re back in 2024. Bookings are ahead of last year and already solid for our peak summer season.”

The living room of the Park suite at the White Elephant in Palm Beach.
Chi-Thien Nguyen/Elkus Manfredi Architects

Bill Hayward of Pebble Beach, California, and the president of a lumber company is among the return clientele. He has been staying at Post Ranch Inn since the early ’90s with his wife and says that they usually check in three times annually for between two and three nights each. “Last year, we changed it up by taking several trips to Europe,” he says. “It was catch-up travel after not doing it for so long, but now, we’re back on the Post Ranch Inn bandwagon.”

International air travel can be aggravating, Hayward says, and the couple agreed that it’s more convenient to take a break that’s closer to home.

“We pay around US$7,000 for a three-night stay. It’s cheaper than going to Europe and so much less hassle,” he says, saying the inn is their “happy place.”

Similar to the Big Sur hotel, White Elephant Resorts, inclusive of several properties on Nantucket in Massachusetts and one in Palm Beach, Florida, also saw a dip in demand in 2023, according to president Khaled Hashem . “2022 was a killer year for us with a 20% to 30% increase in business across the resorts, but in 2023, that number stayed flat depending on the property or rose marginally to 3%,” he says. “That is historically low for us as we usually go up between 7% and 8%, even during times of economic distress.”

Fast forward to today, and occupancy is up again at all resorts—Hashem says that the White Elephant in Palm Beach, where nightly room rates average US$1,200, is currently seeing 92% occupancy compared with 78% during the same period last year.

More evidence of this pattern is everywhere.

Brian Honan, the sales and marketing director for Ocean House, set on the water in Watch Hill, Rhode Island, says that currently, confirmed business on the books for the peak months of July and August is almost double what it was last year at this time. And booking pace is up approximately 40% compared to last year. “We are seeing not just increased demand but also that business is being confirmed nearly twice as fast,” Honan says.

At Baccarat New York, demand is growing even further after levelling out in 2023, says director of sales and marketing Rafael Nader. “For 2024, we may be seeing a return to 2022 levels, with our booking pace up nearly 10%,” he says. “This could be tied to a softening of the demand for European destinations, which saw hotel and airfare price points that were tremendously high, even for the luxury traveler.”

Irrespective of prices, Karon Cullen, a marketing consultant who lives in Savannah, says that travelling in America has made her recognise how “varied, beautiful, and rich” the country is. Her domestic trips have also been more enjoyable and leisure-filled. My husband and I learned our “stay in the U.S.A.” lesson last year after too many hours in the past waiting in lines for gelatos in Capri, museums in Paris, even for the fishmonger at a tiny town in Croatia,” she says.

Cullen and her husband recently stayed in a suite at Ocean House where they savoured long beach walks and has more local escapes in the works for the months ahead.

“The more we travel in the U.S., the more we appreciate the relative ease and diminution of stress,” she says.


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Millennials Are Coming for Your Golf Communities

Living on golf courses has surged in popularity since the pandemic. Many courses have upgraded facilities and broadened amenities. Now the 40-year-olds want in too.

Sun, Apr 21, 2024 8 min

Gabrielle Sloan, 30, and her husband, Brandon Sloan, 30, never thought they’d live on a golf course. Gabrielle doesn’t even play golf—yet, at least.

But in January 2020, the Sloans spent $660,000 to buy a three-bedroom, roughly 1,960-square-foot ranch house on approximately 0.25 acres that backs up to the course at Tequesta Country Club, a private golf club in Tequesta, Fla., a village on Palm Beach County’s northern border.

Gabrielle and Brandon Sloan with their son and dog at their house in Tequesta, Fla. PHOTO: JAMES JACKMAN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“We loved how family-friendly the neighbourhood is,” says Gabrielle, noting that the club is catering to a younger crowd. “That lifestyle is something we wanted.”

Across the U.S., millennials like the Sloans are moving to where the grass is greener: private golf communities. “Millennials are starting to solidify their lives,” says Cindy Scholz, a real-estate broker with Compass in New York City and the Hamptons, on New York’s Long Island. “And they are strategically using real estate to shape their lifestyles.”

In Texas, about 10 miles west of downtown Austin is Barton Creek, a community where the Barton Creek Country Club is a selling point. “Before the pandemic, millennials were sporadically buying in Barton Creek,” says Stephanie Nick, a Douglas Elliman sales agent. “Now it’s a full-bore, ‘let’s get going on the country club lifestyle’ movement.”

In Barton Creek, Nick says millennial house hunters typically budget about $3 million to $4 million. In 2023, she sold a millennial a four-bedroom, 5,500-square-foot house for $3.5 million. Recently, she showed a $5 million house to a young couple with one child.

Nick believes millennials—born between 1981 and 1996—are tired of paying more for less in the city. In Austin, $3 million might buy a roughly 3,000-square-foot house on a small parcel, she says, whereas that same price in Barton Creek might buy a 5,000-square-foot to 6,000-square-foot house on a half to one acre in a community with easy access to four 18-hole golf courses, tennis, workout facilities, swimming and more.

In Georgia, Mary Catherine Smith, a real estate agent with Corcoran Classic Living, says millennials are moving to Jennings Mill Country Club, less than five miles south of downtown Athens. In March, Smith listed a typical Jennings Mill property—a five bedroom, 4,984 square foot house on 1.07 acres—for $965,000.

One reason Smith thinks young homeowners gravitate to the club is for its social life. “Many Jennings Mills residents have golf carts,” she says. “They’ll trolley around together on the weekend.”

“There are millennials who have never picked up a golf club, and a country club neighbourhood is still the only place they want to be,” says Byron Wood, a real estate agent with Sotheby’s International Realty – Westlake Village Brokerage, about 10 miles from Los Angeles’s city limits.

Millennials moving to private golf communities is a trend that might have seemed unthinkable before the Covid pandemic, when such enclaves seemed destined for the rough due to waning interest in the sport, especially among young people.

Then an unlikely coincidence occurred.

A bucket of balls at the Bermuda Dunes Country Club. PHOTO: OLIVIA ALONSO GOUGH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Golf play surged during the pandemic and continues to grow: In 2023, more golf rounds were played than any other year on record, according to the National Golf Foundation.

Meanwhile, since the Great Recession, there are private golf clubs that have been transforming themselves into amenity-rich lifestyle hubs, whose resort-style pools, sports facilities, fitness centres, dining and social programming have broad appeal, says Jason Becker, co-founder and CEO of Golf Life Navigators, an online platform that connects golfers to golf clubs and golf communities across the U.S.

At the same time, during the pandemic, millennials started turning 40 years old. Research from Club Benchmarking, a private golf club business intelligence firm, shows that the average age of new private golf club joiners is early 40s, says Michael J. Timmerman, the company’s chief market intelligence officer.

That means at the same time golf and private golf clubs came back into style, the next generation of Muffys and Skips were primed to start their country club years.

Consequently, the NGF has seen a shift toward younger private golf club members on the heels of the pandemic. Since 2019, the number of golfers at private golf clubs has increased by approximately 25%, from just under 1.5 million to 1.9 million, according to the NGF. Adults under the age of 50 comprise 60% of those memberships, with young adults, ages 18 to 34, representing about 30%. The latter can include adult children of members, typically up to a certain age.

There is no one-size-fits-all U.S private golf club community. Some clubs have housing within their gates; other clubs are integrated within regular residential neighbourhoods. Roughly speaking, a top-tier club’s golf initiation fee could be $250,000 or much more, with annual dues in the mid-tens of thousands and up. However, there are also clubs with golf initiation fees and annual dues in the low thousands or less. Typically, there are lower-priced membership options that don’t include golf, such as social or pool- and tennis-only memberships.

In December 2021, Tyson Hawley, 37, and his wife, Maital Hawley, 40, paid $1.15 million for a turnkey four bedroom, 4,272 square foot house on 0.4 acres backing up to the golf course at the Bermuda Dunes Country Club. It’s located in California’s greater Palm Springs area, which has more than 110 golf courses, of which more than half are private.

“I leave my house and I’m on my club’s first tee in two minutes,” Tyson Hawley says. Hawley is a real estate agent with Desert Sotheby’s International Realty. He says within a prestigious desert club’s gates, houses might be in the multi-millions. However, there are lower priced golf community options that work for his millennial buyers, who typically have house budgets of about $800,000 to $1.2 million, he says.

undefined “It is very possible to buy a house at $350 per square foot in a golf community and be super pumped about what you get for your membership,” he says. “There are clubs that understand that millennials are in a season of their lives where they can’t hang with the big dogs paying $250,000 for an initiation fee.”

Golf Life Navigators’s Jason Becker says some private clubs have invested in their amenities, golf course and branding, while others have not and rely upon their historic status. “Millennials are very cautious by nature in terms of their finances and investments,” Becker says. “Industry officials are seeing very in-depth questions coming from millennials pertaining to the club’s financial health and long-term plan to remain healthy.”

Becker says there are, of course, golf communities where there aren’t many younger members, specifically those in the U.S.’s Southeast or Southwest that are geared toward retirees or second-home owners. “There’s just so much demand from the baby boomers,” says Becker, noting that since the pandemic, generally speaking, membership wait lists are now lengthy, fees associated with being a member are up, attrition rates are down and tee time availability is compressed. He added that the cost of being a member at some clubs can be prohibitive for younger people, especially in an era when the average initiation fee at a private club has increased 50% to 70% since 2021. In the Sunbelt, the average age of private golf club searchers is between ages 55 to 57, according to Golf Life Navigators’s data.

That’s not a hard-and-fast rule, though. In the Phoenix area, Lisa Roberts is a real-estate agent with Russ Lyon Sotheby’s International Realty. She is working with a young millennial couple at McCormick Ranch Golf Club, in Scottsdale. They recently went into contract for $1.1 million on a three bedroom, 2,550 square foot house on 0.21 acre. “They plan to upgrade once they have children and a more established income,” Roberts says, “but this house lets them lay a foundation within the club’s gates now.”

Becker says whether younger people will be battling generational stereotypes hinges on the club’s culture, which sets the tone for all members. “It is up to the club’s board and management team to lead the way of established culture, such as playing music on the golf course or wearing a hat in the clubhouse,” Becker says. “For younger, new members, the club’s culture has to be understood or frustration will likely surface.”

Club Benchmarking’s Michael J. Timmerman says, “It really depends on how the club is designed, whether the club wants to focus on programming that will attract different members.” Timmerman adds that clubs catering to younger members and families will develop social programming specifically tailored to that age group.

Around the communities of Monterey and Carmel on California’s Central Coast, there are storied golf courses including the public Pebble Beach Golf Links and the private Monterey Peninsula Country Club. Nic Canning, managing partner at Canning Properties Group with Sotheby’s International Realty – Carmel Brokerage, says retirees and second-home owners typically live around these premiere courses, where he says properties can range from roughly $15 million to $35 million around Pebble Beach, and $3 million to $10 million around MPCC.

However, the area is rich with golf—there are roughly a dozen public courses and a half-dozen private clubs—and Canning has seen an influx of millennials buying in  family-friendly private golf communities such as the Club at Pasadera, Santa Lucia Preserve and Tehama Golf Club, and the semi-private Carmel Valley Ranch. He says since the pandemic, the area has particularly attracted tech workers migrating from Silicon Valley, with San Jose being only about 70 miles north.

At these clubs, Canning has recently sold millennials properties such as a three bedroom, 2,717-square-foot house on approximately 0.23 acres for $3.792 million, and a house with roughly similar specs for $2.7 million. Another house that has three bedrooms and 4,396 square feet on 13.3 acres just sold to a millennial for $4.42 million.

“Millennials are less driven by ocean views and care more about the community, the school district and access to things like restaurants, grocery shopping, trails and beaches,” Canning says.

Similarly, millennials want to equip their private golf-club houses a certain way. Kate O’Hara, CEO and creative director of O’Hara Interiors, which is based in Minneapolis and Austin, says the country club houses her firm works on might include everything from golf-simulator rooms and yoga studios, to outdoor-access showers and expanded mudrooms for equipment storage.

Back in Tequesta, Fla., the Sloans spent about $150,000 to optimise their house to fit their lifestyle, including adding durable furnishings and built-in cabinetry and jazzing up their outdoor entertaining area. They did so with the help of local interior designer Victoria Meadows Murphy, 35, who has a knack for taking the Bob Hope vibes out of country club homes without losing the martini spirit.

Meadows Murphy and her husband, Evan Murphy, 35, are building their own house, a project budgeted at $2.8 million, on a tear-down lot on the Sloans’s same golf course. “It’s exciting seeing the turnover of houses as young people are moving in,” Meadows Murphy says.


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