Skift Take

It's hard to look at Ennismore's chic new Gleneagles Townhouse, which puts equal weight on its members club as its hotel, without drawing a connection to how many travel brands have been testing the subscription model.

Series: Early Check-In

Early Check-In

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When the Gleneagles Townhouse opens in Edinburgh shortly, it will combine a 33-guestroom luxury hotel with a membership club that woos locals.

The project — managed and owned by development firm Ennismore — touches on a few themes bubbling up in the hotel sector:

  • leveraging brands in new ways;
  • using membership as a subscription model;
  • balancing the ratio of locals to out-of-town guests;
  • updating the members club concept for today’s generation.

The project is a spinoff of a storied brand.

  • The Townhouse project in the Scottish capital is the first expansion in its nine-decade history of Gleneagles. The golf resort in Perthshire has long been known regionally as a “playground of the gods” because of its glamorous clientele.
  • Around 2015, Diageo sold the Gleneagles hotel to entrepreneur Sharan Pasricha and his Ennismore firm for a rumored $170 million (£150 million).
  • Late last year, Accor became a two-thirds owner of Ennismore.
  • Ennismore has been refreshing Gleneagles. Only about one in five guests plays the courses, so it has upgraded the hotel to become Instagrammable in a New Luxury way.

The new Townhouse hotel, members club, and restaurant will be on former Bank of Scotland premises at St Andrew Square. Notably, the owners give equal weight to the hotel, aimed at out-of-town guests, and the members club and restaurant, aimed mostly at locals.

  • “A strong local members club will anchor the hotel,” said Conor O’Leary, managing director of The Gleneagles Hotel.
  • The hotel at the Townhouse is built small so that it can stay filled and profitable even during low seasons. Meanwhile, the club and restaurant can be year-round moneyspinners.
  • Clubs apply the subscription model. They deliver recurring revenue while also helping a brand become closer to customers and learn more about how to provide personalized offerings.

The Townhouse opening comes after Soho House’s debut as a public company. It’s one of a few recent examples highlighting the value of clubs to hospitality.

The club at the Gleneagles Townhouse aspires to ensure that the hotel can deliver on a “live like a local” promise.

  • “We want hotel guests to arrive and walk into the bar and see locals using it,” O’Leary said. “We spent a lot of time curating the membership for the launch. We spoke to locals of different backgrounds, personalities, careers, and so on, to make sure the club represents a blend of the people who live in, or frequent, Edinburgh.”
  • Hotel guests get access to many club facilities — except for the private dining lounge.
  • The restaurant has been influenced by a consultancy behind London’s hip restaurants Palomar and The Barbary. The chef will be Scottish — as will key ingredients for the dishes.
  • “The restaurant is probably just as important a pillar for me,” O’Leary said. “It has to be one of those great city restaurants where you can walk in at any time of the day and feel the energy. You could have business lunch or have a pre-theater meal during the Festival.”
  • Between the club and the restaurant, the goal is to create a sense of community.
  • “If we had 130 rooms instead of 30 rooms in the hotel, you’d run a risk of the building feeling empty during the day and the community mix being too heavily made up of outsiders, for lack of a better term,” O’Leary said.
  • Not being greedy is important. Capping membership numbers ensures members will always be able to get space in the lounge or workspace when they want it — important in encouraging members to visit the club routinely.

Gleneagles studied other members clubs and ran focus groups to plan its concept.

  • Members clubs are as old as London’s Pall Mall and St. James’s Park.
  • Soho House has been part of a wave of new versions of the concept.
  • “If you go to the Arts Club or 5 Hertford Street, the food and drink is now really good, and that wasn’t always the case,” O’Leary said. “The F&B [food and beverage] is much more important than a decade ago.”
  • “I was visiting New York City the other day — at a well-known members club — and I was waiting endlessly for average food to be served,” O’Leary said. “I was kicking myself. Why am I in a city with a sublime culinary scene sitting here like this?”
  • “Our focus groups said Edinburgh wanted something original and locally relevant,” O’Leary said. “There was no question of us parachuting in a concept from elsewhere. So we’re working with some of the members to help put the concept together.”
  • In one example, the wellness team is led by successful practitioners of Edinburgh’s most successful yoga studios, people who get the nuance of Edinburgh compared to other cities, O’Leary said.
  • “To thrive, our front door should have 100 people coming in the restaurant, a similar number of members coming in throughout the day and night, and if the hotel is full, about 80 or 90 customers,” O’Leary said. “To make the hotel special, we ironically have to make the ratios about creating a great scene.”

Tags: accor, Early Check-In, ennismore, future of lodging, gleneagles, hotels, loyalty, luxury, membership clubs, scotland, Skift Pro Columns, subscriptions

Photo credit: The new Gleneagles Townhouse will feature a rooftop terrace.