In 2010, Brent Handler co-founded Inspirato, a luxury travel subscription business that has transformed the way people travel. The company provides its members access to a controlled portfolio of luxury properties and curated travel experiences. Despite extensive travel, Handler remains true to his Denver roots and gives back to his community in various ways.
AvidLifestyle: Between Exclusive Resorts and Inspirato, you have spent more than 20 years in this industry. What have you learned so far?
Brent Handler: I have been blessed to spend most of my career in an industry that is incredibly fun, dynamic and challenging. As one of the founders of Exclusive Resorts in 2002, I learned that families really wanted better ways to be able to enjoy quality time with family and friends while on vacation. I also learned that the best way to do that was in a spacious home rather than in a cramped hotel room.
In 2010, I left Exclusive Resorts along with my co-founders and started Inspirato. One of the first things I learned was that if you can make luxury travel more affordable, you reach a far larger audience. If you can reach a larger audience, you can offer a significantly broader portfolio. This, in turn, makes your target audience even larger and your value proposition stronger. To create that affordability, the Inspirato business model is asset-light because we lease our homes (the Exclusive Resorts model was based on buying houses).
I continue to learn new things every day, and we are a company that is constantly innovating. Learning new things from our members and employees is what makes the job fun. I guess I will know it’s time to hang it up when I stop learning.
AL: How was Inspirato affected by the
BH: Like all travel companies, we were hit very hard by the pandemic. We made national news by being one of the first travel companies to do broad layoffs in mid-March of 2020 and ceased all operations until early summer. As a subscription business with extremely loyal members, we are beyond grateful for our families who continued to support us, even in the darkest days of the pandemic.
By the time we got to the fall of 2020, it was clear that the return of travel was going to come roaring back, especially for the affluent families we serve.
While risky at the time, we doubled down on inventory acquisition in 2020, locking up incredible partners so that when travel returned, we would be ready. That decision turned out to be the right one. Our growth in 2021 and 2022 has been fueled by the amazing portfolio that we have acquired in the past few years. Of note, since the layoffs in the spring of 2020, we have more than doubled our employee size, bringing back many of the same people who were let go when the pandemic began.
AL: Are you doing anything new to prepare for a possible economic downturn, or do you not worry about that because your clientele is somewhat insulated from market fluctuations?
BH: While our clientele is somewhat insulated from market fluctuations and our product inherently skews towards high-net-worth families, we have to pay attention to what is happening in the world. Navigating through the pandemic was an illuminating experience, and we spent a great deal of time diversifying and updating our products to be more flexible than ever. With the addition of our newest subscription product, Inspirato Select, we continue to diversify our revenue to include corporate incentive travel. Overall, we are becoming more judicious about what real estate we add to our portfolio. That being said, we are definitely in acquisition mode right now for new and better inventory. A downturn in the economy helps us in that we can get better accommodations for our members and provide more value for their travel dollars due to our scale and buying power.
AL: After this many years, what still excites you about this business?
BH: Everything. I have the best job in the world. It is so much fun to go to work every day and spend my time ensuring that our member families can spend more and better time with the ones they love.
AL: What’s next on the horizon for Inspirato? I read that you want to bring subscription travel to more people. How will you do that?
BH: Via the newest launch of our most flexible and value-packed subscription to date, Inspirato Select, we’re offering an innovative new gifting option. This option brings Inspirato to more people than ever. Designed for both personal and business use, Inspirato Select Trips are fully transferable and can be given to family, friends and colleagues at no additional cost, widening the pool of those who are able to make use of the incredible vacation homes and trips.
Whether it’s a high-performing colleague or family member in need of a vacation, this gifting option is a seamless way to spread the amazing Inspirato experiences to many. Inspirato Select Members can choose from more than 150 destinations from a list of 500,000+ options, each better than the next. We’re proud of our options that can now be shared with more people than ever before.
AL: I understand you were born, raised and attended college here. As a man who is so well-traveled, what keeps you anchored to Denver?
BH: True. Born in southeast Denver, high school at Thomas Jefferson, college in Boulder, office in LODO. I guess I have just never found anyplace else that I like better.
AL: Tell me a little about family life. I understand you’re married with three children. Can you share your children’s ages?
BH: Yes, married for 27 years to my wife Kirsten, and we have three kids—our two oldest, a boy and girl, both work and live in New York City. Our youngest son is a senior in high school.
AL: What do you like to do as a family with your free time (aside from travel)?
BH: Well, with two kids living in New York, we generally see our kids around holidays or travel. My mom and Kirsten’s parents live in Denver, so usually, when our kids are home, we do something with our extended family.
AL: What are your hobbies?
BH: I really like to golf—though I wish I were better at it. Kirsten and I also enjoy playing pickleball, skiing, biking, hiking and really any other fun outdoor Colorado activity.
AL: I know you’ve given a lot to the local golf community. Can you please tell me about your/Inspirato’s recent charitable contributions to events or organizations in the Denver area?
BH: As you know, golf is a passion of mine, and I’m always looking for ways to connect said passion to the local community. Recently, Inspirato made history as the new title sponsor for the Colorado Open Championships. With that, we were proud to enable the Open to offer the largest purses of any state open in the country and establish it as the first state open to offer equal purses for both the men’s and women’s championships. It’s a tremendous source of pride for our team, and we’ll continue to seek similar opportunities to be an agent of change in the Denver community.
AL: Of the many organizations you support, which are nearest and dearest to your heart and why?
BH: Our family is very proud to support a variety of local causes, including First Tee Green Valley Ranch, The Challenge Foundation, ACE Scholarships, The Special Olympics and the Inspirato Foundation. We tend to lean in on opportunities that help underprivileged youth, with a particular focus on education. In addition, through Inspirato and our giving platform, we support hundreds of additional worthy causes across North America.
AL: Many people own businesses and don’t make giving a priority. Why is it important
BH: Inspirato has an extremely engaged employee base that has told our leadership in no uncertain terms that they want to be part of a company that gives back and cares for their community. In 2018, we started the Inspirato Foundation, which is dedicated to raising funds and securing charitable donations for disbursement to causes aligned with Inspirato’s values. Some charities we have supported include Food Bank of the Rockies, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Rockies and Junior Achievement.