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Attracting the Experiential Tourist: Lodging Plays Important Role as City Clubs Rebound from Pandemic’s Initial Blows

City clubs had to fend off big initial blows from the pandemic, as commuting for work and travel for both business and leisure, which have always been a large part of these clubs’ lifeblood, suddenly came to a screeching halt.

Those factors were slow to rebound but city clubs were quick to find new ways to demonstrate and reinforce the value their memberships can provide, even in the face of new realities for both work and personal lives that have emerged in a COVID-19 affected environment.

Member/guest lodging—an area where city clubs have always had a leadership role—has played an important part in aiding this recovery, as clubs have been able to combine the assurance of safe and more exclusive accommodations with a broader array of more personalized services under one roof than can be found in commercial hotels.

Here’s a look at how several leading city clubs leveraged their lodging components to help enhance their attraction with members and continue to distinguish themselves as they forge unique connections with companies and families in their areas.


The Detroit Athletic Club (DAC) continues to step up its drive to be seen and known as a lifestyle club, said Executive Manager Charles Johnson, CCM, ECM. “Especially in these times, as people work less in downtown office space,” Johnson explained, “the idea is to provide as many services and amenities at the club as possible to maximize a member’s use of time and add value to visiting the club.”

Even before the pandemic, the DAC was out front in addressing the need to provide more business and auxiliary office facilities for its members, Johnson said. It more than tripled the square footage of the business center in its iconic clubhouse four years ago. This allowed the addition of a variety of private workspaces with dividers, private phone booths for phone calls and video conferences, a “touchdown” station in the form of a long communal table, and a small conference room for up to four people that does not require reservations or incur costs for users.

While this “has been very successful,” Johnson noted, “since the pandemic it’s become clear that we need much more space [because business services have] become a strategic priority.”

“Like many clubs, we transitioned many of our hotel rooms into private office space during the pandemic,” he said. “Although we are now back to fully functioning hotel rooms, we still allow for full- and partial-day rentals of rooms for private office space as occupancy allows.”

New services and facilities of this type have helped the DAC stay front-of-mind as “the place members can come to get out of their homes and do their work,” Johnson said. “They can come here to do some work and get a workout in as their schedule permits. They can have a working lunch with colleagues, clients or friends. They can get a haircut in the afternoon and finish up any work before meeting friends here for happy hour. That narrative fits a lot of DAC members today.”

The DAC’s lifestyle appeal is further enhanced by “auto services [through which] we can fill a gas tank and give a car wash while they’re here,” Johnson added. Other offered services include shoeshines; in-house tailor and seamstress; concierge services not only for club activities but also other area attractions; car and shuttle services to downtown events and much more.

The DAC has also increased its social programming to help fill the void caused by the decrease of corporate-style banquet business:

  • Expanded family and kid events directed by a new family activities coordinator.
    • Added more athletic programming with social components.
    • Increased curated member group trips, not only for things like local art tours but also for excursions to destinations such as Florida, Yellowstone National Park and Napa Valley.
    • Leveraged the club’s safety program to provide assurance of a welcoming and secure environment.

“The goal is to provide as much as possible here without [members] needing to go elsewhere,” Johnson said. And with the added attraction of hotel rooms, that need can easily extend beyond a day.


The Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C., also continues to take steps to leverage its lodging experience and position the club to be members’ preferred alternative when they need overnight stays. “A distinguishing factor is our personalized service to our members,” said General Manager Mitchell Platt, MCM, CCE, ECM. “The lodging experience becomes an extension of their home and [what we want them to feel is] their home away from home.”

Further incentive to help members think of the Cosmos Club first for their overnight needs, Platt added, is provided by taking extra steps:

  • “We do not use demand pricing common in for-profit hotels. Our rates remain the same year-round.”
  • “We offer members a 25% room discount when they attend a club event and combine it with an overnight stay.”
  • “We have upgraded bedding to include a Ritz-Carlton quality mattress. While we can’t compete with the highest end hotels, we add individual features and amenities that are of that high-end quality.”
  • “We provide a newspaper and complimentary breakfast. Old-school touches still matter.”

All of this has also helped make the Cosmos Club’s lodging so attractive, Platt said, that “it’s very common for members to use the club for long-term stays when they may be renovating or repairing [their own homes], or even moving. We offer discounts for these stays.”

Milwaukee Athletic Club.. Rending: Kahler Slater

A key to successfully positioning lodging as an amenity members will want to use themselves and see as a special experience they can provide for their family and guests is providing services and features that go beyond the comforts provided in their rooms and extend throughout their time at the club.

The University Club in New York, N.Y., introduced a café-style service from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through which members and guests can get coffee, tea and other beverages, in addition to light snacks. The club is preparing to create a high-end wine bar in the same space for evening hours.

The University Club has also “increased the number of member events in the clubhouse dramatically,” reported General Manager John Dorman, ECM, CCM; it also continues offering virtual activities to stay connected with non-resident members, who represent a key segment for lodging business.

“We have also added a communications manager to our administrative team, and the members have been responsive,” Dorman said. “Each of these is a positive move forward.”


An intriguing new approach to city club accommodations was recently unveiled at the gala celebration this spring, celebrating the $62 million renovation of the historic, 105-year-old, 13-story downtown building of the Milwaukee Athletic Club (MAC).

The MAC will celebrate its 140th anniversary throughout this year—and April’s black-tie gala, attended by more than 500 members and guests, showcased how dozens of rooms in the building have been carefully restored to properly honor and reflect the club’s traditions. Many new features will extend its relevance for years to come, including high-tech golf simulator rooms and a refurbished rooftop bar.

The celebration also marked the culmination of an eventful four-year period during which the MAC’s leadership worked with local developers through a unique public-private partnership and redirected the strategic plan for the club midstream, after the onset of the pandemic. What was originally planned as a project to create a 100-room hotel and refurbished athletic club turned into the creation of an apartment building with 50 luxury units, while still retaining six overnight rooms and additional private suites.

Club membership will not be required for those who live in the part of the building that is now called the MAC Residences. But it will certainly be hard to resist the appeal of joining and securing access to the building’s four exclusive members-only floors, which include The Rooftop Bar and lounge with its 360-degree views of the city as well as fitness facilities and a full floor of co-working and individual private workspaces. Member-exclusive benefits also include concierge services, on-demand dining and catering and on-site, heated self-parking with a valet option.

For the guest rooms that were retained in the revised plans, the MAC will also promote the special nature of all that will be made available to those who use them, whether they are local members, their guests or those using reciprocity arranged with other city clubs.

Joe Kurth—who became the MAC’s Chief Operating Officer in February of 2021, bringing management experience from highly respected properties including The American Club in Kohler, Wis., Milwaukee’s The Pfister Hotel and the Morris Inn and Conference Center at the University of Notre Dame—described the distinction that the MAC will be able to provide as one of “experiential tourism.”

“The difference for a traveler who stays at an historic club, versus a chain-hotel option is how we can immediately entwine them in the fabric of the city,” Kurth said. “They’re immediately welcomed in as part of the family and can become much more familiar and comfortable right away with all of the facilities and services we can provide for them.

“Many times, trying to learn about what’s available or for what you need only serves as a distraction for people when they’re staying at an unfamiliar place,” Kurth added. “But here, it’s easy one-stop shopping for all of their needs.”

The excitement over the MAC’s transformation led to a surge in membership, with 25% of its 800 members joining in the past year. Reservations for apartment units have been pacing ahead of plan and occupancy rates for the guest rooms have also been trending strongly. “This model doesn’t exist nationwide,” Kurth said. “But it’s proving to be the best path for us, to help us focus on our core business as a best-in-class club. The change in direction that COVID-19 dictated is probably the best thing that could have happened.”