Clubbed to Life

A couple of years back I had my first introduction to a traditional club. You know the type — an old Gentlemen’s Club. Actually, it was The Melbourne Club, and it was exactly what I imagined a club to be. As a bit of a fan of PG Wodehouse novels, I’d read enough about people called Wooster, Threepwood and Warblington, and the notion of: ‘No need to prepare supper for me Beech, I’ll be dining at the club.’

As I say, this club was everything I expected — dark, leathery, quiet and fusty, with the pervasive whiff of pipe tobacco. It felt like a snapshot of another age; an age where businessmen (and they were always men) spent long days at ‘the firm’, then relaxed and unwound with a drink and a smoke at ‘the club’ — enjoying the company of their peers… mostly in silence, except perhaps for the rustling of The Financial Times.

Why were these clubs so popular? Obviously they filled a need, and, I’d contend, they filled a need through relieving the patrons of their anxieties. In this case the main anxieties were: ‘I need some peace and quiet’ and ‘I need a large scotch’. Crucially, the club was a natural extension of life — it wasn’t seen as a treat or a luxury, it was just another lounge room without the ‘trivial inconveniences’ of your own.

If I told you that a new era of ‘clubs’ was upon us, I wonder what your reaction would be? Perhaps you’d think I was mad. For starters, no one’s called Fortescue-Smythe anymore; and the generation that would sit silently in the dark with a single malt rather than return to the mundane demands of domesticity has slowly died off.

But that would totally ignore the new generation of business people — potentially a new generation of ‘clubbers’. The new business ‘man’ of today is a Generation X’er. They’re aged around 40 and are busy, busy bees. Most will be in a long-term relationship. Some will have kids… many won’t. Even if there’s a family, there’s home help to smooth things over when ‘they’re away on business’. In short, our business-person of today is cashed up, very mobile and is constantly working.

And with a new generation of potential ‘clubbers’ comes a whole new set of anxieties that needs relieving. The main anxiety isn’t about the stress of work following you into the club; it’s actually the anxiety of leaving work behind. Today’s clubber would be mortified if they couldn’t tap straight into wireless broadband — check email, the Internet, talk to a printer. They’d also become very anxious if they noticed the battery meter of their Blackberry had run down, knowing its charger was on their desk at work. Furthermore, after sniffing their underarms or checking their lippy, they’d become very jittery if there wasn’t a private and comfortable bathroom in which to freshen up for that next meeting.

So where are these clubs, these venues, that take care of our Captains (and Lieutenants) of Industry? The Qantas Club is one obvious answer. Have a look at our profile of the new Qantas Business Lounge in Singapore to observe what a contemporary club can look like with some money and an understanding of the clientele.

The next location for this manner of club we’re referring to is in premium hotels. In the past few months I’ve been through the ‘business class’ floor of Jupiters and Crown Towers — where business people are offered exclusive use of club-like facilities — and many other hotels are doing similar things.

Finally, workplaces are beginning to offer their own ‘clubs’. Lounges, cafés and bars are sprouting up in new commercial fitouts. Why? Not because of any ‘the drinks are on me’ generosity on the part of upper management, but simply because it’s a great way of keeping employees at work. In short, it’s another way to boost productivity.

This is all very well, but what does it mean to those of us not in charge of an airline, a large hotel or a decent-size corporation? Personally, I think we should be paying careful attention, and sniffing the winds of change. These three sectors are largely keeping the Business Class dollars to themselves, and I think that cheer could (and will) be spread around a lot more in the near future.

I would contend that there’s a good market for a modern-day version of The Melbourne Club. It needs to be exclusive; it needs to be membership based; and it needs to meet the demands of the modern-day businessman and woman. If the Qantas Club in Singapore was magically relocated to Macquarie St, or Collins St (or the salubrious end of any of the major capital cities), do you not think it would prosper? Of course it would… and for all the reasons I’ve outlined.

Think about it: Business Class passengers are the airlines’  biggest money spinner. As long as this market sector gets the service and facilities they demand, then money is really no object.

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