With dishes at 79 pesos and unlimited coffee, the restaurant chain invites you to work in its establishments.
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October 9, 2020 2 min read
This story originally appeared on Alto Nivel
There will be coffee and unlimited Wi-Fi to work, accompanied by a special menu where you can choose from more than 10 dishes for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
The Vips restaurant chain announced its Vips Office concept, with which they want to attract people who need an alternative space to work and where they can also eat.
“The idea comes from the growing restlessness of people, since, after six months of working remotely from home, for many the home office is no longer as comfortable a practice as it seemed,” Vips explained in a statement.
He indicated that there will be unlimited coffee and Wi-Fi for as long as they need, accompanied by a special menu where they can choose from more than 10 dishes for breakfast, lunch or dinner , for only 79 pesos for each dish.
The concept will be available throughout the month of October and November from opening time until closing.
“We have witnessed that the home office is not what it seemed due to various factors such as space, coexistence with family, routines and schedules; However, to support people who still work from home, we launched the Vips Office initiative, in which we provide totally clean and sanitized spaces, as well as unlimited Wi-Fi and coffee.
According to Vips, more than 75% of corporations continue to work from home, many sharing the space and resources with a partner, colleagues or their children who take online classes, so having an alternative space can work for many people.
Vips Office provides totally clean and sanitized spaces, as well as unlimited Wi-Fi and coffee for those looking for a quiet place to work, said Vips director Carlos Sáenz.
Travel Goes Members-Only
International travel had been a major part of Paul Brinkman’s life for years. Mr. Brinkman, 47, his wife and their four children spent months meandering through Europe, flew to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria with relief supplies, and, this past February went to Kenya and Tanzania. While away from home, the family would frequently stay in Airbnb or Vrbo home rentals, sometimes up to 60 nights per year.
But with the onset of the pandemic, the evaporation of international travel and the increasing importance of health and safety protocols, Mr. Brinkman, chairman of the board of Brinkman Construction, found himself signing up for Exclusive Resorts, a membership-based club that owns about 400 private residences and villas. While Exclusive had been on his radar for years, the value proposition — on-site concierge services, flexible cancellation fees and now, new partnerships with both a private jet operator and a private medical service — was suddenly more appealing. The family now plans to spend Presidents’ Day weekend in February at an Exclusive property in Real del Mar, Mexico.
“You have an ambassador that helps you with anything, like your own private travel agent,” Mr. Brinkman said of Exclusive. “When you rent a house through Airbnb or Vrbo, you’re at the mercy of owners. Many of them are doing a great job, but it’s on you to ask, and to assess, which is a lot more work.”
The ability to take care of things is a part of the promise of membership travel, even if the ask has shifted from an exclusive dinner reservation to an option for medical evacuation. Club benefits often center on easing the burden of planning and uncertainty; now, safety is an essential part of that. Those benefits vary, of course, and are largely tied to the cost, and type, of the club you’re joining. A membership to the international jet-setter’s Soho House grants you access to private clubhouses outfitted with restaurants, work spaces, pools, hotel rooms, and more, around the world — so long as you’re deemed a “like-minded creative soul” and your application is approved. Newer luxury clubs like Manifest Travel offer carefully curated, small-group trips, with private air travel.
These don’t come cheap: For Exclusive, after an $150,000 initiation fee, members must book a minimum of 15 days per year, which at $1,395 per night, translates to an annual cost of at least $20,925. Even the more affordable timeshare model, which brokers in the promise of flexibility, spacious accommodations and familiarity, require an average initiation fee of $20,000.
Privatized travel, in all of its forms, has been booming in a year where much of the industry is grappling for a lifeline. With international travel on hold and the future of flying uncertain, travelers are cashing in on those timeshares, buying into second-home communities boasting exclusive perks and joining luxury travel clubs in unprecedented numbers. This, in part, is because membership models may be particularly suited to pandemic-era travel — Exclusive, for example, swaps in new pillows after each stay — but their proliferation raises an interesting question. Is health and safety only a guarantee for those with an “in” and money to burn?
Famed Hollywood hotel to go members-only
The splashiest news regarding membership-centric travel came this summer, with the announcement that the Chateau Marmont, the celebrity-favorite in Hollywood, would be transitioning to a members-only hotel.
Before the pandemic, approximately 70 percent of hotel guests were repeat customers and the top 100 guests generated the majority of room revenue, according to a press representative for the Chateau Marmont.
“In all but name, we’re already more of an exclusive membership community than even outright membership-based models,” said the owner André Balazs. “I prefer to think of it as a members’ hotel.”
The new concept centers on members owning a certain portion of the Chateau and additional properties, which may include locations in London, New York, Milan and Paris. Many other details remain unknown. Mr. Balazs said that the shift is still in the planning phases, but shared that a membership fee would likely not be required, and that members might be invited by invitation. The transition is expected to take place sometime next year.
Some questions have been raised regarding the motivations behind the decision. According to the Hollywood Reporter, some believe the shift is meant to break up an attempted employees union; the article also brought up allegations of misconduct and abuse from Mr. Balazs and hotel management. A press representative for the Chateau Marmont dismissed those claims.
Strong growth in a struggling industry
News of the Chateau’s shift stands out in a year of constantly shifting travel, but membership-based luxury travel options are nothing new. Exclusive Resorts was founded in 2002, by the brothers Brent and Brad Handler. Both left the company to found Inspirato, another luxury membership-based travel club, in 2011, which instead of owning properties, as Exclusive Resorts does, the company signs long-term leases of private homes and hotels. This, the company says, allows for a wider array of properties, a less pricey membership based on monthly fees and a larger membership base — though still for those with very high net worths. The cheapest membership begins at $600 per month, with a $1,200 initiation fee, and does not include accommodation fees.
Both companies hit a hard pause back in March, refunding members for trips previously planned. Since then, they have seen an almost extraordinary surge of interest when they resumed operations in May and June.
“We shut down our whole portfolio from March 30 to May 15. And in July, we came roaring back,” said Mr. Handler. “We saw our highest occupancy ever — near 90 percent.”
“This past August, we saw the highest level of demand since 2013,” said James Henderson, the current chief executive of Exclusive Resorts. “We signed members in August that have been in our database as prospects 10 years ago and decided now, at this time, they wanted the security and trust that we can offer.”
Examples of rapid, unusual interest abound across the luxury space, including membership clubs that operate based on the more traditional ownership model.
“We are seeing incredible growth,” said Mike Wilcynski, the general manager of Moonlight Basin, a home ownership-based destination community and members club in Big Sky, Mont. “On Dec. 1, 2019, we had 384 members. This December, we’re on track to have around 480.” Purchasing a home site on Moonlight Basin’s property, which generally go for a base of $800 to $1,900 per square foot, allows members access to a private lodge, golf club, social events and a dedicated staff. (Initiation fees for a comprehensive membership cost $100,000, plus annual dues of $13,000.)
Brittanny Havard, the director of marketing of the Alpine Mountain Ranch & Club, also cited, “literally unprecedented sales. We’ve sold out of all our remaining inventory,” she said.
The 1200-acre ranch in Steamboat Springs, Colo., which is similarly based on owning a home on the property, offers various membership tiers which may include everything from intimate events, like a Basque-style, wine-paired dinner centered around a whole roast lamb, to access to the adjacent golf club and a private, slope-side club at Steamboat Springs ski resort. Homes in this community tend to clock in at around $5 million.
“We believe it has to do with the trend of luxury buyers fleeing dense, urban centers, kind of combined with a do-or-die mentality,” Ms. Harvard said. “Covid has taught us, if nothing else, life is short. Instead of waiting to retire in five years, do it now … build your dream home!”
On the lower end of private: timeshares
Jason Gamel, president and chief executive of the American Resort Development Association, the timeshare industry’s trade association, noted that while timeshare developers are seeing slightly slower growth from new customers, current owners are spending more thanks to familiarity, available space, and the drivability of many timeshare locations.
“There’s a desire for more space, professional management and cleanliness standards that far exceed the norm,” he said. “Right now, current owners want to buy more: more units, more time, bigger accommodations.”
Wyndham Destinations is one of the world’s largest time-share companies. At its Wyndham Vacation Clubs, which include four different brands, 900,000 owners, 230 Wyndham club resorts and 4,300 affiliated properties, online bookings for Club Wyndham (the flagship of the four brands) were up 18 percent in July, and 80 percent of resorts were seeing longer stays from guests, according to Noah Brodsky, chief brand officer of Wyndham Destinations. Mr. Gamel speculated that, in lieu of bigger, international trips, timeshare members are opting to splurge on travel within their clubs, instead.
Newer membership companies are making health and safety factors a core part of their pitch, if not the entirety of it. Manifest Travel opened its doors in August, centering on high-end, small group trips based out of local chapters in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Phoenix and Denver. All of the club’s curated itineraries are to nearby, domestic destinations and include travel via private plane (Jeff Potter, the founder, conceived of the idea pre-Covid, but acknowledges that the model is particularly appealing).
Again, safety and security don’t come cheap. A Manifest membership is $2,500 per year, plus individual trip costs, which may range from $5,000 to $7,000.
The ability to pay for membership, and therefore, a kind peace of mind, is and has always been a privilege. But it’s a highly appealing one in uncertain times.
“In the short term, I think this focus on safety has increased the profile of clubs like ourselves,” Mr. Henderson said. “But I don’t necessarily think that this is the only way people are going to travel in the future. We have very specific types of offerings and we’re not looking to change that. Plus, our members also join for a sense of community.”
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It’s a Ballot Fight for Survival for Gig Companies Like Uber
OAKLAND, Calif. — By late August, the urgency was becoming clear. Top executives of Uber, Lyft and the delivery service DoorDash met to discuss a California ballot measure that would exempt them from a new state labor law and save their companies hundreds of millions of dollars.
The survival of their businesses was on the ballot.
Days later, political strategists responded to the executives’ concerns by telling the companies, which had already pledged $90 million to back the measure, that they needed to spend a lot more if they wanted to win, said three people familiar with the discussions, who were not allowed to talk about them publicly.
The fight over the ballot measure, Proposition 22, has become the most expensive in the state’s history since then, with its backers contributing nearly $200 million and 10 days still to go until the Nov. 3 election. Along the way, the companies have repeatedly been accused of heavy-handed tactics; a lawsuit filed on Thursday claims Uber is coercing the support of its drivers.
Despite the big spending and a barrage of television advertising, only 39 percent of likely voters said they supported Uber and Lyft in a poll last month by the University of California, Berkeley, while 36 percent opposed their proposal and others were undecided. People close to the campaign said they would want to see close to 60 percent approval in polling before they could breathe a sigh of relief.
The ballot measure, which is also being backed by Instacart and a delivery company that Uber is acquiring, Postmates, could be a harbinger for gig companies in the rest of the country.
Prop 22 would exempt the companies from complying with a law that went into effect at the beginning of the year. The law is intended to force them to treat gig workers as employees, but Uber and its peers have resisted, fearing that the cost of benefits like unemployment insurance and health care could tip them into a downward financial spiral.
Though Uber and Lyft, for example, are publicly traded companies with a combined worth of $70.5 billion, they have never been profitable. They lose billions of dollars each year, and the pandemic has made turning a profit even more difficult. DoorDash, which has filed to go public, has also struggled. Analysts estimate that complying with California’s gig-worker law could cost Uber, which lost $1.8 billion in its most recent quarter, as much as $500 million a year.
Uber said it planned to cut off work for the approximately 158,000 California drivers who were active on the platform each quarter if its ballot measure failed. It would employ roughly 51,000 remaining drivers, it said, and raise fares to meet the higher business costs.
The ballot fight gained additional urgency Thursday evening when the California First District Court of Appeal ruled that Uber and Lyft must treat their California drivers as employees under the new labor law. The state attorney general and the city attorneys of San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego had sued the companies in May to enforce the law.
“If Prop 22 does not win, we will do our best to adjust,” said Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s chief executive, in a Wall Street Journal interview this week. “Where in California we can operate is a question mark, and the size and scale of the business will be substantially reduced.”
In past dust-ups with local regulators, Uber rallied its passengers for support. The pandemic has made that difficult, so it has urged its tech employees to get involved and used its app to reach out to drivers for support.
The Yes on 22 campaign also started an effort to organize drivers, a move copied from the labor groups that have long tried to organize drivers to fight for better working conditions. And it has forged relationships with high-profile advocacy groups, like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the California chapter of the N.A.A.C.P.
“Drivers want independence plus benefits by a four-to-one margin, and we’re going to fight for them,” said Julie Wood, a spokeswoman for Lyft. “We believe California voters are on the side of drivers, too.”
A spokesman for DoorDash, Taylor Bennett, said, “Our support for Prop 22 is part of our commitment to protecting the economic opportunity that tens of thousands of Californians value and the access to delivery that so many restaurants rely on, especially at such a critical time.”
A spokeswoman for Instacart declined to comment. Postmates did not respond to a request for comment.
In an effort to gain support, the companies have bombarded riders and drivers with push notifications, campaign ads that appear in their apps and emails promoting Prop 22. Before logging on to start work, Uber drivers have been presented with a slide show of warnings about how their lives could change if the proposition fails.
“A no vote would mean far fewer jobs,” one of the slides on the Uber app warned. “That’s why we’re fighting so hard to win.”
In the lawsuit filed against Uber on Thursday, drivers claim that the messages violated a state law that forbids employers to coerce their employees to participate in political activity.
“I can’t rule out that employers have engaged in coercive tactics like this in the past, but I have never heard of an employer engaging in this sort of barrage of coercive communications on such a broad level, ever,” said one of the attorneys for the drivers, David Lowe, a partner at Rudy, Exelrod, Zieff & Lowe. “It is such an extraordinary thing, from my perspective, for Uber to exploit this captive audience of workers.” Mr. Lowe said he opposed Prop 22.
Matt Kallman, an Uber spokesman, said, “This is an absurd lawsuit, without merit, filed solely for press attention and without regard for the facts.” He added, “It can’t distract from the truth: that the vast majority of drivers support Prop 22.”
In early October, the Prop 22 campaign was denounced by Senator Bernie Sanders after a fake progressive group calling itself Feel the Bern endorsed the proposition in a campaign flier that implied Uber had the backing of progressive leaders. The mailers were, in fact, sent by a firm that creates political mailers representing different views.
“The Prop 22 campaign is working hard to reach voters across the state and the political spectrum to ensure they know that drivers overwhelmingly support Prop 22,” said Geoff Vetter, a spokesman for the Yes on 22 campaign, which is funded by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and other gig economy companies.
Questions have also been raised about the N.A.A.C.P. endorsement. A political consulting firm run by Alice Huffman, the leader of the California N.A.A.C.P., has received $85,000 from the gig companies’ campaign, public records show. The payment was reported earlier by the news site CalMatters.
Mr. Vetter said the payments were for “outreach.” The N.A.A.C.P. did not respond to a request for comment.
Uber held an all-hands meeting this month for employees to meet drivers who support the proposition, and sent several emails encouraging staff to lobby friends and family.
Although the internal messages were upbeat, the policy staff raised concerns with campaign consultants during the meetings in late August and early September, the people familiar with those meetings said. Among their worries: that the ballot language was unfavorable to the companies, and that people were voting earlier than usual because of the pandemic, meaning advertising would need to be rapid and aggressive.
“We look at the data every day, and our metrics show a tight race,” Justin Kintz, Uber’s head of public policy, said in an early October email to Uber employees, obtained by The New York Times. “At the same time, with continued strong execution against our plan, we’re confident we can win.”
While the email noted that campaigning was optional, Mr. Kintz encouraged employees to participate in texting banks to contact voters and to promote the campaign in conversations with friends.
“The big reason that you’re seeing so much spending is because of the high stakes in this election,” said Mr. Vetter, the spokesman for the campaign. “Hundreds of thousands of jobs are on the line. These are services that millions of Californians rely on.”
The opposition campaign, which is funded by labor unions, has raised about $15 million. Supporters of the No on 22 campaign have argued that voters should reject the push by tech companies, and that the measure would harm workers already at a disadvantage during the pandemic.
“Proposition 22 will make racial inequality worse in California at the worst possible time,” said Representative Barbara Lee, a California Democrat. “You have very clearly crossed the line when you try to claim the equity mantle for a campaign that has always been about allowing multibillion-dollar app companies to write their own law so that they can keep exploiting the labor of drivers, eight in 10 of whom are people of color.”
No matter the outcome of the vote, the gig companies and their opponents are likely to take their campaigns to Washington. Massachusetts has filed a lawsuit similar to the one that the California court decided on Thursday evening, and Uber hopes to avoid continued state-by-state battles by pressing for federal legislation.
Erin Griffith and Noam Scheiber contributed reporting.
People Fear a Market Crash More Than They Have in Years
The coronavirus crisis and the November election have driven fears of a major market crash to the highest levels in many years.
At the same time, stocks are trading at very high levels. That volatile combination doesn’t mean that a crash will occur, but it suggests that the risk of one is relatively high. This is a time to be careful.
I base these conclusions largely on research I’ve been doing for years, including findings from the stock market confidence indexes that I began to develop more than three decades ago. These indexes are drawn from surveys of a random sample of high-income individual investors and institutional investors in the United States that are now conducted monthly by the International Center for Finance at the Yale School of Management.
Consider what my Crash Confidence Index is telling us. That measurement of sentiment about the safety of the stock market is based on this question:
“What do you think is the probability of a catastrophic stock market crash in the U.S., like that of Oct. 28, 1929, or Oct. 19, 1987, in the next six months, including the case that a crash occurred in the other countries and spreads to the U. S.?”
The index is a rolling six-month average of the percentage of monthly respondents who think that the probability of such a major crash is less than 10 percent. In August, the percentage of individual investors with that level of confidence in the market hit a record low, 13 percent. The most recent reading in September, 15 percent, was still extremely low.
Institutional investors — people who make decisions for pension funds, mutual funds, endowments and the like — were a bit more confident, with a September reading of 24 percent, but that was extremely low, too. In short, an overwhelming majority of investors said there was a greater than 10 percent probability of an imminent crash — really, a remarkable indicator that people are quite worried.
Another of my stock market confidence indexes, the Valuation Confidence Index, is also near a record low in 2020. It is based on this question: “Stock prices in the United States, when compared with measures of true fundamental value or sensible investment value, are: 1. Too low; 2. Too high; 3. About right; 4. Do not know”?
This index tells us the proportion of investors who think the market is not too highly priced. At the latest measure in September 2020, the reading for individual investors stood at 38 percent, far lower than at the bottom of the stock market in March 2009, when it stood at 77 percent after the financial crisis. For institutional investors, it was 46 percent in September, compared with 82 percent in March 2009.
Despite these signs of distress, the stock market has been trading near a record high, stretching the valuations of stocks to fairly rich levels. That’s very different from the situation in March 2009, when stock valuations were quite low and the stock market subsequently rose. It is a different situation now, however: Not only is investor confidence low, but actual stock valuations are quite high.
Consider a separate measure of stock valuations that I helped create — the Cyclically Adjusted Price Earnings (C.A.P.E.) ratio. This is a measure that enables the comparison of stock market valuations from different eras by averaging the earnings over 10 years, thus reducing some of the short-term fluctuations of each market cycle. It now stands at a level that was higher in only two periods, both of which were followed by stock market crashes: the 1920s, in the lead-up to the Great Depression; and early 2000, just before the bursting of the dot-com bubble.
The low confidence readings and the high stock prices won’t, on their own, cause a market crash. Another dynamic would need to be in effect.
It seems that when superficial similarities to current events prod people’s memories, they shift their attention to old stories. The question now is whether another reminder of crashes past could emerge to create a psychological sense of the risk. A further pickup in coronavirus cases, a chaotic or violent election or any number of other events could well shake people up. Conversely, an orderly election, and a sense of political and economic stability, could have a calming effect.
We may be at something of a crossroads.
The decision to invest in the stock market is for some people a bit of an adventure. One is goaded to do it partly by the fun of it and partly by a competitive spirit in observing others and wanting to keep up. The market may be vulnerable to a change in mass psychology, one that might dampen this sense of adventure and bring on a crash.
It seems that investors should be advised to remain cautious in their U.S. stock market holdings. The potential rewards for being heavily committed to the market in the coming years need to be carefully balanced against the possible risks.
No one knows the future, but given the general lack of investor confidence amid a pandemic and political polarization, there is a chance that a negative, self-fulfilling prophecy will flourish. This highlights the importance of being well diversified in asset classes — including Treasury securities, which are safe — and not overexposed to U.S. equities now.
Robert J. Shiller is Sterling Professor of Economics at Yale.
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