Imagine jet-setting around the world like a VIP, with guaranteed access to premier nightclubs and exclusive cultural events, deals at five-star hotels and luxury spas, and a group of well-traveled, glamorous people eager to befriend you at the farthest corners of the earth.
That’s the premise of ASmallWorld (ASW), an invitation-only social network that relaunched Monday as a subscription-based travel and lifestyle club. Long known as a Facebook for the rich and famous, ASW is slashing its membership size from 850,000 to 250,000 and operating on an annual member fee of €80, or $105, instead of relying on advertising.
All members will have access to deals and discounts from hundreds of global travel, lifestyle, and fashion partners including Cathay Pacific Airlines, Mandarin Oriental Hotels, David Barton Gym, Uber car service, and Derek Lam.
“Now more than ever, ASW’s DNA is going to be about international personalities from around the world coming together to share extraordinary travel experiences,” said CEO Sabine Heller, who feted the Diane von Furstenberg–sponsored relaunch in Marrakech, Morocco, over the weekend with a mixed bag of actors, musicians, and members of the international fashion set.
Sure, the celebrity-studded relaunch event hints at a certain downtown-cool niche that ASmallWorld is targeting, but the famous faces account for only a tiny percentage of what ASW hopes will be a diverse community. And while an equally small number of existing members will be invited to rejoin the new site, ASW isn’t streamlining its members simply for the sake of being more exclusive but rather to establish a vetted community in a way that no social network has before.
“It’s about trust and integrity,” said Heller. “We’re a global family, and our brand promises that members will feel at home anywhere in the world.”
The new site will retain some of ASW’s signature features, like real estate and job listings, and keep up its social traditions with monthly events in 50 cities and 10 group trips this year—twice as many as last year. All new members will also get a free, weeklong stay for two at the sustainable five-star Caribbean resort, Kittitian Hill.
A free trip to St. Kitts is one of many benefits of the revamped social network, which has been due for a makeover for some time. The site was founded in 2004 by Erik Wachtmeister, a Swedish count, only a month after Mark Zuckerberg unveiled Facebook at Harvard. Two years later, it was bought by the Weinstein Co. and then sold again in 2009 to its current largest shareholder, Patrick Liotard-Vogt. But in recent years, the once coveted membership to ASmallWorld lost some of its exclusive appeal when its population ballooned to 850,000.
By trimming its member size and honing its concept, ASW is poised to be a leader in the growing online market for specialty paid membership communities, joining sites like Valet.com, which offers travel benefits to “creative professionals” for $199 a year, andFounderscard.com, a network for entrepreneurs which offers deals from brands like Virgin Atlantic and Rag & Bone for a yearly fee of $595. Last year, Wachtmeister launched another invite-only social network, Best of All Worlds, which describes itself as a “social navigator” that bridges social and professional “worlds” for the one percent through curated events, so that members don’t end up “overwhelmed with irrelevant connections."
So what distinguishes the new ASmallWorld from the rest of them? It’s about worldly people sharing travel tips and meeting new people within the ASW community wherever they go.
“We’re no longer living in the Lonely Planet age,” said Heller in a reference to antiquated and slightly impersonal hand-held traveler’s guides. “Being international is more of a status symbol than ever before. Everyone wants friends in multiple cities and relationships based on trust and shared experiences that technology can facilitate. We provide that service,” she said.
“The idea is that no matter where you are in the world, you’re never alone.”