Cancun and Club Med share a common history. In 1976, when
Fonatur, the Mexican government’s tourism development organization,
created the destination of Cancun, Club Med was one of the first
two resorts to open there. As the story goes, the company’s
legendary founder, Gerard Blitz, traveled for weeks throughout
Mexico looking for the perfect spot for the property. His search
ended with the 22-acre parcel on the Yucatan Peninsula where Club
Med sits to this day.
Given this history it makes perfect sense that the company chose
Cancun as the setting for the unveiling of its new worldwide
corporate strategy. After last year’s devastating Hurricane Wilma,
Club Med spent more than $24 million to completely overhaul the
resort and create an upscale, family-friendly and culturally rich
“With this new product now in place, Club Med Cancun Yucatan is
the flagship for our other resorts in North America,” said Cedric
Gobilliard, CEO of Club Med North America, at the resort’s grand
opening last month.
Despite the fact that the Club Med brand is well known,
executives felt they had to rethink its position in the post-Sept.
11 travel environment.
“When I began as the head of Club Med, the company was at a
crossroads,” said Henri Giscard d’Estaing, chairman and CEO of Club
Med. “We had critical decisions to make. How do we get strong? How
do we rebuild? How can we be in better connection with our
customers, who we knew would be different after 9/11?”
The company’s research indicated that some consumers are solely
interested in the lowest price point, while others are willing to
pay for quality.
“By now, our choice at Club Med is hardly a scoop” said
d’Estaing. “We chose the upscale route.”
Club Med is investing big in this new plan.
“In five years, we will have renovated worldwide more than 70
villages, spending more than $1.2 billion,” said d’Estaing. “We
opened 20 new villages and closed 50 that were not in line with our
strategy. So it’s a sea change.”
Travel agents are expected to play a major role in the new Club
“The travel agent community is key to Club Med,” said
Gobilliard. “We are moving our clientele from a medium to an
upscale client, which means we need to explain Club Med. We need
you, so we are going to invest in you. Educate you on the
differences between the villages. Agents are central to our North
According to Paula Hayes, senior vice president of sales North
America, Club Med’s regional sales reps have helped identify 1,000
agencies that account for the company’s top accounts. Next, the
company will compare these agents to geographic areas that they
believe are fertile with possible customers. Club Med will then
educate these agents and help support their sales efforts in
whatever way they can.
In addition, the company will work with consortia that they feel
match up well with Club Med’s new brand identity, such as
Vacations.com, Signature Travel Network, Liberty Travel and Carlson
But will agents respond to the new Club Med? If the agents at
the grand opening were any indication, the reaction should be
“There is no question that Club Med is upgrading its properties,
and & the money seems well spent,” said Steve Abrams, of Sober
Vacation International, based in Los Angeles. “But marketing to
families seems limiting. On the other hand, it’s been my experience
that Club Med with its team of G.O.s offers the very best family
“I think that Club Med should definitely market to families but
the term ‘upscale’ is not the right word to use,” said Melissa
Truskett of Los Angeles-based Montrose Travel. “The resort is
beautiful, and very easily sellable &. The rooms have been
updated and are very nice, with wonderful mattresses and
flat-screen televisions, but they are certainly not the same as at
a Four Seasons or Ritz-Carlton.
“Still, I would definitely have no problem selling this
property,” Truskett continued. “The meeting space is excellent, and
it’s a beautiful location for meetings, incentives and affinity
Gobilliard takes comments like these seriously. He has been
spending the past several months traveling all around the U.S.
getting input from agents. He says the next step will be to set up
advisory boards with experts in tourism, transportation and the
trade. He says his mantra has become, “Measure. Don’t gamble.”
While Club Med’s strategy will surely continue to evolve and
there will undoubtedly be a bit of confusion for consumers along
the way the good news for the company and for agents is that they
at least have a game plan for the future. That in itself is a step
in the right direction to some agents.
“I’m optimistic about their future,” said Abrams. “They had been
very slow in changing their resorts, and I’m just happy to see them
Club Med La Caravelle, in Guadeloupe, West Indies, opens this month
after a $29 million renovation. In conjunction, Delta will begin
direct flights from Atlanta to Guadeloupe on Wednesdays and
The company has announced that Club Med Ixtapa will undergo a
major renovation estimated at over $15 million next year.
Also announced: Its Turkoise resort in Turks & Caicos will
become a family village in three years; Club Med Crested Butte, in
Colorado, will not reopen.