President of French travel and tourism operator Club Med shares about the importance of tourism in a country's economic, and how the brand intends to bounce back post-pandemic.
Options: Club Med has always been about bringing people together on holiday. How did that work with Covid-19 and the last two years of isolation?
Henri Giscard d’Estaing: Covid has created two things in the minds of people. One is what some call ‘revenge travel’ — the idea that after being locked down, whether at home or in the country, there is the fundamental need to travel again, to enjoy holidays and be together. In that respect, the Club Med formula before and during a stay is extremely well adapted.
Before stay, because the last two years have been a stressful time and organising trips is complicated. So, to have a trusted brand along with you on your holiday is clearly appreciated and needed. As for during the stay, the fact of being in one place — where we apply very rigorous safety and hygiene protocols under our Safe Together programme — and enjoying those large spaces and having freedom again is clearly something that appeals more than ever.
With borders reopened, what are travellers looking for?
People want first to travel, probably more than ever, and also crave social interaction. What we see is the need for additional experiences, coming back again to kids not seeing their friends and parents working from home — that shows reconnecting is even more important.
What may have been accelerated by Covid-19 is discovering what is around you; to not just stay but look around and get to know local culture and habits, especially when you have travelled far from home.
The company is preparing to open more resorts globally. Where and why in those locations?
What we managed to do during the pandemic was revive our whole development plan. Club Med has two fundamental criteria and that has been the case for the last 72 years: exceptional locations and space.
Cherating’s location is exceptional with three private beaches, tropical forests and nature. And because we believe Club Med is well adapted for the Malaysian clientele, we will open a second resort in Sabah, with the same stunning beach and surroundings. Construction has started and Club Med Borneo Kota Kinabalu should open in 2024.
Despite the pandemic, we opened four new resorts last year, in Québec Charlevoix, Canada; Alpe d’Huez on the French-Italian border; Magna Marbella, an island destination with 15ha of gardens in Andalusia, Spain; and in Lijiang, China, the country’s 10th Club Med.
Come December, we will open in Val d’Isere and Tignes, both in France, because we are the leader in skiing and mountain sports for Europe and, now, Asia, and a third resort in Kiroro, Hokkaido — an iconic location because of the quantity of its snow.
Now, obviously because we have gone through the process of moving upscale, the resorts have to be very comfortable. We are opening only those kinds of resorts. At the same time, we’re planning renovation and extension projects to improve the quality and comfort of 13 existing resorts. Cherating is one of them. We have opened 17 new resorts around the world in three years, including 2022, offering guests more varied experiences.
What do Malaysian guests want when they travel?
Clearly, they are very keen on gastronomy and it’s fair to say our approach, which combines buffets and a more refined approach, where the dish is pre-prepared or prepared in front of you, adapts meals even more to what you wish for. The fact that there is a beach restaurant on the other side of the Cherating resort allows guests to have some village experience, and a noodle bar that works night and day, are in line with what our Malaysian clientele expects.
Do you see new travel trends emerging?
More than two-thirds of our clientele are families and our resorts are organised to allow each member to have his own holiday. Children, from babies to teens, will enjoy the programmes and facilities dedicated to them. Parents can do their activites and have their holiday in the same place with their kids.
More and more, we see three-generation families on holiday. Then there are what we call active couples who want to be active in sports or entertainment but also have the choice of being quiet. All our resorts have a tranquil pool space that is for adults only, where parents and individuals can unwind.
We have a third type of clientele, the corporates, especially at Cherating. Club Med is ideal for rewarding people who have done a good job or motivating the team, more so after they couldn’t be together during the pandemic, and where there is a need to recreate team spirit.
A new dimension we’re seeing is workcations, where one or two family members will work from a place while the rest enjoy themselves. What impresses me at our resorts is seeing the number of people with their computers but in bathing suits.
What we also see growing very fast, especially in Asia, is skiing — the attractiveness of mountains, both in winter and summer. It is an exciting and exotic experience to be in a white environment, especially for families, as long as everything is organised. For summer mountains, our resort in Tomamu, Hokkaido, is attractive because of its expressions of nature.
As president helming 70 resorts globally, what does your role involve?
Obviously, the role of president is to give the global direction of the company: We said we should be upscale, but with the Club Med spirit. So, we will transform from having 25% of our resorts very upscale to 95%.
We also thought it would be important to embark on digital transformation to facilitate the holidays of our clients. Skiing is complicated — you need boots, skis and so on. If you have to do it yourself and for your family and kids on site, it takes a lot of time and is a hassle. We have created a system where on your Club Med app, you can choose the size of your foot, your weight and your skis. When you arrive at the resort, in a private heated cupboard you will find what you need for the family. That’s how digital helps to make easier and happier holidays.
We also have a dimension that we call Happy to Care. Being extremely selective about our destinations, we believe we have the responsibility to protect those places for future generations. I see, for instance, the way we have protected the natural beauty of Cherating and supported the local population. I am very proud that we have 250 talented Malaysians who look after our guests there and, just as importantly, travel abroad to promote the country in our resorts around the world.
The last dimension is being glocal. We are the largest global brand for holidays but are also glocal because Club Med in Malaysia means a lot. Club Med in France and the US also means a lot. The global dimension is key for our business because we depend on family holidays. We need to be in different markets to have clients throughout the year, otherwise we will only have them during local festive holidays.
The president gives these directions. Then with the team, we focus on key challenges — obviously we had a lot in the last two years but managed to pull through — such as new resorts, developments and activities.
Do you have a favourite travel destination?
It’s difficult to choose within Club Med because it differs from other resorts or hotel chains. Each resort is different in its architecture, décor and what we call Must-Try Experiences. Some are designed for you to be very reactive, with lots of sports. Some are more relaxing, while some are for discovery. I like to ski, so I have a choice of both summer and winter destinations.
This article first appeared on July 4, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.