The thermometer reads over 25 ° C at the beginning of June in Sicily.
The cliff descends steeply into the turquoise sea and the deckchairs at Club Med 5 Tridents' “Zen Pool” - the highest echelon in luxury - offer spectacular views of the picturesque little village of Cefalu.
It is undoubtedly the most beautiful holiday club in Europe.
A month later than expected, it has just reopened, kicking off the summer season.
And the first tourists are already taking advantage of this bubble of happiness.
In her twenties, Laetitia came with her mother who offered her the stay.
The two women laze around in swimsuits at the water's edge, longing for rest.
“I finished the defense of my nursing diploma on Thursday and the next day, we were on the plane,” says the young woman.
After a very difficult year, between distance courses and guards at the hospital, a week at Club Med, it is the ultimate reward.
The solution to be pampered and forget everything!
"With this global crisis, freedom has regained value"
2,000 km away, the atmosphere is much more studious.
In his contemporary office in La Villette, Paris, Henri Giscard d'Estaing, the son of the former head of state, who looks so much like his father, works hard.
For months, he has been imagining “in-house” solutions to provide his 1.5 million customer members with a guaranteed 100% worry-free summer.
For nineteen years this big boss with the appearance of a gentleman-farmer has managed the most famous of the global tourism brands, Club Med.
And solutions, sometimes a little too zealous, he has a lot.
From mid-May, ahead of legislators, he announces that Club Med will impose the equivalent of a health pass
in all of its resort hotels, including those located in France.
It was quickly taken over by the government: no health pass will be required in French hotels and campsites.
Whatever, with this spotlight at the very start of the season, Club Med is showing itself as the first major player in tourism to become so clearly involved in the field of safety.
And scores points.
It positions its "villages" as ultra-safe havens, where the Covid-19 will not pass.
"With this global crisis which, for the first time in more than seventy years, has forced us to close all our sites, everywhere in the world, simultaneously, freedom has regained its value", underlines Henri Giscard d'Estaing .
And the Club intends to take advantage of it.
Read alsoThe five stages of the birth of a Club Med village
Violent crises, the company founded at the end of the Second World War has gone through more than one. “Since the creation of Club Méditerranée in 1950, the world has often been hostile towards our activities,” adds the manager. Between the madness of men which can at any moment tip a region into war or terrorism and the power of nature, we have more than once been mistreated. The iconic company, which employs 25,000 people in more than 40 countries and has a turnover of nearly 1.8 billion euros, has resisted September 11, the Arab Spring, the attacks in Bali, in Paris or Tunisia, the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjöll, the Zika virus, the tsunami of December 2004 in the Indian Ocean… Each time, the Club has reassured its customers and made a success of the game.
Little by little, Club Med is establishing itself in paradisiacal places preserved from tourism as in 1960, where Gérard Blitz, the founder, inaugurates the village of Tahiti with his wife. Benno Graziani
Out of the question, therefore, to let the Covid-19 break the mood. "Our priority, once again this year, is to do everything so that our customers have a unique experience of escape and freedom, and spend a dream vacation without thinking about the pandemic", insists Gino Andreetta, general manager of the European villages. Africa. Behind the scenes, everything has been put in place to ensure the safety of the "nice members" (GM). More than 3.5 million euros have thus been invested in the Europe-Africa zone alone. Hydroalcoholic gel, masks, disinfection of rooms, training of "nice organizers" (GO) and even carrying out PCR tests on site. The legendary buffets have also evolved: if the cascades of fruits or vegetables, and dishes of all kinds are still so tempting, they are no longer handled except by the cooks,and served on the plate.
This is the Club Med spirit. A trademark so unique that it has gathered millions of followers for more than seventy years. But this "between-itself" generates at least as many refractories. Love it or hate it, Club Med has conceived a certain idea of carefree, convivial and French holidays. Jean-Baptiste Bacheron, single of 45, is a seasoned follower. Already more than 200 stays! “For me, the Club is paradise,” he says. I go there at least twice a year with my son, for a total budget of around 20,000 euros. »A significant sum for this training manager.
But if it is indeed necessary to count on average 3,500 euros per person and per week for holidays at the Club, the company has strong arguments to convince its members and to retain them. They even very often become its first ambassadors. Twenty years ago, Jean-Baptiste launched his blog, Spirit 45, which today brings together more than 47,000 fans. He devotes all his free time to it, weekends included. "I wanted to prove that the soul of the Club is not
," he says. Yes, it's expensive, but the villages are located in some of the most beautiful places in the world, you can play sports at will, and everything is already paid for. Since 2004 and the move upmarket, no one is forced to sleep in huts without water or electricity, nor to reproduce the
Editor's note: the ritual choreographies
) around the swimming pool, but the conviviality has remained.
At the start, 300 tents in the summer of 1950
The beautiful story begins in the summer of 1950. Gérard Blitz, ex-Belgian water polo champion, sets up in Alcudia, in the Balearic Islands, a village of 300 tents for young French people eager for nature, freedom, sport and parties in will.
Their credo: forget the years of deprivation and rationing imposed by the war.
Twenty facilitators, all volunteers, are responsible for raising the atmosphere.
And already the Mediterranean Club is reserved for a certain carefree elite: fifteen days in Spartan conditions cost the equivalent of two months' salary of a senior executive!
But whatever, the site is fabulous, and activities, accommodation, transport, entertainment… everything is included.
Unlimited cocktails throughout the day, at the Cefalu beach bar where on the wall, photos retrace the history of this club, one of the first, which has changed a lot since its creation in 1957. LP / Arnaud Dumontier
“By founding this company, which was initially a non-profit association, Gérard Blitz invented holidays without constraints and the concept, since widely copied but never equaled, of
, explains Henri Giscard d'Estaing.
He was an avant-garde.
His vision of the holidays was happiness here and now.
Very quickly, Gilbert Trigano, his tent supplier, joined the adventure.
As early as 1952, in Corfu, Greece, rustic canvases were replaced by wooden huts inspired by traditional Polynesian farés.
A patent was filed in the wake to protect the pearl necklaces that allow you to pay for drinks at the bar, the only drinks not included in the formula.
Casually, these necklaces became legendary and, when the Club finally abandoned them a few decades later, some customers would regret not being able to launch their “general tour”!
Tahiti, Djerba, Maldives ...
Year after year, the Club continues the first times.
The villages are set up in paradisiacal places, where no tourist has ever been.
Tahiti, but also Djerba, a small Tunisian island then unknown.
Then Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic, Cancun, Mexico, Bali, the Maldives… Club Med goes global, and duplicates its vacation villages in series.
Standardized sites, where the French, then the Westerners, and today the Chinese, Russians and Brazilians systematically find reassuring codes.
GOs who speak their language, food to their liking, perfectly maintained swimming pools, quality sports equipment where nothing existed before.
The Club Med village of Cefalu, Sicily reopened on May 31, a month later than usual.
LP / Arnaud Dumontier
It is again the Club which invents the mini-clubs. These structures integrated into the villages now welcome children from 4 months and up to 16 years old to provide them with incomparable holidays, to introduce them to the stage, skiing, the circus, the pony… by freeing their parents. It was also the Club which opened the first snow holiday village, in Leysin, Switzerland, in 1956. “Club Med is first and foremost the largest sports school in the world,” emphasizes Henri Giscard d ' Estaing. Our villages have popularized tennis, golf, horseback riding and even archery. »Thanks to the GOs, often champions and always classified in their disciplines, the GMs taste all the sports during their stay, even the most improbable, such as the recent paddle yoga, the new electric surfboards or the first inflatable sailing boats, the Tiwal .
And then, of course, Club Med is also - and above all?
- the party, the shows and the “sea, sex and sun” atmosphere conveyed and gently mocked by Patrice Leconte and the Splendid team.
Having become emblematic of a youth that is both chic and sassy, the brand could not escape the caricature: “Les Bronzés” came out in 1978, and struck the minds of several generations with its countless scenes and cult lines.
After that, no French vacationer will flirt heavily without being called Popeye if he is sexy, or Jean-Claude Dusse if he is systematically turned away.
"Les Bronzés", like "a plaster that it is difficult to remove"
The film makes the Club's famous dances old-fashioned, its themed evenings or its ole ole games in which GMs are encouraged to participate from morning to night. Hilarious for the spectators, catastrophic for the image of the Club. "This film made a lot of people want to come to us, but it also became a plaster that it is difficult to remove", continues Henri Giscard d'Estaing. It must be said that the joke lasts, and that the opuses of
Bronzés" have been rebroadcast in loop and in prime time on TV for more than forty years.
After decades of success, at the end of the 1980s, the tide turned.
“The brand is stigmatized, ridiculed and above all infinitely duplicated by all the other tour operators, writes journalist Jean-Jacques Manceau, in
Le Club Med, reinventing the dream machine
Competitors who plagiarize the concept, but also improve the product, correct its excesses and offer new horizons.
The Club loses its originality and specificity.
There remains the caricature of Les
, as funny as it is formidable.
GOs that have become famous
Fortunately, the famous “Club Med spirit” also remains, which endures against all odds. In particular thanks to its dozens of GOs who have become famous such as Anne Roumanoff, Kad Merad, Patrick Bruel, Denis Brogniart, Lagaf'ou Jean-Luc Reichmann, who seal the reputation of the brand and become its best showcase. "It's an ideal world, the American dream
in a redneck park
, as Desproges nicknamed it", laughs Philippe Caverivière, now an actor, humorist and screenwriter who met Nicolas Canteloup, with whom he has always worked, at the Club Med de Montélimar in 1993. “But I fully assume to have been there, to have played my first shows, very good or downright lousy, in front of packed venues. The kidding of the
, that's what made me want to go, but behind this superficial image, I discovered so much more.
From 1952, wooden huts inspired by traditional Polynesian farés (here in Corfu, Greece, in 1960) replaced the tents in the first villages of the Club Méditerranée.
Coming from a modest family, Philippe Caverivière had only gone on vacation once, to the island of Oléron with his parents, before becoming GO sport. “I owe everything to Club Med and the village chiefs, who pushed me on stage and made me climb this formidable social elevator,” he recalls. To the children of the mini-clubs, because they gave me emotions that marked the rest of my life. I remember this mother who insisted that I include her son in the treasure hunt. Living with cancer, she was having her last family vacation and wanted it perfect. I remain very nostalgic for my five years at the Club, and I go back there again on vacation. "
Same nostalgia with Nicolas Canteloup, who will spend seven seasons at the Club: “I was recruited for my talents as an ice cream seller on the beaches. The Club coach felt I had to be brave and cheeky to scream
Ask for the ice creams that make tanning easier
e all day.
Nicolas Canteloup, also a seasoned rider, joined the house as a riding instructor.
But very quickly, the village chiefs handed him the microphone, and he found himself improvising each evening as a host, then playing a one man show in front of more than 1,000 GM.
“We were paid to make people happy and try out lots of trades while traveling the world!
All GOs have stars in their eyes when they talk about their years at the Club.
»His best memory?
“To have allowed a 58-year-old GM to experience his first gallop on horseback.
It was his dream, he realized it with me at the Club and he continued riding.
For twenty years, he wrote to me on the same date to thank me for the happiness I had given him that day!
The failure of low cost
In 1993, Trigano's son Serge was co-opted for the presidency of the company.
To develop it, he wants to make it the "largest marriage agency in the world" and opts for a low cost strategy.
In order to make the villages profitable, it is reducing the number of activity leaders and services, is grudging against quality, and is trying to attract more and more young people with attractive prices.
He promises them a totally unbridled vacation.
Swarms of well-to-do, party-ready Western singles arrive on beaches around the world with crowded charters.
A year later, the recipe seems to work, the Club celebrates its twenty millionth member.
But the euphoria is brief.
The image of Club Med is damaged, historical customers flee.
Read also The big marketing failures: the Oyyo of Club Med, chronicle of cursed vacations
In 1997, Serge Trigano was sacked, the accounts showed more than 740 million francs (more than 152 million euros) in losses. Philippe Bourguignon, emblematic “savior” boss of Euro Disney, takes over the reins of the “dream machine”. His idea: keep prices low and diversify activities in all directions. He thus created theaters for shows, recreation and catering called Club Med World. It inaugurates the first Club Med Gyms, sports halls located in all major cities and run by GOs. He launched holiday villages reserved for young people, Oyyo party clubs. This is the golden age of "If you sleep, you're dead!" », Beer fountains, holidays at 1,000 francs a week.
Then come the 9/11 attacks and, with them, the collapse of global tourism.
Thousands of travelers cancel their vacations.
Between 2001 and 2003, the Club lost more than 35,000 members.
We urgently need to redesign the offer.
Club Med then became too popular a brand for the wealthy, and still too expensive and too snobbish for ordinary people.
Inventing "convivial luxury"
Henri Giscard d'Estaing, then marketing director, was convinced that, to save the Club, it was imperative to turn our backs on volume strategies, low prices and diversification. He suggests turning off the tap on spending and refocusing on the essential: quality. “To have been imitated by Fram, Jet Tours, or Nouvelles Frontières, that was the greatest compliment,” he explains. We do not copy the stuff that misses! But, to survive, we had to reinvent ourselves, be either the best or the cheapest. But we were no longer one or the other. Our clubs cost three times more to operate than the others because they are three or four times the size, and we do not employ 20 leaders, but up to 160 per village! The only way out was therefore to move upmarket. "
With its infinity pool and top-of-the-range amenities, Cefalu is today a 5 Trident club, the highest level in luxury. LP / Arnaud Dumontier
The man then has a genius idea: to invent "convivial luxury". Quite a challenge. The luxury vacation market has 60 million potential customers. To attract them, “HGE”, promoted to CEO in 2005, began by investing nearly one billion euros in renovations and construction of new villages. It is also necessary to professionalize GO and local employees. Partnerships with Cirque du Soleil, for example, have been established. An internal training school is created. Exit the familiarity, the "beep, beep, yeah! »And the basins of water poured over the GMs on their arrival in the villages. "The foam parties, the clubs reserved for singles, the huts without air conditioning and which do not lock with a key or the tables of eight people with the obligation to have lunch with the GOs, that no longer corresponded to the expectations of customers of the 21st century, assures Michel. Proriol,former village chief and author of “If the portal had not been opened… My Club Med saga”, published this spring by Editions Sydney Laurent. The club had to reinvent itself and that's great! "
Make way for families and a wiser atmosphere. From 120 villages in 2001, Club Med has now grown to 65 and intends to open 16 new ones by 2023. Most are classified as 4 and 5 Tridents. Above all, Club Med is refining its targets. While it continues to pamper its early aficionados by offering them more comfort and luxury, it also affects the “nouveau riche” and the golden youth of Western, Asia and Russia. It sees itself as the “Netflix of tourism”, with à la carte activities and services in all of its villages (Wi-Fi, exclusive sports, tailor-made excursions). But the comeback is slow. Between 2006 and 2015, Club Med continued to lose 40 to 70 million euros per year. The takeover by the Chinese giant Fosun, in 2015, brings it new life,by allowing it to expand in Asia and continue to move upmarket.
Difficult to find embittered GOs or truly disappointed customers
In Cefalu, the hour of the aperitif has struck and the 300 or so holidaymakers of this first week of opening crowd around the swimming pool and its unmissable bar, which serves spritz and other colorful cocktails at will at any time of the day. day. Carole and Denis, happy fiftieth birthday from Nantes, have been visiting Med Clubs around the world for more than twenty years. They would not have missed the post-Covid-19 reopening of the villages for the world. “Our vacations at the Club are our fondest memories,” they testify. But these new 5 Trident villages, as beautiful as they are, no longer really correspond to the festive DNA of the beginnings. The move upmarket, added to the Covid-19 configuration, makes you lose the crazy spirit that we loved so much. Only there is no alternative. We have never found better elsewhere,so we go back to the club every year. "
As for the “golden cage” effect of well-off tourists who do not leave their village and do not go to meet the local populations, nor to adventure in the surroundings, the fans do not care. This is not what they are looking for. Difficult to find embittered GOs or truly disappointed customers. “My biggest worry, when the Club is doing badly or with this new Covid-19 crisis, is knowing where I could go if the villages closed, adds blogger Jean-Baptiste Bacheron. My vacation at the Club is irreplaceable, it's my way of life. You know there is a form of depression that lasts two to three weeks when you come home from the Club and go back to real life where people don't talk to each other anymore, where worries come back, where nothing is. that easy? "
Loyal customer or not, everyone knows that returning to the office is never “Club Med”. A very French expression, consecrated and proven for more than seventy years!