Club Med looks to a future of on-site doctors and private chalets as it ditches buffets
The coronavirus has thrown the entire world’s travel plans into turmoil. Yet while some operators struggle to stay afloat others are beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Luxury all-inclusive ski holidays is one boom area as skiers look towards the hope of returning to the slopes next winter.
The boss of all-inclusive specialist Club Med has revealed its sales are up, compared to the same period last year, providing a lifeline to the company that, like many, lost a huge proportion of business when the pandemic suspended all global travel, including the cancellation of thousands of ski holidays.
“The pandemic forced us to close all of our ski resorts in Europe and Asia from late March, which essentially meant we missed a third of the 2019/2020 ski season,” explained Estelle Giraudeau, managing director UK and Northern Europe at Club Med
But as the world eases out of lockdown, countries reopen their borders and holidaymakers look to the potential future of travel, Club Med’s fortunes have changed, offering a glimpse at what ski holidays of the future might look like. “In recent weeks, we have seen a surge from UK customers looking for premium all-inclusive holidays,” said Giraudeau, who reveals revenue last week was up 33 per cent year on year.
It is the brand’s five-star and luxury resorts and residences that are leading the charge, she said. Many in the ski industry believe luxury holidays could boom in the post-pandemic world as customers look for top-of-the-range cleaning standards, professional services such as contactless chalet hosts and catering and private spaces where they can socially distance from other holidaymakers. “People are demanding privacy and space in the current climate and our chalets and 5T spaces offer both, with the added advantage of resort facilities and activities on your doorstep,” said Giraudeau.
The company has revealed the average value of new online bookings has risen by 26 per cent year on year, due to more customers booking its 5T resorts (Club Med’s own star rating system) and private properties part of its Exclusive Collection.
Last winter Club Med began its first foray into the world of luxury ski chalets in the French resort of Samoëns, on the doorstep of its Grand Massif Samoëns Morillon all-inclusive resort hotel. In these new properties the Club Med formula, where all meals and drinks, every day, are included in the price, is the same as in its hotels. But as well as the option of eating in a hotel restaurant, guests staying in chalets also enjoy the services of a host called a Chalet Master, and can have food served in the privacy of their accommodation, mimicking the traditional British chalet model.
Giraudeau believes pent up demand to go on holiday is also helping to drive sales in the luxury sector, as well as surplus cash to spend by those that have not been financially impacted by Covid-19. “They are prepared to spend more to make sure that their holiday is everything they have been dreaming of during lockdown,” she said.
Club Med has long been the market leader in all-inclusive ski holiday packages, which, for a single price, cover everything from meals, drinks, lessons, lift passes, flights and transfers. It believes its all-in-one approach and global reputation will be appealing to customers who are now more cautious about who and which operators they spend their money and book with.
“This [the all-inclusive model] is more important than ever now – with prices and currencies fluctuating in these uncertain times, locking in a price can provide peace of mind,” said Giraudeau. Industry research recently revealed that refund guarantees, package deals and Atol and Abta bonding will be among the major influences skiers to book in the future.
Club Med’s packages negate the need to spend extra, often large amounts, on ski holiday essentials such as lift passes and lessons – the only thing it does not include in its deals is equipment hire, which can be booked separately through onsite hire shops.
“All-inclusive ski holidays with Club Med have always had the advantage of knowing that you’re not going to be hit with lots of additional costs after booking. All of your flights, transfers, food and drinks, ski passes, ESF lessons, resort activities and kids’ clubs over the age of four are included in the upfront cost,” said Giraudeau.
While many resorts in Europe are looking to their cousins in the southern hemisphere, which plan to begin their ski season in the coming weeks, global brand Club Med has its own experience to learn from. It’s properties in ski resorts in China have already been permitted to reopen, providing a blueprint for the company’s future. Club Med opened its first ski school in the country last year.
“We have been able to open up all our resorts in China, including those in ski domains Yabuli and Beidahu, over the past few months and their occupancy rates for April, May and June are higher than the same period last year which gives us strong hope that travel will rebound once restrictions are lifted in different countries,” said Giraudeau.
“Club Med does have the advantage of two months of experience in managing and operating resorts with reinforced and adapted health measures thanks to the many lessons learned from the reopening of our Club Med resorts in China.”
The company has drawn up a list of extensive measures it plans to bring in across all its all-inclusive resorts, which will initially rewelcome domestic visitors and then guests from all over Europe as borders reopen and lockdowns are lifted.
Customers will notice new measures in place from the moment they are collected from the airport when transfer coaches and taxis will run on reduced capacity and, on arrival at the property, check in and arrival services are turning digital to reduce queues. During their stay restaurant opening times will be extended, cleaning and disinfection, particularly in spas, kids clubs, lifts and restaurants, will be increased and Club Med will also have an on-site doctor available at each resort, tasked with providing first aid in the event of someone developing symptoms while in the hotel.
“The biggest challenge to reopening our resorts are the stringent measures we have to put in place to provide the best possible health and hygiene conditions. We have spent lockdown developing our Safe Together protocol, validated by our scientific committee comprised of professors, doctors and experts in epidemiology and public health,” said Giraudeau.
Despite new measures inevitably changing elements of the holiday experience, from check in to dining and time spent on the slopes, Giraudeau is keen to insist the brand will be sticking as closely as possible to the Club Med experience thousands have grown to love. “These measures are designed to protect everyone while retaining spaces and activities that are faithful to the Club Med label and experience,” she said.
Ski lessons with fully-qualified local instructors will still be part of the all-inclusive package but group size will be limited. Off the slopes its spas, many of which boast impressive facilities and extensive treatment lists, will reopen but under new protocols.
Club Med’s dining options are among the most popular parts of its packages, especially for families who enjoy the wide choice, flexibility and low-cost approach of all meals being provided – all usually served in buffet style. However as this style of dining becomes a thing of the past Club Med are having to make a big change. “Our buffets will be replaced with staff service, however, we are continuing to offer our guests as much choice as possible with cuisines from all around the world – which we know is a much-loved aspect of the Club Med experience,” said Giraudeau.
Opening hours of its restaurants will also be extended and tables will be spaced at safe distances apart.
The coronavirus pandemic struck as Club Med entered another year of its vast expansion plan. In the past few years it has opened several new residences and has plans to continue its growth even further. A global pandemic won’t stop this says Giraudeau, despite some operators scaling back their offerings. “Club Med is continuing its expansion plan and will be opening the newly renovated 4T La Palmyre Atlantique resort on 12th July, Club Med Sainte Anne in the Seychelles, its first ever 5T private eco-island, in Q4, and its latest Alpine ski resort in the historic village of La Rosiere in December.”
Its growth does not stop there – in 2021 it will open its first resort in Canada, the hotly anticipated Quebec Charlevoix as well as other new residences in China, Africa, Italy and Thailand among others in the next five years. Many would consider this a brave strategy, considering current trading conditions, but the brand says its loyal customers who pay for its premium services are driving its expansion and as demand grows so does its empire.
“Premium customers drove a significant proportion of our growth in the past few years which is why we have such an ambitious roadmap of new 4-Trident and 5-Trident Exclusive Collection resorts,” said Giraudeau.
“Club Med UK had an outstanding year in 2019 and we are confident that people are still dreaming of their next holiday and we will see strong demand returning in the near future.”