The operator's new managing director for the UK and Scandinavia talks to Lucy Huxley about agents, digital and Club Med's tie-up with Thomas Cook
Estelle Giraudeau has worked for Club Med in France for three years and was appointed managing director for the UK and Scandinavia in June, following a short-lived stint at the helm by Patrick Mitchell. She believes there is huge potential for the UK market to grow significantly and has a clear vision of how she’s going to achieve it.
The ski market is getting “stronger” for Club Med, according to Giraudeau, although its UK market share is still small compared with operators such as Crystal Ski.
“We are getting known for our ski quality,” said Giraudeau, who grew up in Nantes. “We’ve seen double-digit growth for two years.
“We used to rely a lot on our three-Trident-rated product, but over the past two years, we’ve taken an upscale strategy, as we’ve found many clients want more four and five-Trident luxury. Only 20%-30% of our overall portfolio is now three-Trident.”
Club Med opened a resort in Val Thorens in December, which Giraudeau said is proving a success. “It’s one of our top four resorts already,” she added.
“There’s no childcare on offer there. It is for groups, couples and families with teenagers. It really shows our capacity to grow fast and to stretch our target audience.
“Every year, we will open a ski resort. In 2017-18, we’ll go into Austria for the first time. We’re also looking at Canada, to offer customers something new.”
There have been some challenges with Turkey and Greece bookings this summer, according to Giraudeau, so the focus has moved to other destinations.
“Searches for Turkey on Google are down 25% year on year because of the proximity to Syria and the concerns over Isis,” she said. “It’s coming back but we have lost 50% of the season there. Everything was on hold there for a while. But the UK is showing resilience. The fact is, you’re no safer in London than you are on a beach in Turkey.
“Greece has presented us with some problems, too. The big challenge for us is to sell other destinations now and not rely so heavily on Turkey and Greece.
“We have fantastic resorts in Portugal, France and Italy, which we could do much more with in the UK market, so I am confident we can grow them. Our resort in the Algarve, for example, had a refurb for this summer, and we are upgrading our La Palmyre resort on the west coast of France from a three to a four-Trident for 2017.”
Giraudeau said Club Med, which operates in 77 locations worldwide, was also focusing on the likes of Cancun, the Maldives, Florida, the Bahamas, and Brazil for British guests.
“We have a resort opening in Buzios in Brazil in 2016 – it’s like the St Tropez of South America.
“We have also had a great response to our villas in the Maldives, which is a luxury product. So we are positive.”
Club Med is looking to gain some new trade partners, particularly in London, said Giraudeau, and will double the number of fam trips that it runs each year to eight.
“We are not visible enough. It’s part of our strategy to grow with our key partners and ski specialists, but it’s also our challenge to recruit new agents.
“We host between 10 and 15 agents on each fam, so that should give us more visibility. We’re also attending all the major agent conferences and building stronger relationships with the networks and consortia such as Advantage, The Travel Network Group, Hays, Global and Travel Counsellors.
“We will keep doing incentives to reward our top sellers, but we need to balance this with potential schemes that also better reward those agents just starting with us.”
Another of Club Med’s aims is to improve its digital partnerships.
“Currently, 17%-18% of our bookings are made direct online and we believe that will go to 22%,” said Giraudeau. “But we also believe that agents could be more digital. Consumers’ behaviour is changing. We want to act like a consulting company for our trade partners. We want to make sure their websites are more efficient and ensure our brand is featured on their sites properly.
“Also, when we put [marketing] money on the table, we need to make sure that some is dedicated to online traffic. We want to push our French resorts, for example, so we’d be happy to do a specific campaign about France and share the cost of AdWords on Google with agents.
“We are also working on tech projects so that agents can, at some stage, sell us through their own websites. That will happen in the coming months.”
Giraudeau said agents wouldn’t be around in five to 10 years if they didn’t focus on their digital offering.
“I don’t say this to frighten them – I want us to help,” she added. “I want us to do it together because, at the moment, most could be better in terms of digital. It’s about us being constructive, so we all grow. To make a boundary between digital and sales is wrong. Digital is now the way of selling – you can’t not accept it. It’s not just about marketing – it’s a sales channel.”
Thomas Cook tie-up
Club Med has teamed up with Thomas Cook in a worldwide deal that will involve the brand being sold through 150 stores in the UK.
“Most of their business is not our target audience but these 150 could do very well,” said Giraudeau. “We have strong visibility in those stores and we anticipate accelerating the recruitment of clients through them.
“We will do lots of co-branded marketing activity with them, both on and offline.
“On top of the fact that we’re both part-owned by Fosun, Cook should sell Club Med because our average basket is higher, meaning more commission for agents than selling one of our competitors.
“Cook used to do good volumes for us, then they sold their own products, such as Neilson, when they owned it. So we need to re-energise our sales through Thomas Cook, starting with a fam trip in September.”
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