• U.S.

Sun, Fun and Sales Meetings

3 minute read
John S. Demott

In the 1960s the very name Club Med brought forth images of suntanned, beautiful single people cavorting on beach blankets over wine and under moonlight. Then when the original clientele grew older and got married, Club Med added day-care facilities for children and shifted the recreational emphasis from scuba diving to golf and tennis. Now Paris-based Club Mediterranee Group, the world’s largest seller of packaged holiday fun, is in the midst of its most radical departure yet: an all-out campaign to lure corporate clients to its 95 villages in 25 countries in all the balmy parts of the globe.

With all the marketing savvy of a Hilton or Sheraton, Club Med is urging companies to take over villages for conferences and as sales-incentive rewards to employees. Frenchman Gilbert Trigano, 65, hardly talks like a man who flirted with Communism before he founded Club Med. Now the organization’s president, he says that “we make a special effort for corporations. They are especially precious to us.”

Renault, the French automaker, rents a village for nine weeks each year so that 17,000 of its workers can stay for a few days or more. France’s Total, a petroleum refiner and marketer, takes about 650 people a year to a Club Med as a plum for good performance. Says Philippe Morot, a Total executive: “It is remarkable what work gas-station managers will do to win.” Other corporate clients have included Japan’s Sony and Nikon, as well as Harley-Davidson and Pizza Hut from the U.S. Trigano plans to step up efforts to attract American companies with a “Club Med Corporate” campaign that will appear in business magazines starting in September.

Like Club Med’s individual customers, corporations are drawn by the promise of a relatively inexpensive package deal. It typically includes airfare, accommodations, three buffet-style meals a day, theme parties and nightly entertainment, all for an average per-person price of $1,100 a week. More than 20 villages, from Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic to Phuket in Thailand, have installed personal computers for executives to toy with when far away from the office. The new appeal to companies helped increase Club Med’s revenues by 17% last year, to $843 million, and profits by 8%, to $38 million. For executives who have no time to go to the beach, Trigano is working on bringing the beach to them. He is starting to build a series of indoor “tropical spaces” in urban centers. Since May a prototype has been open just outside Vienna, complete with waves that wash sandy beaches, palm trees, controlled heat and artificial sun. Trigano has plans to install these pseudo paradises in New York City, Paris, London and Tokyo.

Trigano thinks Club Med would be luring more corporate clients were it not for its original racy reputation as a place for swinging singles. Says he: “There is an extraordinary difference between the image people have of a Club Med village and what it actually is. Paradoxically, we are almost trapped, caught between our image and the reality.” But with all those computers and golf courses, corporate types are beginning to feel right at home.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com