Club Med remember and refresh what made them famous

Back from hols at Club Med and, being the brandaholic I am, I couldn't help but observe that way the they have pulled off a great job of remembering and refreshing what made them famous. The company has just celebrated its 60th anniversary, and is still going strong. Despite a horrible time for the travel business, with the recession and the Emperor's New Cloud in Iceland, they reported increase operating income 16% to €28 million for the six months ending April 30 2010.

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For those who don't know it, Club Med is an series of 75 all-inclusive holiday resorts, in 25 different countries. They started out with beach huts back in the 1950's and were famous for the 3 s's (sun, sea and you know what). They're know for full-on fun, with lots of organized activies, games and shows.

Here's my take on what they've done well.

1. Keeping the good stuff:

Club Med have respected some key elements of their brand experience. First, everything is in the price. And I mean everything. All the food. All the drinks, including cocktails, wine and spirits. All the sports, including circus trapeze for the kids. This gives a real sense of freedom to enjoy yourself. Second, are the "GO's" (gentilles orginsataurs). These are the staff members who work in the Club. They are incredibly friendly, smiley and run on Duracell batteries. In the day they work at the pool or on reception. But at night they turn into entertainers in the nightly shows, singing and dancing their socks off. Then they hang out in the bar with the guests of "GM" as they are called (gentilles membres). God knows when they sleep.

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2. Ditching the baggage:

Club Med has also cut some of the things that were barriers to growth. For example, before you had to sit with other guests at big tables: forced socialisation. Now you can have a table for 2 or for your family. And you choose to socialise or not.

3. Refreshing and premiumising:

The most impressive thing Club Med have done for me is pushed their brand dramatically upmarket. Remember, this is a company who started out with beach huts. And who had a reputation for spartan accomodation. Several years ago they started refurbishing villages to turn them into more upmarket "4 or 5 Tridents" ones (the symbol of Club Med is Neptune's trident), and opening new upscale ones. This transformation means that by the end of 2010, 2/3 of our the villages will be rated 4 and 5-Tridents.

And this move upscale is clearly working. Whilst customer numbers overall were down 4.5% in the Winter season, 4 and 5 Trident customers grew by 1%.

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4. Geographic expansion:

Club Med has invested to open villages in new destinations, key to keep loyal GM coming back again and again in search of variety, and attracting new guests. One impressive figure is that by 2015 Club Med expect China to be their second largest market with five villages and 200,000 customers.

5. Strong leadership:

Each club has a "Chef du Village" who is key to success, and has even more energy than the GO's. They run the village, inspire and manage the staff but are also highly visible in the village. In one day our Chef du Village greeted me at breakfast, was at my tennis lesson to play a few rallies with me, said hello by the pool and introduced the evening's show.

What a great model to have in each of their 75 villages such a strong leader. In fact, perhaps the "village" model is a good one to apply to business, instead of the soul-less concept of the business unit? In a village you work together, live together, care about your community and have a sense of belonging and pride.

In conclusion, Club Med have shown how rejuvenate a brand to keep it relevant, whilst respecting the "DNA" that made it special. And they've done this not through sizzle-based communication, but by really investing in the "sausage" to make the service experience better.