Henri Giscard d’Estaing: The captain’s leadership at Club Med

Henri Giscard d’Estaing, President of Club Med, has overseen the company’s incredible growth to 70 resorts across the globe’s most desirable destinations. Throughout this journey, Club Med has consistently upheld its five core values, with kindness being the cornerstone. This translates to providing genuine service and support, all with the aim of bringing joy to our guests. Wanderlust Tips is thrilled to bring you insights from Henri himself! He’ll be sharing his valuable strategies for managing Club Med’s unique resorts around the world, concepts that have won the hearts of families everywhere.

Henri Giscard d'Estaing

Good morning Mr. Henri Giscard d’Estaing. Warm Greetings from Wanderlust Tips USA – The leading travel publication in the United States. Thank you very much for accepting our invitation to share your career-inspiration stories with our readers exclusively. Can you share a brief overview of Club Med’s history and its evolution over the years?

The inventor of the all-inclusive holiday and kids club concept and with 68 resorts and operations in over 40 markets, Club Med is constantly evolving to be the most desirable holiday lifestyle brand and offer its customers a carefree, stress-free holiday experience in exceptional destinations since 1950. We unveiled our new brand campaign, ‘That’s l’Esprit Libre’ in 2023. This comprehensive initiative was designed to breathe new life into the premium branding and introduce a new visual identity to keep our brand fresh and engaging, captivating both new and returning guests.

What are the core values and principles that guide Club Med’s operations and decision-making?

Club Med embodies a foundational vision of carefreeness and freedom. This vision is woven into the company’s DNA through five key values:

Kindness: Genuine service and support create a welcoming atmosphere where guests feel truly cared for.

Freedom: Club Med offers boundless opportunities to explore vast landscapes, discover new horizons, and embrace a relaxed pace.

Multiculturalism: From forging connections with local communities and producers to the diverse international staff, Club Med celebrates a vibrant tapestry of cultures.

Pioneering Spirit: A constant drive to innovate and explore new destinations keeps Club Med at the forefront of travel experiences.

Responsibility: Club Med goes beyond minimum requirements, actively protecting the environments and people that make their resorts so special.

How does Club Med differentiate itself from other all-inclusive resorts and vacation experiences?

As Club Med is the pioneer of all-inclusive vacations, we are grounded by 5 strategic key pillars aligned to our brand values of multiculturalism, kindness, responsibility, freedom & a pioneering spirit :

Premium with Club Med spirit: The rebound in travel showed that the high-end family holidays sector is the first to recover and is more resilient when facing the effects of markets cycles.

Become the Hospitality employer of choice: As the tourism industry was facing difficulties in recruiting and attracting talent, Club Med’s ambition is to offer its teams a “life-changing experience” through personalized management, training and fast-track career paths.

Glocal: Combining a global approach with a local focus in terms of markets, products, and destinations, to achieve sustainable growth and diversify regional operational risks.

“Happy Digital”: Continuing the digital transformation to improve the customer experience and teams’ efficiency in resorts and offices, by investing heavily in digital and technology now focusing on data and AI.

“Happy to Care”: Aiming to take care of the environment and communities, with the implementation of numerous actions of responsible tourism: BREEAM eco-certification for the construction of Resorts and Green Globe certification for the daily management of Club Med Resorts.

Henri Giscard d'Estaing

What role does sustainability play in Club Med’s expansion plans and how does the company balance growth with environmental responsibility?

Club Med is founded based on sports and nature. For more than 60 years, responsibility has been part of the Club Med DNA. “Happy to Care” is one of our key strategic pillars, aimed to take care of the environment and communities, with the implementation of numerous measures in favour of responsible tourism.

In prioritizing the harmonious integration of our resorts with the natural beauty of their surroundings, Club Med strives to keep these exceptional locations as untouched as possible. The built-up surfaces across all Club Med resorts cover less than 10% of total site surfaces, which allow guests to enjoy their well-deserved holidays in spectacularly well-preserved destinations.

Club Med’s commitment to sustainable tourism is built on solid foundations. The ability to drive progress within our sphere of influence is becoming a key element in the success of our environmental policy both during construction and operation, where its aim is to obtain 100% eco-certification (BREEAM or equivalent) of new resorts under construction and day-to-day operations (Green Globe certification) in all resorts. Routine incorporation of an eco-friendly approach and the implementation and adherence to strict standards in construction projects is key to Club Med’s environmental policy.

The first Club Med BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) resort eco-construction standard was established in 2017 to ensure that all new-built resorts or large-scale renovations by the Group are eco-certified and comply with Club Med construction eco-standards. Green Globe is the world’s highest and most thoroughly tested standard of responsible tourism where certified properties are reviewed twice annually based on over 350 criteria, to ensure that they possess demanding levels of sustainability across all aspects, from training and recruitment to food and energy wastage, resort construction and biodiversity preservation as well as the preservation of local cultures in nearby communities.

Taking one of our upcoming new opening as an example, embracing Club Med’s commitment to eco-friendliness, Club Med Borneo design blends harmoniously with its lush surroundings, drawing inspiration from the woods and sea. Every element has been thoughtfully crafted to ensure minimal ecological impact while providing utmost comfort and luxury for every of our guests. The resort will be both BREEAM and Green Globe certified, furthering the brand’s commitment to low density, sustainable development.

What are the key aspects of the Club Med experience that you believe contribute to its enduring popularity and guest satisfaction?

Club Med is committed to retaining our leadership position in the all-inclusive resort sector and becoming the most desirable holiday lifestyle brand through a multifaceted approach.

Firstly, we prioritize innovation in our offerings, constantly striving to provide unique and immersive experiences at our resorts.

Secondly, we’re expanding our global footprint as we discover untapped opportunities in distinctive and emerging destinations while ensuring that Club Med remains accessible to epicurean, savvy travellers worldwide. Our diverse portfolio, encompassing beach, mountain, and snow destinations, further solidifies our position as the preferred choice for all types of travellers.

Thirdly, our emphasis on family-friendly facilities and activities ensures that families continue to choose Club Med as their ideal destination for unforgettable vacations.

Fourthly, we are unwavering in our commitment to environmental responsibility which has been in the Club Med DNA since it was founded. By implementing eco-friendly practices and sustainable initiatives, we not only reduce our environmental footprint but also align ourselves with the growing demand for responsible travel. 

Henri Giscard d'Estaing

How does Club Med cater to the needs and preferences of diverse guest segments, including families, couples, and solo travelers?

We offer a variety of all-inclusive escapes in exceptional destinations worldwide. Each resort provides specialized programs and amenities tailored to different interests and preferences, ensuring everyone has a fulfilling experience. With Kids Club, our childcare services provided by experienced staff, and a variety of activities programmed to fit every age group and personality, our guests at Club Med from family to couples and friends can comfortably enjoy the vacation while having all the time to create lifelong memories. Our staff representing more than a hundred nationalities and speak over 30 languages are trained to accommodate more than the needs of diverse guest segments, providing personalized service to ensure every guest feels belonged and are well taken care of.

What role does technology play in enhancing the Club Med guest experience and how do you see technology being integrated further in the future?

With “Happy Digital”, one of our five strategic pillars focusing on enhancing customer experiences, we have been stepping up our digital transformation by integrating AI (artificial intelligence) into daily operations. We created our Data Factory in 2022 which then sets the foundation for us to continue implementing a generative AI one year after, made to both enhance the guest experience through personalization and streamline our operations. Generative AI, for example, enables us to personalize interactions with guests, eliminate inconveniences and offer tailored recommendations that elevate the vacation experience by processing over 5 million new data points per day. AI’s versatility also helps us gain efficiency, allowing time-savings for value-added tasks such as indexing and automatically sorting images or translation of global marketing content.

But as we put humans at the heart of our DNA since its creation, we also develop strong ethics and deontology on these subjects linked to new technologies, positioning ourselves as an “early adopter” regarding artificial intelligence. We see generative AI as a complementing asset which opens new doors in our quest for innovation, customer consideration and growth.

Henri Giscard d'Estaing

How does Club Med collaborate with local communities in the areas where its resorts are located?

At Club Med, we deeply value and collaborate with local communities in the regions where our resorts are located. Our Resorts are steeped in local culture, as seen from their architecture, interior design, vegetation, cuisine and in numerous other aspects too. The programmes and activities offered also reflect local influences, frequently through lessons in dance, cooking and languages, as well as lectures on the host country. Most Resorts also organise weekly evenings, full days or events dedicated to celebrating the culture of the host country or region. Beyond that, we prioritize sourcing resources from local suppliers, creating job opportunities and contributing to  the local community through our corporate foundation, Club Med Foundation.

What are some of the positive impacts that Club Med has had on local economies and tourism industries?

Wherever it is established, Club Med actively contributes to the local economy. For example, at Cap Skirring in Senegal, over a decade the NGO Agrisud and Club Med have been providing support to nearly 180 women farmers, empowering them to supply the village with agro-ecological products. During the pandemic and despite the Resort’s closure, the Club Med Foundation decided to purchase a portion of the harvest from the women farmers who typically supply the restaurants and buffet, then distribute fruit and vegetable baskets to almost 700 vulnerable families. 

What initiatives does Club Med have in place to promote sustainable tourism practices and environmental stewardship?

The presence of a Club Med Resort has economic and social impacts on the host region. Club Med is committed to not contenting itself with observing the positive impacts, but rather to maximising and developing them through local employment; developing the employability of local workers; local responsible purchasing; the prevention of counterfeiting; and the transfer of know-how and innovation.

As part of Club Med’s commitment to promote sustainable agriculture of locally and ethically sourced products, Club Med Bali has worked with the families of Bukit Mesari Farmers Group under the Green Farmers program, in partnership with AGRISUD, to boost their agro-ecological practices, reduce carbon footprint and promote human exchanges with food producers while supporting the economic independence of small-scale suppliers. Guests staying at the Resort can get access to fresh, seasonal and organic food, which are incorporated into the refreshed dining menus in the resort. Club Med Bali launched the first ever Grocery Shop, where eco-friendly products and fresh produce are retailed in support of the local farmers and producers.

What initiatives does Club Med have in place to promote sustainable tourism practices and environmental stewardship?

Some of the important initiatives and partnerships we have globally are:

Partnerships: Engage with international and local partners that prioritise environmental conservation. For instance, the global partnership that Club Med has with AGRISUD for over a decade and still going strong. Through this partnership, we have more than 400 ecological farms under the Green Farmers program worldwide where we train and support small farms to help develop them in viable and sustainable ways that enable them to also then supply produce to Club Med resorts.

Local community: The presence of a Club Med Resort has economic and social impacts on the host region. Club Med is committed to not contenting itself with observing the positive impacts, but rather to maximising and developing them through local employment; developing the employability of local workers; local responsible purchasing; prevention of counterfeiting; and the transfer of know-how and innovation.

Club Med Foundation: Club Med Foundation is one of the very first corporate foundations ever created in 1978. The Foundation mobilises Club Med’s teams and resources to participate in solidarity actions around its resorts and offices. It works to support vulnerable children and protect the environment, with access to education and recreation for all, as well as the protection of biodiversity as its priority areas.

Beyond these initiatives, more than 15,000 G.O.s are trained each year on sustainability and how to help preserve the environment. They then educate our guests about the fragility of the areas we operate and importance of sustainability by bringing these eco-initiatives to life in the resorts, with initiatives like:

  • Coral propagation with our in-resort marine biologist in Club Med Kani
  • Turtle conservatory in Club Med Bintan and Club Med Cherating
  • A dedicated cultural themed day in our resorts such as Balinese Day and Vibrant Thailand Day to allow our guests to learn and celebrate the unique culture

The Asian tourism market is growing rapidly and is a key focus area for Club Med. Can you share Club Med’s strategy to grow its business in this region?

Club Med is committed to becoming the leading choice for premium all-inclusive vacations in Southeast Asia. Here’s how we are achieving this:

Amplifying Authentic Experiences: We are amplifying brand awareness by partnering with key opinion leaders (KOLs) who share authentic experiences at Club Med resorts. This, coupled with strategic PR efforts, allows us to showcase the unique charm and value proposition of our destinations through a trusted lens.

Becoming Mountain Holiday Leaders: We recognize the growing demand for mountain escapes. Club Med is committed to establishing itself as a leader in this sector, offering unparalleled experiences in breathtaking locations.

Elevating Brand Perception: We understand the region’s growing affluent population. Through targeted communication strategies, we will educate potential guests about the premium offerings and exclusive services available within our Exclusive Collection resorts, catering specifically to High-Net-Worth (HNW) households.

Optimizing Distribution & Partnerships: We value our existing partnerships with our travel partners and will continue to nurture those relationships. At the same time, we’re actively diversifying and fine-tuning our distribution model to reach new customer segments.

Unlocking MICE Potential: The Meetings, Incentives, Conferences & Exhibitions (MICE) market holds significant potential. Leveraging the traction we’ve gained in this area, Club Med is actively developing strategies to cater to the growing demand for exceptional MICE experiences at our resorts.

​​In your opinion, what are the main factors that attract tourists to Asia? What is Club Med doing to meet these needs and preferences?

Tourists normally are drawn to Asia for its rich cultural heritage, extraordinary natural landscapes, and diverse culinary experiences. The affordability of travel and the locals’ warm hospitality are also important factors.

All Club Med Resorts offer a seamless blend of cultural immersion through locally inspired architecture, engaging art and cooking classes, alongside themed in-resort events to introduce our guests to the heart of the destination, all included as part of their stay with our signature premium all-inclusive offering.

What challenges is Club Med facing in doing business in Asia? Can you share how Club Med is addressing these challenges?

The travel industry faces a confluence of challenges globally – inflation, geopolitical tensions, and a talent shortage. In Asia, where the all-inclusive concept with extensive activities might be less familiar, Club Med has a unique opportunity to introduce this distinctive holiday style.

Addressing that, Club Med recognized the necessity for a revitalization of its brand not only within the Asian market, but internationally with the recent unveiling of the new brand campaign, ‘That’s l’Esprit Libre.’ This comprehensive initiative was designed to breathe new life into the premium holiday lifestyle brand and introduce a new visual identity to keep our brand fresh and engaging, captivating both new and returning guests. The campaign draws inspiration from Club Med’s strong legacy and pioneering spirit of providing an escape from the chaos of modern life. It aims to establish ‘l’Esprit Libre’ (the free spirit) as a way of life, harking back to Club Med’s founding principles over 73 years ago. This strategic rebranding was crucial for expanding Club Med’s presence in markets such as Asia, in addition to its established presence in Europe and the Americas.

Club Med is known for its all-inclusive resort packages. Can you share what makes Club Med’s resort packages in Asia unique compared to its competitors?

Club Med’s all-inclusive resort packages in Asia go beyond accommodations by offering gourmet meals, unlimited beverages including alcohol, a wide range of land and water sports activities, immersive cultural experiences, and entertainment, ensuring guests have everything they need for an unforgettable vacation experience without having to worry about additional budget or planning.

Club Med has been a pioneer and committed to diversity since its creation. One of our key values is Multiculturalism. One of Club Med’s successes is that it has always brought together people of very different origins, nationalities, religions and cultures to live and work together. Enabling people from all backgrounds to reach out to the world by working together. We have more than 110 nationalities among our employees speaking over 30 languages in our Resorts and offices around the world. Our multicultural G.O team creates and brings alive a welcoming, vibrant atmosphere for guests to experience different cultures.  This commitment to inclusion allows us to empower people from all backgrounds to come together through shared experiences.

Henri Giscard d'Estaing

Can you share some of your favorite Club Med resorts in Asia and the unique experiences that guests can expect there?

Club Med Kiroro Peak in Hokkaido, Japan

The number one experience not to be missed is the skiing here at Kiroro. Kiroro has an annual average of 21m powder snow and a long winter season of 160 days, which is the first Club Med Mountain Resort in Asia to offer spring skiing until May. Both Club Med Kiroro Peak offers ski-in-ski-out with direct access to 23 ski runs for all levels and has amazing pristine slopes which are less crowded than our popular sister region, Niseko.

Next, a visit to Otaru Town is a must to discover the rich history and craftsmanship of this beautiful coastal town, located 40-minute drive from the Resort. From signature exquisite glasswork and music box to artisanal local sake and beer distilleries, there’s something for everyone.

After a day out in the snow, I highly recommend unwind with a relaxing soak in our natural hot spring, the first Club Med Resort to offer a traditional Japanese onsen experience and end the day with an exceptional dining experience in our specialty restaurants –The Ogon (nabe hot pot), The Kaen (yakiniku) and The Ebisu (sushi).

Club Med Phuket, Thailand

Immerse yourself in the vibrant tapestry of Thai culture at Club Med. Experience the electrifying energy of Muay Thai boxing, learn the secrets of aromatic Thai cuisine in cooking classes, and be dazzled by the captivating fire shows – all within the resort’s ambience that reflects the essence of Thailand. We forge local partnerships for events like “Thailand Day,” where vendors bring the bustling charm of a local market right to your doorstep.

What new initiatives is Club Med taking to enhance the resort experience for guests in Asia?

We’re continuously innovating to enhance the resort experience for guests. One initiative involves introducing unique cultural experiences tailored to each destination, offering immersive insights into the local heritage. Alongside, we’re expanding the range of activities and amenities, catering to diverse interests like cooking classes featuring regional cuisine or outdoor adventures showcasing the natural beauty of the area.

Additionally, we’re leveraging digital technology to streamline booking processes, provide personalized recommendations, and facilitate communication between guests and staff through mobile apps and digital concierge services. These efforts aim to elevate the overall guest experience and create unforgettable memories during their stay at Club Med resorts in Asia.

What advice do you have for travelers when choosing a resort vacation package in Asia?

The most important advice is to determine what type of experience you crave and choose a destination that aligns with your interests. The great part about Club Med is its all-inclusive offerings which provides a hassle-free holiday experience as everything is well taken care of – a wide variety of resort activities and ambiance tailored to the host destination, great family offerings with our signature kids clubs, Amazing Family! Program – without having to worry about cost or budget.

What motivated you to join Club Med and what has been your most rewarding experience during your tenure as President?

Witnessing Club Med’s phenomenal growth since I joined has been incredibly rewarding.  Innovation is at the heart of Club Med, and I’m proud to contribute to this ongoing transformation. 

The brand’s resilience is remarkable during the pandemic – not only did it achieve a full recovery by 2022, but it also surpassed expectations by reaching nearly 2 billion euros in Business Volume last year for the first time ever. This success is a testament to the effectiveness of Club Med’s new business model, initiated in 2004. The 50% increase in operating margin to almost 10%, along with record net profit, reflects the model’s strategic strength.

2024 marks another milestone – the completion of our move upmarket. We’re proud to say that 100% of our resorts are now classified as Premium or Exclusive Collection and now boasts the most desirable collection of resorts in our 74-year history.

Looking ahead with a significant surge in bookings already for the first half of 2024, Club Med is well-positioned to become the leading holiday lifestyle brand. We remain committed to offering life-changing experiences for our employees and contributing to sustainable tourism practices.

We truly appreciate you sharing your inspiring career stories with our readers! Hearing about your rewarding experiences with Club Med’s unique concept across over 70 resorts worldwide is amazing. It’s clear you’ve played a role in bringing happiness to countless families. We wish Club Med continued success in the future!

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