Club Med Reshapes The Travel Agent Fam

by Richard D’Ambrosio
Club Med Reshapes The Travel Agent Fam

Club Med Finolhu Villas in the Maldives.

Club Med is embarking on a new fam trip concept that will immerse travel agents into the full resort experience, blending their personal and professional lives and making them better salespeople for the brand.

Xavier Mufraggi, Club Med CEO for North America, said the company has been learning from a worldwide fact-finding mission, uncovering the changes in how consumers and agents view and book with this iconic all-inclusive.

“The fam trip is even more important to us as a marketing tool than in the past,” Mufraggi told TMR. “It’s a big investment, for Club Med and for agents.”

Mufraggi said the internet has commoditized so many aspects of travel industry marketing, and the way consumers acquire information. Like others, Club Med detected a consumer revolt against the information overload the internet presents to travelers. As a result, the company believes it can gain market share and increase sales by enhancing the travel agency distribution channel.

“We want to make agents experts on the destination and our properties,” he said. “For this new ‘travel specialist’ to compete, and offer that extra value, they need to travel, and experience the product.”

New concepts 10 years in the making
The seeds of the new program were planted about 10 years ago, when Club Med Cancun reopened following a $40 million investment and invited hundreds of agents on a fam.

“There must have been 300 agents on the trip. In the morning, they would hire a car and leave the property to visit five or six other resorts during the day,” Mufraggi recalled. “The only thing they saw of my property was the bed and the food.”

Mufraggi realized fams needed to change, and Club Med has been gradually evolving its programs ever since.

Before being invited on a fam—where Club Med pays for accommodations, most land and watersport activities, food, and premium beverages—agents first must graduate from the company’s Club Med Expert Agent program.

Recently, the company started further qualifying agents through its Business Development Managers, “to ensure we reach travel professionals who want to grow their business with us,” said Michelle Lardizabal, Club Med VP of Sales of North America.

As the internet accelerated changes in consumer booking patterns, and as more agents became independent contractors, the benefits and detractions of the traditional fam trip have become even more clear for Club Med.

“It’s part of the explosion of home-based agents,” Mufraggi said. “Agents can work from anywhere that has internet access. You see agents working in internet cafes. Why not from a Club Med resort? We’re better than Starbucks. We have a view of the beach.”

He foresees a day when agents will take a vacation/fam trip to Club Med, spend the morning in training and experiencing different aspects of the property, and then in the afternoon check in with their customers.

“We want to deliver not just a great experience, but do everything we can do to help them do their job,” he said.

Property-specific knowledge is key
Enhancing the fam trip experience is integral to Club Med’s future marketing plans.

While overnight commodity-type hotel purchases will be booked online, “anyone spending more than two days, extending that business trip for a few nights of vacation, is a niche. That is a different sale”—and there travel professionals are deal closers.

“The resort is not a point of difference,” for the consumer, he said. “Anyone can see my pool on TripAdvisor. It’s an agent’s years of direct experience that are the difference. I need sales people who will tell someone who wants to book their family, ‘I tested that hotel with my children. I’ll book you in this building, because it’s closest to the activities for your children.’ ”

Club Med has kids clubs for 4 to 23 months, 2 to 3 years, 4 to 10 years, 11 to 17 years. “You can’t put that in a computer. I need agents to experience it with their families and then go back and sell it to their clients,” he said.

Agent specialization to accelerate
Many agents are becoming so specialized, they are choosing to live in a destination that they sell. “I could be a home-based agent based in the Dominican Republic, affiliated with American Express, selling to anyone anywhere in the U.S.,” he said.

Club Med would support that agent by allowing them to communicate with customers live on property. "Can you imagine your travel agent answering questions in real time, from the destination?" Mufraggi said. "They can say, 'Let me check the room, and I'll call you back.' That's much more powerful than TripAdvisor."

Mufraggi has other plans, like live video feeds from resorts when a client is asking an agent questions. In the sales process of tomorrow, if a client wants to go to Punta Cana and is interested in Cirque du Soleil, “we’ll be able to contact someone on property and provide video live from the resort. The agent could pop in and ask if he can shoot live from the activity.”

Traditional fams will continue
While Mufraggi is encouraging more agents to individually experience Club Med resorts, the company will continue to host traditional fams for events like grand openings and reopenings. He sees these events as another chance for agents to gain direct experience, and learn from guests.

“We book our large events with travel agents and journalists at no more than a third of the rooms available. It’s a good mix. This way they can talk to real guests, and ask them. ‘What do you think? What is your experience?’ ”

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Tip of the Day
The suppliers I can tell appreciate the patience and kindness as well, as we have all been working very hard to manage the influx of work. I see the travel agent community and the suppliers working in harmony.

Emily Rawlins, Merriway Travel
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