All eyes are on Asia's hotel recovery, as Club Med's North American and Caribbean division waits to reopen resorts to (hopefully) pent-up travel demand.
When Club Med named Carolyne Doyon as president and CEO of its North American and Caribbean business division in 2019, the plan was to grow her sector 30 percent by 2021. While that development pipeline is largely still intact, coronavirus has pushed health and safety to the forefront of Doyon’s daily work.
Club Med has reopened three of its properties in China, as Asian countries begin to see a recovery from coronavirus shutdowns. Many of the new health and safety standards at the Asian resorts will be enacted in North America when it is time to move ahead with reopenings, Doyon said Wednesday in an interview with Skift. Doyon, who has been with the company since 2008, also highlighted how the guest experience will change when travelers return and how she expects the travel industry to bounce back.
Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Skift: What are some of the new policies being implemented at Club Med locations in China and Asia, and do you expect all of these to be utilized at North American locations?
Doyon: It should be no surprise that safety and hygiene will be the two biggest factors when travel resumes and guests choose a travel destination. Our number one goal is to observe all guidelines from local agencies and the World Health Organization. We also have the opportunity to see what is happening in Asia and have that inform our own procedures when we reopen in North America.
We’ve reopened three resorts in China so far and have implemented strict policies. We take the temperature of guests as they arrive, ask guests to wear masks, and take the temperature of all our staff twice daily. Beyond that, we sanitize and wipe high-touch areas like elevators every hour and deep clean and sanitize all rooms and public spaces. We do plan to implement these strategies at our resorts in North America and are looking at additional protocols like signage and other measures.
Safety, security, and hygiene have always been important to us, but communicating these new health and safety measures will be key. We’ll have more information on our website and infographics to raise awareness for couples and families before they arrive.
Skift: How have Club Med properties in China performed as they reopen?
Doyon: I don’t have exact numbers but one thing we know is, as we look year over year, there’s truly traction for travel and we realize it’s mainly on the weekends for now. We’re looking at leisure business more than business travel. At the beginning of May, it’s a holiday in China, so we have a very high occupancy rate. There’s truly a willingness to travel and really last-minute bookings. What we see is people will call to book from their car on the way to the resort.
Skift: How do you expect travel demand to recover?
Doyon: From a business standpoint, I believe companies will continue to control their costs. This has been very hard on cash management. Cash control will be top of mind. Coming out of the crisis, because there will be such a focus on savings and costs, people will continue to video conference and work remotely. We know it works. Not only is it effective, it’s much cheaper. That’s why we believe business travel will take much longer than leisure to recover.
When I talk to my colleagues in China, they see leisure coming back first, and we do believe it will be very similar in North America. We do believe local, domestic, and drive-to travel will pick up first. We have properties in the French Alps, so if the borders in France do not open soon, then we have several properties that people can drive to. In North America, we believe Sandpiper Bay [in Port St. Lucie, Florida] will be our first property to see a recovery.
Skift: How can Club Med capitalize on leisure travel coming back first?
Doyon: As part of Club Med, one of the key factors in a rebound is we have low density. Social distancing is going to be the norm for a while, and our resorts are spread out. People will have a lot of space to roam around. If we take Club Med Michès Playa Esmeralda, our newest resort in the Dominican Republic, it was designed with sustainability in mind. It has twice the amount of beachfront as other resorts in the area and, with 335 rooms, half the room count. A low density offering like that will be appealing in the recovery.
Skift: What kind of training will staff need to go through in order to enact new health and safety practices?
Doyon: Right now, all our North American properties are closed for the moment, but we still have our human resources and training team working. We still keep in touch with all employees that work for the resort and communicate about the new technology and tools we’ll be using. When we’re back in operation, there will be ongoing on-site training for things like how to use gloves, when do you change gloves, and information on cleaning and wearing masks. We’re not used to wearing masks, but it’s going to be part of the uniform.
Skift: There is a lot of chatter on what the new normal will be for food and beverage, especially with the hotel buffet. What kind of changes do you envision in F&B, and what impact will this have on cost?
Doyon: It’s important to mention Club Med was already offering something different than a regular buffet. We had shifted to an international food hall setup where guests went to different corners to different cooking teams. But moving forward, there will be some changes. There will not be a significant cost difference, as the difference will be mainly in the way we prepare food.
There will typically be single-plate service. We’ll still change out serving spoons at increased frequencies, but there will usually be someone serving you instead of you serving yourself. Rather than leaving bread out for guests to cut themselves, we’ll do all of that ahead of time and serve it in more of a grab-and-go style.
Chefs are artists, so now they’ll also be able to showcase their skills a little more than they were before. There’s a lot of pride already coming out of China, and we expect to see that at our properties here.
Skift: When you took on your current role, the plan was to increase capacity in the North American division 30 percent by 2021. How has coronavirus impacted that goal?
Doyon: We know there will be a rebound, but the thing we do not know is how long the rebound will take. That said, all the capacity scheduled to deliver has delivered if I talk about North America.
We delivered Club Med Michès Playa Esmeralda in November, increased capacity in Guadeloupe by 50 percent, and are currently building Club Med Québec Charlevoix, which is scheduled to deliver in December 2021. In terms of capacity, we remain on track. In terms of development, there might be some delay, but right now we’re on track and continue to follow our development plan.
In terms of how we’ll reopen our resorts, we’ll have to look at the social distancing. If that remains, we might have to cap our capacity to respect social distancing in restaurants or how many people can be around pools and the beach. But it is a little bit early to say. One thing we know is we’re agile, have faced other crises, and bounced back.
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Photo credit: Club Med President and CEO of North America and the Caribbean Carolyne Doyon expects last-minute domestic travel to places like Club Med Sandpiper Bay (pictured) to bounce back first. Club Med