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Club Med spoke with Cirque du Soleil’s co-founder, Daniel Gauthier, who owns Le Massif resort in Charlevoix, Quebec.

FRANCIS VACHON/The Globe and Mail

Club Med, the erstwhile king of the no-frills vacation business, is scouting choice ski destinations in North America – including Quebec's Charlevoix region – for the launch of an upscale snowbound version of its all-inclusive resort model.

The Paris-based company – famous in the 1970s for its beach huts, buffet lines and group activities led by GOs ("gracious organizers") – wants a piece of the lucrative ski-resort market in Canada and the United States, part of a sweeping revamp of its operations around the world.

"We're looking at many locations and Charlevoix [about one hour's drive northeast of Quebec City] is one of the sites we have looked at," said Xavier Mufraggi, chief executive officer of Club Méditerranée's North American operations.

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But the ski slopes should also offer a four-seasons element – with summer attractions such as mountain biking, entertainment and hiking, for example – to ensure there is an added revenue stream, he said.

"So far, we have seen a significant interest on the part of ski resorts because many of them have real estate that is empty, a lot of condos to fill because of the recession," he said.

Club Med would come in strictly as an operator and not as an owner, he said.

A rebranded Club Med could help enhance the allure of ski destinations looking to attract snow-sports buffs who like the idea of an all-inclusive package, he added.

There have been talks with Daniel Gauthier, the owner of Le Massif resort in Charlevoix but they were very preliminary, Mr. Mufraggi said.

Mr. Gauthier, co-founder (with Guy Laliberté) of the Cirque du Soleil who cashed out his stake in 2001 and bought the ski hill the following year, has been developing Le Massif as a non-traditional four-seasons destination offering ecotourism, a concert hall, hiking and biking, and wants to attract a more international customer base.

A spokeswoman for Le Massif confirmed there have been discussions with Club Med officials over the past few months. Members of Le Massif's management team in turn visited two Club Med ski resorts in Europe to get a closer look at the vacation packager's approach to running that kind of operation, she said.

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Mr. Mufraggi said other potential spots include sites in Lake Tahoe, Calif., Colorado, Utah, the Rockies and Ontario.

The goal is to eventually have one or two ski operations in the United States and the same number in Canada, he said.

Club Med already operates 20 ski resorts worldwide, mostly in Europe. Its first Chinese destination, a ski resort, opened last year.

Mr. Mufraggi is convinced the Club Med brand is strong in North America, especially after a sweeping restructuring over the past eight years that involved the closing of half of its 120 properties after several money-losing years.

The remaining locations were transformed into upmarket resorts.

The accent these days is on attracting well-heeled families with a varied menu of activities such as kids' clubs and innovative sports and wellness academies.

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The customer mix now is about 65 per cent families, 25 per cent couples and 10 per cent single travellers, compared with about one-third representation in each category a decade ago, Mr. Mufraggi said.

CIBC Markets analyst Alex Avery sad Club Med, founded by a group of travellers in the 1950s, was hit hard in the 1990s by increased competition. "The company was struggling to maintain its brand and compete with more affordable competition," he said in an e-mail message.

"The company decided to take a step back, regroup, and refocus the business," he said, and has made "significant progress."

Club Med has the in-house expertise to compete with rival ski-hill operators in North America because of its successful management of its European ski resorts, Mr. Avery said.

THE SCOOP ON CLUB MED

Founded in the 1950s, Paris-based Club Méditeranée – better known as Club Med – was the first all-inclusive resort company. From a low-cost resort destination offering rudimentary beachfront tents and huts, it grew into a major player in the tourism industry, especially with its swinging singles lifestyle promoted in the 1970s.

It faced a major challenge in the 1980s and 1990s from rivals offering similar or more affordable rates in updated surroundings. It has since closed dozens of resorts, gone upscale and focused on the more lucrative family market. The latest corporate strategy is to open ski resorts in North America.

It now has about 70 "villages" in 26 countries: France, Italy, Greece, Portugal, Turkey, Switzerland, Egypt, Morocco, Israel, Sénégal, Tunisia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, the Maldives, Mauritius, Australia, United States (Florida), Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Martinique, Guadeloupe and the Bahamas.

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About the Author
Quebec Business Correspondent

Bertrand has been covering Quebec business and finance since 2000. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2000, he was the Toronto-based national business correspondent for Southam News. He has a B.A. from McGill University and a Bachelor of Applied Arts from Ryerson. More

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