Interview with Antoine Cachin, President of the board of directors at Fram: "Hotel-Clubs remain a sure value"

7 min reading time

Published on 03/09/08 - Updated on 17/03/22

Appointed president of the board of directors at Fram – France’s number 3 tour-operator – at the end of 2006 by Georges Colson, Antoine Cachin has a sound experience in the world of tourism: former marketing director for Club Med during the Trigano era, president until 2004 of Havas Voyages, now Thomas Cook, where he led the launch of the hotel-club concept, and as consultant with Itac, between 2004 and 2006.

{{HTR: How did the hotel-club develop?A.C:}} There are several critical sizes. It is different depending on whether you are a tour-operator or hotelier. As a hotelier, considering the lightness of the core structure, which is very decentralized in the countries where it is located, our size is sufficient. Aside from that, it certainly wouldn’t be bad if Fram were larger.Antoine Cachin:}} That depends on what we consider a hotel-club, because the origins of this concept, as it is known today, are very diverse. One might say that the holiday village originated in England in the 50s. It de.ned itself somewhat in opposition with the hotel because contact between clients was a more central concern than the accommodations infrastructure. Operators were more interested in lifestyle than hotel services, which were limited. These two worlds ignored – or despised – one another. And then they all blended together or merged: the villages paid more attention to comfort and hotel services whereas leisure hotels wanted to keep their guests busy during the day.{{HTR: Can these origins be found in the culture of today’s hotel-clubs?A.C:}} If I continue my analysis, the hotel-club concept also borrows from the evolution of two other sectors: that of holiday rentals, which was organized under the impulsion of groups such as Pierre & Vacances that finally offered lively resorts, and more recently the world of camping has also evolved in terms of sophistication. The supply of bungalows and increased entertainment offerings bring it closer to the hotel-club formula. Today there is a whole range of models within the same appellation that are fairly segmented. The origin of companies that are active in the sector plays a role when it comes to priorities: hotel services, quality of entertainment and activities, real estate management… Depending on the situation, the activities organizer takes the lead over the hotelier or inversely.{{HTR: How far does the segmentation of the hotel-club concept reach?A.C:}} It follows the evolution of clientele and their lifestyles. There are now even unique sites such as Forte Village in Sardinia that offer the full range: luxury and more accessible accommodations, hotel and holiday villages with shared spaces for dining and activities and entertainment. Then it is a corporate choice whether or not the segmentation is formalized through the creation of distinct brands and differentiated communication. The central element of the hotel-club concept is that there is interest in how the guest experiences his stay, in the development of a necessary conviviality. The quality of accommodations is just one aspect. It is necessary to achieve the overall pleasure of the guest’s experience. It is a matter of “Pleasure on the broad scale,” to borrow a phrase dear to Fram.{{HTR: Is this concept inevitably moving upscale?A.C:}} The products naturally went upscale because in our developing world the level of customer demand is gradually evolving with economic and social growth. We no longer accept being on vacation without a minimum amount of the comfort we find at home. At the same time, in their development strategy, companies adapt to local conditions. Real estate investment and operating charges are increasingly expensive in many countries and only the upscale makes it capable of absorbing these costs.{{HTR: Doesn’t entertainment, which is an important aspect, present “cultural” limits?A.C:}} The primary question is: with whom do we wish to spend our vacations? The answer: people with whom we are able to communicate. This implicates speaking the same language or sharing the same culture beyond nationalities. Obviously having one language simplifies management. But this is not always easy for global groups that host global clientele within a single structure. The rise in range is also a federating element. The higher the social category, the easier it is for clientele and culture mixes to be accepted. But this does not prevent a dominant nationality in a club from creating problems with minority nationalities. A balance must be found. Fortunately we don’t have this problem at Fram where 90% of clientele are French.{{HTR: Doesn’t that limit expansion towards international marketing?A.C:}} In order to expand this way, it must be possible to internationalize the sales and entertainment staff. This is expensive and complex on both sides. Fram only does this in a supplemental manner.{{HTR: Within your production, is the Framissima concept stronger?A.C:}} At Fram, we have several types of products and two scenarios: on the one hand 25 Framissima 4* hotel-clubs, with a 26th, Les Jardins de l’Agdal in Marrakech, that is a 5*; and 17 Olé Clubs, which are 3* holiday villages. Twelve Framissima hotels belong to us and are fully managed by us. For the others we guarantee occupancy through exclusive agreements without managing them. We also manage a few hotels that are not “animated”. We are one of the few tour-operators that have developed a true hospitality savoir-faire and we are able to differentiate ourselves. It is on this niche that we want to strengthen our battle. We are also very watchful over respect of specification by hotels with which we have signed a commercial contract. The client must not see any difference in the Fram spirit. Particularly since events staff – Fram’s vacation pilots – are a part of our team.{{HTR: Is the new Framissima of Marrakech emblematic of your development?A.C:}} First of all this is a new, two-fold experience: the first Framissima 5* with an upscale hotel service in a city where we already have a property, Les Idrissides. Architecturally it is very beautiful. It is not a definitive strategy but more an opportunity to have a larger market share at a popular destination. It will undoubtedly be the quintessence of Fram’s savoir-faire in terms of service and entertainment.{{HTR: Has the notion of entertainment changed in the last decade or so?A.C:}} It is the most difficult thing to achieve. Entertainment must be present without invading, and be adapted to all clientele from seniors to teens. Taking care of our clients is inscribed into Fram’s genetic makeup. The more present we are, the freer our guests are. Activities continue to be a “smorgasbord” where you take what fits. You must be free to opt out if you wish.{{HTR: How do you see the future of this vacation package?A.C:}} This period is such that it is difficult to forecast evolutions with any precision. The hotel-clubs remain a sure value because there is always a shortage during the high season. It developed around the family structure, which makes vacationing a bit complicated. Finally, it is the only place where each family member is able to live out his or her passions while returning to the other family members whenever they like. Such behavior is quite symptomatic of the evolution of our societies: a subtle blend of the family experienced as a group, which is often recomposed, and the desire for individualization.{{HTR: Does Fram’s strategy concentrate more on this niche?A.C:}} Clearly: our “branded products” represent 40% of Fram’s turnover. I would like to grow to 50% within two years. The primary axis uses this brand that symbolizes strong values: reception, respect for the client, conviviality, generosity, increasingly vanquished in contemporary society. These values express themselves even better in products where Fram fully invests itself, banks on differentiation and cultivates loyalty. We take an integrating approach that other tour-operators have stopped taking, with our own structures, our own hospitality, airplanes in our colors and often motor coaches in reception countries. It is our ability to master the entire travel chain that makes us stand out.{{HTR: Management and property of a hotel-club implicate a kind of immobilization in a perpetually changing world of tourism …A.C:}} Immobilizing has always involved risk, but we believe that the life of a business is made up of long-term partnerships. We may be punctually opportunistic, but our taking root in a certain number of countries gives us our strength, like in Tunisia or Morocco. This is why we are opening a new Framissima in Marrakech, without prohibiting ourselves from going to new destinations such as St-Domingue next winter and France, at Morzine, which was missing on our map, while it is our biggest source of clientele.{{HTR: Why so late?A.C:}} Paradoxically, we were least expected in France. Furthermore, regulations are complex, costs are very dissuasive as compared to other destinations. But now we consider France one of our most important goals. We will announce a second Mediterranean site in France in the summer of 2009, as well as a new opening in Crete and in Turkey.{{HTR: Has Fram achieved its critical size in this development strategy?A.C:}} There are several critical sizes. It is different depending on whether you are a tour-operator or hotelier. As a hotelier, considering the lightness of the core structure, which is very decentralized in the countries where it is located, our size is sufficient. Aside from that, it certainly wouldn’t be bad if Fram were larger.

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