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HAF "The mountain has gone from being a territory for specific actors to a much more open territory in terms of investments"

Yariv Abehsera, Director of the Real Estate & Hospitality Mountain Distribution Division, Compagnie des Alpes and Grégory Lanter, Chief Development & Construction Officer, Club Med shared at the Hospitality Asset Forum their visions for the development of leisure assets in the mountains, an increasingly attractive destination for tourists and investors alike.

Yariv Abehsera: The Compagnie des Alpes is above all and historically a developer of ski areas, with 10 ski areas in the French Alps, but also another part less known to the general public which are the amusement parks, with a total of 12 including the Futuroscope, Parc Astérix, Walibi or the Musée Grévin in Paris.

Grégory Lanter: We have been working for 20 years now on the transformation of Club Med in order to move it upmarket, make it greener and more international, and ultimately make it more desirable and above all profitable. By 2025, Club Med will have 80 resorts worldwide in some thirty countries. Over the last three years, despite the crisis, we have invested 1.2 billion euros in assets alongside our partners. This represents around ten openings and just as many renovations. Over the last 36 months, we have opened the Seychelles, Quebec, the Dominican Republic and we will soon be opening Tignes, Val d'Isère and Japan, and we will continue to do so in the coming years.

Another essential element of the Club Med organisation is the presence of sales offices in 40 countries. And our sales teams carry out 70% of sales directly because the Club made a decisive choice 20 years ago not to work with tour operators. As a result, we control our distribution and by 2023 we should have a turnover of 2 billion euros.

Last year, there was a lot of talk about the rebound in the leisure segment and we experienced it in different phases. The first half of this year is one in which Club Med has returned to 90% of its pre-crisis figures, but a series of very different situations. During the first half of the year, despite Omicron, we managed to make +20% with customers from the Americas and with Asian customers we made -70%. As for the European and African customers, they are almost back to the level of 2019.

The second half of the year is already very different, as we should end up at Group level at +15% compared to 2019. This figure is once again a sum of very different situations, +60% for the American zone, +15% for the EMEA region and an Asia zone that is in the process of catching up strongly since it is back to 85% of its pre-crisis level. Bookings for the first half of 2023 are quite encouraging, around +20% compared to the first half of 2022.

The mountains represent a quarter of our activity, with the vast majority in France. We have the most beautiful mountains and the best operators. We have a +36% booking figure for the ski season, a remarkable figure compared to the last winter season. This figure is the result of a massive investment policy for skiing in the world which has led us to invest 1.3 billion euros with our partners from 2015 to 2025.

Yariv, can you tell us about the strategy you have started to put in place to capture maximum value?

Yariv Abehsera: The idea today is to tell you about the new hospitality distribution business unit that we created 14-15 months ago. You may wonder why Compagnie des Alpes decided to enter this segment. We have turned our back on a Keynesian demand economy where we were dealing with demand. Just as we did in the amusement parks 4-5 years ago when we started to create resorts to retain customers in order to increase in-park spending. We said to ourselves that it was time to turn to the offer and to better control it around several contexts:

  • The difficulty and scarcity of land
  • Operators who find it difficult to get products out
  • To avoid a double phenomenon that we see in the Alps which is premiumisation that does not meet all the criteria of the destination and the expectations of the summer

If we look at the products that have been created in the last 5 years, often the products are not open in the summer and this poses a problem for us in terms of demand. It is notably for this reason that we collaborate a lot with Club Med, which makes commitments and opens in the summer. The local demand from European tourism is going to be more and more towards the mountains in winter but also the mountains in summer.

Running assets for a little more than 6 months of the year will ensure that we have the capacity to take on leases, management or property and funds over the year. This is what led the Compagnie des Alpes to position itself on this subject. Today we cannot wait, we know that this phenomenon will accelerate and we have decided to take our destiny in hand.

Originally, I come from the world of distribution and I also sold the distributor TravelSki to the Compagnie des Alpes, which already wanted to go down the value chain to understand the distribution environment and its complexity. We therefore needed an operational platform because otherwise it would take 10 years to transform this vision of hospitality in distribution and real estate. We therefore took a screenshot of operators who had already undergone a transformation in terms of their model.

In particular, we acquired mmv, a platform which manages about twenty hotel clubs and residence clubs in the Alps. The point for us is to say that today we have a platform, a distributor, an operational platform, an asset management platform, either directly or with partners. We are now capable of carrying out a strategy which will consist of an actor who will seek out clients and respond to them. We have this family mass market logic, with a very high level of customer satisfaction, particularly in ski areas. Nowadays, 20% of the budget of a holidaymaker who comes to the mountains is spent on accommodation.

Our intention is therefore to create a value chain and alongside mmv we have another product that we have launched very quickly. This product is a lifestyle hostel aimed at millenials. We can afford to do this kind of thing because the economic ratios are not yet fully established. We are in a mature industry in terms of the number of skiers on the slopes in winter and we have to go and get them.

The Company's competitor in its areas and in the French mountain destination as a whole is the lifestyle hotel industry. We are therefore going to ensure that it is not inevitable that young people aged 25 to 35 spend a weekend in an urban capital or in renovated urban areas, but that on the contrary they come to the mountains because we have gone looking for the codes of coworking, coliving and even coskiing.

We have released a first project, which is not on a resort managed by the Company, called Yoonly. It's a hostel with a rather extraordinary economy per square metre of common areas. When I was first told about the gaming area, it took me a while to accept that it would take up half the common area on the ground floor. After a year of operation, it is the most profitable m² in the property. It is necessary to have the power of a group that accepts to do tests in order to find a clientele that is fundamental for tomorrow.

You are both actors who have been very present in this area for many years and you have participated in its development. Nevertheless, it is an area that is becoming more fragile during the season, despite the very attractive spin-offs. More and more investors are coming to the mountains without necessarily knowing the ecosystem well, whereas you are used to working with the actors in the area. How do you manage to maintain this network and how do you perceive the interest of new actors in the mountains?

Grégory Lanter: In relation to the territory that is becoming more fragile, we had snow last week and it is snowing again this week, so we are going to start the season with good snow in the ski resorts. We are also promised to have snow for a certain number of years. The Compagnie des Alpes in particular has carried out very interesting and profound work on this subject.

The first new generation Club Med in the French Alps dates from 2009, it was Val Morel, and at that time, the way to finance it was to make a round table with the ski lift operator and the Caisse des dépôts. At that time, financing a hotel project in the Alps required this. Since then, the situation has changed and many investors are indeed looking at this type of asset. On Club Med we have new actors like Perial and BNP who have invested in mountain clubs this year. This shows that the Clubs have become an asset class in their own right.

When we develop a new Club, we don't wait for our investors to find a plot of land, manage the urban planning or build. It's a kind of all-inclusive investment. The Club has been present for decades in the Alps, it does the work of research, of dealing with elected officials, of PLU and of building permits.

We propose a method which consists of building for our investors in remarkable delays since we build 40,000 m² in 18 months. This is a very interesting but difficult method because we have to start in April when the snow is melting in order to deliver in November before the season starts. We guarantee the deadlines and the amounts of the investment to ensure that all types of investors can work with us. The mountain has therefore gone from being a territory for certain specific actors to a much more open territory in terms of investments.

This growing interest can be explained simply, as a Club Med in the Alps represents a 90% occupancy rate per bed and not per room in winter. This occupancy rate comes from a wide variety of customers, with 65% of foreign visitors coming during the different school holiday periods. The French holidays mainly attract French people but we also have English, Brazilians, Israelis and South Africans. This global appetite for ski holidays in what are the best resorts and mountains naturally attracts investors.

Yariv Abehsera: Even before Covid, we saw that between 17 and 20% of the guests who occupied a flat did not ski, that's a fact. My ski area college that deals with skier days asks me how we are going to get them to ski more, while I ask myself how we are going to get them to come for the economic fabric.

The person who doesn't ski will go to the restaurant or go cycling, they will do something else and this contributes to the wealth but we must manage to attract them. We have to imagine a product for the future of the mountain, for both winter and summer. The 25 m² capsule in the mountains is a thing of the past, but that doesn't mean we can transform everything. We're going to have to try to transform the current building, which is not easy, and even less so when we're doing economic equations alongside it.

We have to move the product so that it is adapted to a demand that will be made over two seasons. The politicians are talking about 4 seasons but we are already going to concentrate on 2 and then see if we can move to 3. There is an appetite for the month of September as the tests carried out by Club Med have shown. We are going from 7 to 10 weeks in the summer to meet the expectations of customers but also to improve our operating results and our ability to return investment.

Grégory Lanter: We also wanted to talk about customer expectations. What we saw during the pandemic period was that whenever possible people travelled again. This showed that holidays are not in fact just something incidental. It is necessary for many to go on holiday and we see several new trends since then.

The first trend is to free oneself from the constraints, which gives the feeling that the all-inclusive is a very interesting new direction. The second trend is the desire to be free from gloom, anxiety and to have a real experience in the end. There are many ways of meeting this need, for example common areas.

Finally, the last trend concerns the environmental aspect. Indeed, our customers are expecting us to do more and more on this issue. This is something that has always been part of the Club, as it was founded in 1950 on the need to reconnect people with each other through nature and sport. The Club has been working on these elements for all these years. We recruit locally in all the countries where we are established, we work on local spin-offs and we build with a concern for the environment. In the Alps, the last ten Club Med resorts are all BREAM certified and the last one to open in Tignes will be BREAM Very Good, which is rather rare at this altitude.

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