“A writer, an actor, a resistance fighter, and a journalist - all before the age of 25”
He was a writer, an actor, a resistance fighter, and a journalist - all before the age of 25. Now, more than 40 years later, he is best known as the genius behind the leisure industry's largest, most original, and most successful vacation empire, Club Mediterranee S.A.
Gilbert Trigano is a visionary whose success has come from his intuitive realization that leisure is a growth industry, and from his ability to imagine how people will want to spend their vacation time, often before they realize it themselves.
Club Med began in Majorca, Spain, in 1950. Adult guests, living in a Spartan environment, cooked their own meals and slept in surplus U.S. Army tents provided by the Trigano family's camping supplies business. In 1954, Mr. Trigano joined Gerard Blitz, who ran the small vacation camp in Majorca; and together, they built Club Med. In 1964, Mr. Blitz gave the reins of leadership to Mr. Trigano who proceeded to turn the small tourist organization into the IBM of holidays, a multinational conglomerate with vacation villages throughout the world. "Our formula is simple," he says. "We strive to break down the artificial differences among people. At heart, we are all the same. We react in the same way to a beautiful landscape, the open sea, a good meal." Obviously, it is a formula that works.
According to one early report, the Club Med concept was an organized mixture of hedonism and "back to nature," a stigma that Club Med officials maintain was never particularly accurate, and one that Mr. Trigano has worked hard to dispel. To combat the image and to broaden its appeal, Mr. Trigano created miniclubs and baby clubs at some of its more than 100 resorts. At least 50 percent of Club Med members are married, and nearly 60 percent are between 30 and 60 years of age. "G.O.s" or gentil organisateurs, as the camp counselors are known, still encourage informal esprit among the "G.M.s" or gentil members, but the Club Med vacation need no longer be structured as the original programs were. Today, one can learn a foreign language, become a mime, a clown, a magician, a diver, or a computer expert - or one can do nothing but relax. A special effort is now being made to lure corporate clients to Club Med villages around the world. Renault, Sony, and Nikon, as well as Harley-Davidson and Pizza Hut have taken advantage of the company's relatively inexpensive package deals. The new, corporate appeal helped increase Club Med's revenues by 17 percent in 1985 to $843 million, and profits by 8 percent to $38 million.
Who is the man behind Club Med? He rejects the label of socialist, preferring to call himself "an ever-evolving man - I never know what I'm going to end up being." He becomes evasive when questions about his political friendships, although his ties with Socialist President Francois Mitterand are well documented. In explaining his relationships with the French majority as well as the opposition, Mr. Trigano says, "I am obliged to be like a woman of easy virtue - in the noble sense for her and the unfavorable sense for me." His friends are few - but very, very dear.
With the age of retirement just past, Gilbert Trigano nurtures two kinds of ambitions for his business and for himself: "I hope that in 10, 20, or 30 years, the Club will continue to unleash as many passions, questions, and interests - and that it will continue to merit such responses by its constant renewal and its commitment to being a laboratory of ideas, constantly searching for innovation. For me, I hope I will have the right to keep an eye on it all; and that, wherever I may be, I will know the Club is alive and functioning."
His other ambition, a secret and especially paradoxical one coming from the king of vacations: to take a vacation - a real one. Nine times out of ten, he cancels them - on 24 hours' notice.