Club Med Becomes Latest Hotel to Offer Social Network

Standalone site was launched after the resort company's Facebook activity suggested people had an appetite for it.

New York’s Pod Hotel caught the attention of the travel industry and social media experts alike late last year when it launched its own private social network, allowing guests to share personal information and make plans with one another — romantic dinner, anyone? — before they even checked in.

A very different hospitality concern, Club Med, is now launching its own social network. Unlike the Pod’s site, the Club Med Insider is open to anyone and is not specifically designed to encourage meet-ups between guests. Browsing the site doesn’t require registration, though visitors must sign up if they want to post content or comment.

Rather the intention is to give travelers a place to share photos and stories from their Club Med vacations after they’ve returned home. Guests can also get expert advice on traveling and connect to sites where they can book a Club Med vacation.

“Typically Facebook is one of the platforms we use for a lot of brands to test the waters,” Edgard Beckand, executive director of client services at FullSix, which built the platform for ClubMed, said. “We saw on Club Med’s Facebook page that without any effort they had more than 1,000 friends. That ignited the discussion of taking this a step further.”

The site launched this February in beta mode. To generate initial activity, the resort sent e-mail alerts to previous guests and signs were placed in Club Med rooms. As of April, when the site was officially launched, Club Med Insider boasted almost 200 picture galleries and 100 first-person accounts of their Club Med vacations, as well as articles from travel experts on topics such as vacationing with children and where to find wine and food events in the U.S.

“We are pretty sure that people are using site to get an idea of what Club Med has to offer,” Beckand said. “We are already generating a lot of requests and some bookings; the goal with this platform is obviously to make an impact on the bottom line of Club Med.”

In order to generate bookings, Club Med Insider encourages those sharing their photos or stories to indicate which resort they stayed at. Visitors can then follow those links to a site where they can book rooms at those resorts.

Critics of the Pod Hotel’s initiative questioned the wisdom of letting strangers share personal information online prior to sharing a hotel, suggesting it could easily become a Craigslist-style free-for-all.

Beckand stressed that Club Med Insider is not structured to encourage that sort of pre-arrival co-mingling. There are no discussion rooms dedicated to individual resorts and no function for connecting with guests who will arrive simultaneously.

“Right now we have not really seen planning ahead happening,” he said. “People could definitely use it that way, but we have not seen it yet.”

Nonetheless, he said the site was being closely monitored, and dangerous behavior would be flagged or removed. “Through monitoring what is being posted we can always make sure nobody is posting extreme details about themselves,” he said.

Club Med has another reason for keeping the site safe from offensive content: There are a number of display units built into the site that are currently used only for Club Med promotions, but could potentially be sold to outside advertisers with an eye on making the site profitable in itself. (The Pod Hotel sells a small amount of advertising to local businesses on its site.)

Club Med, a French company based in Paris, has offered all-inclusive vacations in exotic locales since the 1960s. Its brand of family- or couples-friendly resorts seems to be resonating in the down economy: Its first quarter revenues in 2009 were up nearly 2 percent over the first quarter of 2008.

The Pod Hotel claimed that its social network was responsible for a 40 percent revenue increase in the first few months of its operation. Club Med had no such numbers to share at this point, and is unlikely to see such a percentage bump given the much greater size of its business.

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