Club Med becomes club bore

Free love gives way to free day care.

By Jack Boulware
Published April 5, 2000 4:00PM (EDT)

Come to Club Med and release your inhibitions! Explore your natural hedonistic desires in a lush tropical setting! Nude body painting! Tequila shots in the pool! No locks on the doors! Sand castles shaped like giant penises! Cocaine and couple swapping! Disco till dawn!

Not anymore.

Today, if you visit one of the 115 Club Med resort villages around the world, you're more likely to see a yuppie mom and dad watching their spoiled brat learn the art of circus juggling.

"Sex like before is not here anymore," says Philippe Calvet, general manager of Club Med La Caravelle on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. "Now you have families coming for the sports and relaxation."

It may have given the world the all-inclusive vacation package, but this month, Paris-based Club Mediterranee turns 50, and with age comes maturity. Only seven of its villages are still restricted to adults. Instead of targeting single jet-setters with money, Club Med now embraces baby boomers and their children. Instead of discos and conga lines, the resorts offer renovated accommodations, with circus training, extreme sports and day care. According to the company, 65 percent of guests throughout the chain are families.

Yves Martin, Club Med's executive vice president of sales, marketing and transportation, claims the club's original mission is still the same: "Leisure, no hassle, fun."

These magic words have been chanted ever since the first Club Med opened in 1950 as a vacation village on Spain's Balearic Islands. Beginning with a group of U.S. Army tents left from the Second World War, the chain grew and expanded to include every continent except Antarctica.

As for the rest of the globe, Club Med's sexual scene peaked in the 1970s and 1980s, when anyone with a credit card and healthy libido made the pilgrimage to a resort to get laid.

In the 1990s, however, revenue dropped as the resorts deteriorated and other companies picked up on the idea of the all-inclusive package. A former Euro Disney executive stepped in to steer the ship and, after three years, the company insists it's back on track. By the end of this year, 78 percent of the villages will be renovated. A line of leisure clothing is on the way, and if travelers don't want the two-week experience, they will soon be able to duck into a Club Med World center, to be built in major cities. A resort vacation in four hours is hardly enough time to engage in a little wife swapping.

It's the end of a long and glorious tradition for Club Med, but it can't forget the activities that gave it so much publicity. At all its 115 properties, Club Med should put up a memorial to commemorate each resort's historical moment in hedonistic history -- a nice plaque, maybe affixed to the wall of the dining area: "On this spot in September 1977, Ralph and Shirley McGowan of Minneapolis, Minn., participated in their first orgy, with a pleasant-smelling couple from Pennsylvania. They can't remember their names."

Jack Boulware

Jack Boulware is a writer in San Francisco and author of "San Francisco Bizarro" and "Sex American Style."

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