These days SuperClubs seems to be more famous for hosting a nude wedding at Hedonism III than being one of the industry’s leading all inclusive chains. Media outlets around the world picked up coverage of that wedding. For SuperClubs, however, the event was a shrewd move that once again put its product in the spotlight, despite some criticism in the Jamaican media. A few weeks later TV talk show host Jerry Springer even broadcast his show from Hedonism III, focusing on SuperClubs and its resorts.
Of course, there is much more to SuperClubs than nude weddings and Jerry Springer. This year the company is celebrating its 25th anniversary in the all-inclusive business. Coincidentally, it has embarked on a major new building campaign, developed an entirely new resort concept and paired with a leading hotel chain to develop properties in Brazil.
Moreover, SuperClubs has embarked on such expansion while remaining a family business. John Issa, executive chairman, controls the company. His wife, Aida is responsible for much of the interior design and furnishings in each resort. Their son, Joe, is executive vice president; one daughter, Zein Issa Nakash, is vice president of marketing and environmental affairs; while Zein’s twin sister, Muna Issa, is treasurer.
“You’re very proud when you see your parent create something that has a worldwide impact and has transformed the way people take holiday around the world,” says Joe Issa. “They’ve been able to do that while maintaining strong family values and being there for the family.”
Together with SuperClubs’ other top managers, the family oversees an empire that includes four brands – Breezes, Grand Lido, Hedonism and Starfish – in four countries. In Jamaica, SuperClubs has Grand Lido Negril, Grand Lido Sans Souci, Grand Lido Braco, Breezes Runaway Bay, Breezes Montego Bay, Hedonism II and Hedonism III. In the Bahamas, SuperClubs has Breezes Bahamas. In Cuba, a market not yet open to U.S. travelers, SuperClubs manages Breezes Varadero, Breezes Jibacoa, Breezes Costa Verde and SuperClubs Puntarena. In Bahia, Brazil, the company has just opened its newest resort, Breezes Costa do Sauipe.
SuperClubs also owns the Trelawney Beach Resort in Jamaica, which will be transformed into Starfish Trelawney Beach, a new budget brand, by December. In Ocho Rios, Jamaica, SuperClubs is turning the former Club Jamaica into a Starfish property by December. Also scheduled to break ground this summer is Grand Lido St. Kitts-Nevis, while two more resorts, Grand LidoVaradero and Breezes Cayo Coco, are under development in Cuba.
For a family that began in the all-inclusive business with a single property in Negril, such growth is heady stuff. John Issa started his career in the hotel industry 40 years ago, looking after his family’s Jamaican properties, including Tower Isle in Ocho Rios, Myrtle Bank in Kingston and Montego Inn in Montego Bay. In the early 1970s, however, Issa saw possibilities in a new form of resort, the all-inclusive, popularized by Club Med. In December 1976 he opened Negril Beach Village, an all-inclusive that became Hedonism II in 1981. “I had seen what was happening in Caribbean tourism,” Issa says. “And as it expanded its market, I saw that people on a budget were finding it difficult to really have a good time because they were concerned about the cost of different items. I also noticed in the recession of the early 1970s that two areas of the market hadn’t suffered as badly: cruises and Club Med. Both catered to different markets, but the only thing that was similar was the relatively inclusive nature of their offering.”
Issa expanded his all-inclusive chain by launching the first couples-only resort in 1978, converting Tower Isles to Couples Ocho Rios. Couples later broke away from SuperClubs and is now operated by other members of the Issa family. John Issa also created Boscobel Beach, the first all-inclusive family resort in Jamaica, though SuperClubs stopped managing the property in the late 1990s.
In quick succession Issa converted the former Jamaica Jamaica into Breezes Runaway Bay, the first all-inclusive with an 18-hole golf course. He built Grand Lido Negril, the first upscale all-inclusive resort. In 1993, he turned the former Sans Souci Hotel & Spa into Grand Lido Sans Souci, a property that subsequently became an AAA Four Diamond Resort, the first all-inclusive to obtain such a rating.
In 1995, Issa launched two moderately priced all-inclusive properties, with Breezes Bahamas on Cable Beach in Nassau and Breezes Montego Bay in Jamaica. Grand Lido Braco, the former Braco Village Resort in Rio Bueno, opened in 1997. The SuperClubs’ second Hedonism property, Hedonism III, debuted in 1999.
Along the way, Issa and SuperClubs built on the all-inclusive concept to include not just meals, premium liquor and activities, but such extras as multiple restaurants, watersports, golf, tennis and spas. The all-inclusive product had suddenly become super-inclusive.
But with three brands – and a fourth on the way – some wonder whether SuperClubs’ structure is too confusing for agents and their clients. Like other all-inclusives, the company has tried to expand into other markets with its resorts. SuperClubs’ solution has been to use its name…
SuperClubs has preferred agreements with such consortiums and marketing networks as AAA, American Express, Carlson Wagonlit, Travelsavers, Vacation.com, and Virtuoso. Support from these groups can be very high-profile. For example, this year Ellen Lassman, CTC president of Carlson Wagonlit/Happy Talk in Bellmore, N.Y., went so far as to turn a large part of her agency into a SuperClubs specialty store, complete with sample rooms, a beach, golf venue and wedding gazebo. “SuperClubs live up to their expectations,” Lassman says. “They have wonderful food and first-rate liquor.”
David Hancock, who joined SuperClubs as vice president of sales in January, after 19 years in the cruise industry, says SuperClubs wants to expand its market base to include retailers who have sold cruises but not necessarily all-inclusives. “There are an awful lot of similarities actually between cruises and all-inclusives,” he says. “It’s the exact same demographics. It’s people looking for a good value vacation. And one of the nice things we offer is a true all-inclusiveness for a vacation.”
Hancock is also focusing on the meetings and incentives market. “Our group numbers are single digit,” he says. “We feel we can raise that up to 25 percent of our total business over the next few years.”
To boost bookings further during SuperClubs’ 25th anniversary, the company launched a promotion this year that ran through Jun 15. Every agent making a booking had the chance to win a $25,000 grand prize, 25 sever-day stays at a SuperClubs property, 25 three- and four-day stays, or$25 bonus commission coupons. Hancock expects to launch a similar promotion this fall.
For the longer term, SuperClubs has developed the Super Agency program, awarding free nights, bonus commissions, room upgrades, and a top prize of a diamond bracelet or ring based on booking levels (call 800-467-8737, ext. 6631, for details).Tom Bukaty, president of All-Inclusive Resort Travel in Margate, Fla., calls Super Agency the bet compensation program in the industry. “I see a continuing commitment from them to get better, whether it’s at the hotel, in service or even getting information out,” he says. “Frankly, they are trying to pass the business on to the agents better.”
SuperClubs also supports agents with a series of seminars taught by its 18 district sales managers, and an aggressive fam program to get agents to visit the resorts. Last year SuperClubs also backed ICTA’s CTA elective “Selling All-Inclusives,” intended to educate agents on the value of selling all-inclusive resorts. The course has been out since February, although no figures are available on how many have taken it. Internally, Hancock says, SuperClubs is exploring an online relaunch of its agent specialist program, which it developed two years ago (see www.tauniv.com).
But perhaps its most ambitious agent initiative revolves around the Web. SuperClubs relaunched an impressive consumer Web site [www.superclubs.com] in January. Included are such features as Vacation Finder, SuperFares and Travel Agent Finder, with Super Agencies listed. In April, SuperClubs debuted a program to link Super Agents Web sites to its own booking engine. According to Tom Trotta, vice president of operations and finance, this means upper Agencies can put a SuperClubs button on their own sites to link with a SuperClubs page that is branded with the agency’s name and its contact information. Customer visiting the agency site can book online through SuperClubs’ page and the agency gets the commission. Potential clients can also go to the SuperClubs Web site, find a Super Agency, then book using a dedicated page for that agency.
For their part, most agents are enthusiastic about the support they receive from SuperClubs. Donna Daniels, president of Fox Travel American Express & Castaways Travel, a division selling clothing-optional travel in Spring /Woodlands, Texas, says her agency was involved in selling the nude wedding, which led to more publicity than it could ever have hoped for. “Two weeks after it occurred, I opened this envelope,” Daniels says. “It was the first photo of the nude wedding, but from the front page of a Capetown, South Africa, newspaper.”
Marie Mentone, vice president and chief operating officer at Sunburst Holidays in New York, one of SuperClubs top wholesalers, is equally enthusiastic about the company’s prospects, as well as its entry into the budget all-inclusive market. “Since the day they opened their door, we’ve sold them,” Mentone say. “They’ve undergone some radical changes, responding to what the customer wants. They’ve paid some major attention to quality as well as service. Agents can rely on SuperClubs for a certain level of quality, service and support.”
For a company that has reached its silver anniversary by selling through agents, those words are a great endorsement indeed.
Brands: Hedonism, Grand Lido, Breezes, Starfish
U.S. office: International Lifestyles, P.O. Box 222800, Hollywood, Fla. 33022
Web site: www.superclubs.com
Reservations: 800-GO-SUPER (800-467-8737) or 954-925-0925
Picture caption 1: SuperClubs’ Issa family celebrates 25 years. Top row from left to right are John Issa, executive chairman; Zein Issa Nakash, vice president- marketing and environmental affair; and Muna Issa, treasurer. Seated from left to right are Aida Issa and Joe Issa, executive vice president.
Picture caption 2: The SuperClubs Web site features an agent finder. Agents also can link their own Web sites with a private label SuperClubs page.
Picture caption 3: Grand Lido Braco in Jamaica features luxury all-inclusive programs for high-end clients.
Picture caption 4: Hedonism III in Jamaica cater to a high-energy (and clothing-optional) client base.
Source: Travel Agent Magazine