Lifestyles

The pursuit of the Instant Mellow

CHERYL HAWKES January 9 1978
Lifestyles

The pursuit of the Instant Mellow

CHERYL HAWKES January 9 1978

The pursuit of the Instant Mellow

Lifestyles

Sunday night was sheet night. An Air Canada pilot, clad only in a tiny black swimsuit, was lying on a table in the middle of the hotel dance floor, his body smothered in whipped cream. Beside him, microphone in hand, was a barefoot chef with a raccoon tail hanging out of his hip pocket. He was beckoning the guests, dressed saristyle in bed sheets, to step up and sample his creation, a human dessert.

It wasn’t the midnight buffet the glossy brochures promised, but it was a slice of what has become, in the past year, one of the hottest sellers in the North American travel market: the all-inclusive resort holiday. Half a dozen one-stop, single-price holiday resorts have opened in the Caribbean in the past 12 months—spots like Negril Beach Village and Trelawny Beach Club, both in Jamaica, and Nassau’s Zemi’s, where the Air Canada pilot donated his body as an after-dinner treat. They are North American imitations of the giant, Paris-based Club Méditerranée (Club Med) resort chain which has been running one-stop holiday villages virtually unchallenged for more than 25 years—first in Europe and Africa and, since 1968, in North America. Though Club Med has grown since 1950 from one sports camp on the island of Majorca, south of Spain, to more than 80 resort villages scattered around the world, its theme has remained the same: “Everything provided, nothing compulsory.” One price covers meals (with wine), accommodation, luxurious

sports facilities and instruction, all taxes and tips, and a frantic schedule of group games and parties. Perhaps it was only a matter of time before other entrepreneurs realized that the North American vacationer—already addicted to instant coffee, crystallized orange juice and convenient shopping malls—was ready for a quickie vacation package, sort of a freeze-dried holiday.

Last winter, when political strife in Jamaica was frightening away most tourists, Negril Beach Village—the first barefaced imitation of the Club Med idea—opened its doors in the Caribbean. Thanks to slick promotion from Toronto adman J. Alan Murphy, the $ 10 million resort was booked solid in three months and had turned over $ 1.5 million in profits at the end of the first year. Encouraged by Negril’s astounding success, Zemi’s and Trelawny Beach jumped into the business this fall. Even the staid Eden Roc hotel in Miami Beach came up with Club Atlantique, a Club Med-style package including “playshops” in oil-scented massage and best-all-overtan contests.

While the new operators have been faithful to the spirit of Club Med, their sales pitch to the North American traveling public has been unabashedly seductive. Negril’s posters feature the glistening torso of a female with a string of shark’s teeth

dangling between her breasts. “Hedonism,” reads the ad. “The total pleasure holiday.” Zemi’s, which like Negril is being marketed by Murphy, sells a similar idea with a different ism: “Edenism—the nonstop party in the Bahamas.” Zemi’s posters feature a large red apple which looks like an ample derrière sitting on the sand. Still other isms have cropped up as resort themes in recent months—“Eroticism” at Jamaica’s Trelawny Beach and “Sensualism” at Dominican Republic’s Club Dominicus—prompting one tour operator to quip: “We figure someone’s going to open an all-inclusive spot in Cuba next and call it Communism.”

Regardless of the sales pitch, Club Med and its recent imitators sell much the same thing: instant immersion in a pressure-free time bubble. For a week or two the vacationer leaves deadlines and radios and newspapers behind and becomes part of a small community of vacationers. He eats, drinks, plays, sleeps and parties on the .same plot of land with the same group of

people. It is the ultimate fantasy trip, a cashless society where a string of beads (at Club Med) or apples (at Zemi’s) or shark’s teeth (at Negril) is the only currency. For some people the everything-is-hunky-dory atmosphere is like a ship’s cruise come to land, or a summer camp for adults. “I’d never been to camp as a child, so it took me a while to adjust to what I thought were childish antics,” says Toronto television free-lancer Bibs Soles, who recently visited a Club Med village. “They took me by surprise, all the songs, the opening parade. But it certainly unwinds you very quickly.”

When camp is over, the woman who won the body-painting contest will return to her Vancouver law firm; the beer-drinking champion will resume his surgical practice in Montreal; the Air Canada pilot will shower off the whipped cream, put on his uniform and fly a few hundred holidayers back to reality. But until then pleasureseeking descendants of the touchy-feely Sixties have at their fingertips all the toys of their dreams—sun, sand, sailboats, scuba gear, bars, discos—and a flurry of games and parties designed to bring people together and make them have fun. Toronto lawyer Linda Silver Dranoff, 38, likes the informality (“When I go on holiday I don’t like to dress up”), and the ready-made social contacts (“I find the regulation resort a much lonelier one”). Adds Jeanine Avigdor, a teacher in her mid-forties: “If you want to disco all night you can. If you want to spend the night with someone that’s fine too ... You don't really notice what other people do.”

Though dismissed as plastic or juvenile by loners and summer camp haters the world over, all-inclusive resort holidays definitely are gaining popularity. Of the three million visitors to Club Med camps since 1950, fully one third have vacationed in the past year. The chain, which had revenues totaling $200 million in 1976, plans to expand its network of 84 resorts to 200 by the year 2000. The newly opened Zemi’s is already booked solid for most of the high winter season and its owners, who include Montreal businessman Peter N. Thomson, are talking about investing in other all-inclusive ventures. George Whitfield, a vice-president of Unitours Canada Ltd., says there is even a future for the all-inclusive vacation in Canada, possibly a sportsoriented holiday in a resort area. “It is the concept that is all-important,” he explains, “not the location. If we came up with the right idea we could make it work in Oshawa.”

In the meantime, what may be the ultimate in all-inclusive holidays is scheduled to open at Ocho Rios, on Jamaica’s north shore, early this year. Called Couples, it offers all the booze and cigarettes a couple can consume and promises to stick to a strict twosome theme. A couple will be served breakfast in bed—a double bed, matched by a double hammock, a double chaise longue and a bicycle built for

CHERYL HAWKES