Friday, February 23, 2024

The Cult of Club Med

For many years the company I work for has subcontracted to Kiroro Academy, the ski school at Kiroro Ski Resort, providing English speaking instructors. Kiroro had traditionally not offered to sponsor ski instructors, so most of their western staff were newly qualified instructors on working holiday visas. Since early 2020 the immigration rules changed, and it's now really easy to sponsor overseas instructors, but Kiroro still had only a handful of English speaking instructors on its payroll, meaning there was still a place for us to help over the busy Christmas/New Year period.

Once work dropped off, it was precipitous. Not even the Kiroro full time staff were getting much work, and they were on a salary. We went on standby, but then just went free skiing for the day. There was no suggestion that things would improve until Chinese New Year in February.

The reason for this drop-off in work is geographical. Kiroro is situated inland from Otaru, requiring a hairy drive over mountain passes to get there. It has 2 hotels and a private apartment block as the only forms of onsite accommodation. In 2022 Club Med took over one of the hotels, in 2023 they took over the other one.

Club Med provides an exclusive, all inclusive package, which includes group lessons. This means that there is very little custom coming Kiroro Academy's way compared to before Club Med moved in. Those staying up at The Peak can wander through and discover there is an alternative ski school option, but those staying further down the road at The Grand never really discover this.

We had noticed that the group lesson sizes were huge, almost always more than 10 in each group. My own experience as both a customer and a provider, is that group sizes that large aren't good value for money, as there's often a lot of waiting around. But since they were paying for group lessons as part of the all inclusive package, I guess most guests didn't mind. 

Our boss was approached by Club Med to provide help, as one of the reasons for the large groups was a lack of instructors. Not only had a number left, but the company had struggled to obtain the working visas necessary for instructors to begin work.

Working for Club Med saved our bacon. Without them the youngsters would have had to leave to find alternative work. I was in two minds about working for them, but decided to give it a go.

We would rock up each morning having been given a particular level to teach for the day. Usually it was first timers, or beginners still learning to wedge turn. We never got more advanced students, though they did try to move us up with the groups we were promoting if we were rostered for a number of days in a row. And I learnt early on that keeping the group sizes large was a deliberate ploy to encourage clients to book ridiculously expensive private lessons.

We had had a few Club Med clients from The Peak book private lessons at Kiroro Academy, which was already an expensive option, but ridiculously cheap compared with the prices they were charging at Club Med. And since the Club Med instructors were on a salary, they saw absolutely none of that money. Actually they got paid 0.01 percent of it or something ridiculous!!

Club Med instructors were also expected to entertain guests in the evening, after spending all day out on the mountain. Luckily we didn't need to do that.

We still got a bit of work through Winkel, and were booked up by Academy over Chinese New Year, but Club Med work kept us busy when there was no work elsewhere. After a few weeks we were all a bit sick of doing beginner lessons, and being based at The Grand we didn't get much of a chance to go free skiing either as it was a bit further to go to get to the ski lifts before work or at lunchtime.

I pulled the plug mid February, deciding to go for a week of free skiing before I headed off back to Australia. Most of the others also began planning to leave. We were making some money, but weren't really enjoying the work.

The implications for next year are worrying. The opportunity to supplement our income at Club Med is unlikely to be repeated, as they will likely have their visa approvals working more smoothly next year. Kiroro Academy has been working hard promoting itself around the hotels and tourist spots in Otaru, and it's also possible that more people may start coming there as an alternative to Niseko and Rusutsu, which were both reported to be unacceptably crowded this year.

Less work won't bother me, as I don't come to Japan to make money, but it will affect those people recruited who do expect more work. I guess we will need to manage those expectations during the recruitment process.

With a week or so to go I hired a car again to drive down to Rusutsu and Niseko, both to ski and catch up with friends.

More on that next....

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