Laura Hendel is the customer growth marketing manager at Club Med Southern Africa. This Women's Month, we chat with Hendel - who just became a mom for the first time and joined the company as Covid-19 hit - about how Club Med navigated the brand as the pandemic took hold of the world, the importance of staying curious and why Women's Month should be more than a specific yearly celebration.
Source: Supplied - Laura Hendel
Tell us a bit about yourself - your background?
Born and raised in eastern France just a few minutes away from both Switzerland and Germany, I got the chance to grow up in a multicultural environment and to cross borders from a very young age.
After graduating from the French Baccalaureate, I naturally chose to join a trinational business school - with courses in French, German and English - for my bachelor’s degree. I also seized every opportunity that arose to expose myself to learn abroad: internships in Switzerland and Singapore, semesters abroad in the UK, and more.
Later, I joined an MBA programme specialising in luxury brand management in Bordeaux in the south of France and worked part-time in a travel agency which allowed me to discover the world of tourism.
My career then took a little detour - in Paris - where I did two seasons at Christian Dior couture and three years in Switzerland at BAT. After having had the chance to blossom professionally in various fields, I decided to follow my now-husband to South Africa where he got a fantastic job opportunity. I then started working for Club Med Southern Africa and shortly after was offered the role of marketing manager.
Close to two years later, I am honoured to be part of this talented team which has been incredibly responsive and resilient in navigating the crisis.
Describe your role at Club Med - what does a typical workday look like for you?
I am in charge of the marketing department for the South African office, and have the opportunity to profile incredible all-inclusive Club Med resorts (that feature in some of the most beautiful sun and snow destinations around the world) to the SA audience. That said, no two days are alike for me.
I have the chance to work closely with office employees in Johannesburg and across South Africa, as well as the team based in the head office in Paris and across the world. With our local team being relatively small and the brand still growing when compared to other markets, we get to engage with every department and tend to have large scopes of work and face different challenges every day.
Working on profiling our beautiful destinations portfolio combined with developing the brand on the African continent is my mission and I am eager to see what new opportunities will flourish for us as vaccination levels increase and new countries open to travellers from South Africa.
In between my work at Club Med, I am also a mom to newborn.
Do you have any role models? If so, who?
I do not have one role model, but I tend to see beautiful traits in each person. Every day I am inspired and amazed by people’s capacity to face challenges, stand up for their beliefs, push their limits in their field of expertise and dedicate themselves to their loved ones. Nobody is perfect, yet we can all learn and lift each other up.
What are your thoughts on the impact of Covid on the industry? How has Club Med dealt with this challenge?
The travel and tourism industry was hit very hard by the pandemic, especially in South Africa, and I feel the effects of it will still be felt for many years to come. After the initial shock, as the tourism industry, we had to pause, step back, take stock of an incredibly unknown situation, and try and navigate a path never seen in our lifetime and not featured in any marketing or travel textbook.
As a global company with resorts all over the world, we began re-opening resorts from April 2020 as each country around the world began opening borders for travel, welcoming guests from early on. This allowed us to begin implementing stringent Covid protocols ("Safe Together") and the opportunity to implement best practices from all Club Med resorts around the world.
That all said, we are starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel. As more people around the world and in SA get vaccinated, more opportunities for us to travel and support travel (locally and globally) are emerging, which is good news for the industry. Each month Club Med is sending more and more travellers from South Africa to our heavenly all-inclusive resorts and look forward to increasingly doing so.
Do you think it’s important to have a month dedicated to women? And why.
Still having a day or a month dedicated to women in 2021 is somewhat frustrating. After generations of brave women being the backbone of our families and societies, we should not require a specific occasion to shed light on them and give them more share of voice in the media. Thankfully, the world is moving forward, and I am confident that soon, our children will be raised equally despite their gender.
What advice would you give to women wanting to enter your industry?
As with everything else in life: Be curious! Seize every opportunity life brings you to learn something new. Don’t be afraid to get to know people and ask them questions. Whatever your background is, trust in yourself and your ability to grow and develop new skills. Our world evolves and changes so fast, so being curious allows us to stay on top of things and in the case of tourism, helps us being adaptive and to respond quickly to every situation.
What is the best advice anyone has given you?
A very old person told me when I was a moody teenager: "Life is short, seize it". I know it is a very classic one, yet we all struggle to embrace it. I believe there are several ways of understanding and applying it, but my interpretation is not being afraid of the unknown, doing ones' best in every situation and finding happiness in little things daily.
This state of mind helped me step out of my comfort zone several times and, so far, I have never been disappointed when going the extra mile.
As a woman, have there been any significant challenges in the workplace that stand out for you?
It is very easy to fall into old habits and follow outdated patterns such as believing that a bold woman is not as appreciated as a discreet one, or on the other end of the spectrum, thinking that we need to sacrifice it all to succeed professionally.
We should all, with disregard to gender, be confident in ourselves, our added value to the business and our right to a balanced way of life. More and more businesses are taking a stand and evolving in this direction: equal parental leave durations, strict standard salary policies, quotas of women in leadership positions, and so on. It is for us to find (or fund!) the businesses that will champion us individuals equally tomorrow.
Do you have any pearls of wisdom to share this Women's Month or words of encouragement?
Whatever your life is - your background, your past choices or your current situation - the future is yours. So whatever fuels your energy, your career, your children, the next dream holidays you will take with Club Med, be kind to yourself and to others, do your best and seize life!