Sun sets on Club 18-30 as travel industry swaps libido for rage

Unloved holiday brand was too unsubtle for Generation Z and has been pensioned off

Tour operator Thomas Cook, which has owned Club 18-30 for the past 20 years, has confirmed  it will be winding it up later this month. Photograph: iStock

Tour operator Thomas Cook, which has owned Club 18-30 for the past 20 years, has confirmed it will be winding it up later this month. Photograph: iStock

 

News of Thomas Cook’s move to kill off the Club 18-30 holiday brand is like hearing of the death of someone you knew only by reputation: your paths almost crossed once, but you’re not sure you would have been able to speak their language if they had. Mostly it just makes perfect sense that Club 18-30 has passed on to the great foam party in the sky.

The British tour operator, which has owned the 1960s-born brand for the past 20 years, has confirmed that it will be winding it up later this month, with chief executive Ingo Burmester offering a very corporate explanation: “We are increasingly focused on our core own-brand hotel portfolio and feel that the Club 18-30 brand no longer fits in with our wider programme.”

It’s not you, it’s us. The company had “taken the summer to explore our options”, Burmester said, meaning it tried to find a buyer. There were no takers. The Club 18-30 name, unloved by Thomas Cook for at least a decade, has become untouchable.

The predictable part of this whimpering end is that some of the blame – or credit, perhaps – has fallen on social media. Never mind the decline of uncomplicated sun-worship, the fragility of personal finances or even the whole issue of tour operators being superfluous in the 21st century, it’s Instagram that has claimed another scalp.

Yes, the same platforms accused of acting as accomplices to never-before-seen rates of self-absorption and narcissism are also being implicated in the failure of the young to have a good time using exactly the same methods as their predecessors.

Instagram, Facebook’s aesthetically minded cousin, is said to have created demand for more adventurous, diverse and “experiential” travel options. Club 18-30, meanwhile, was a brand that explicitly corralled people into a demographic enclosure, gleefully telling them “we know exactly what it is you want”.

Original tastes

These days, marketers must be more subtle. People like to think they are being spontaneous and original in their tastes, not doing the same thing that everyone else is – even when they effectively are.

In Britain, by contrast, Club 18-30 happily collected raps on the knuckles for billboard slogans like 'Beaver Espana'

This trend may have accelerated under the coming-of-age of millennials, but it is notable that Club 18-30’s demise has coincided with the rise of Generation Z, or people born in 1995 or later. When Blur sang about “following the herd down to Greece, on holiday” for “love in the nineties”, Generation Z wasn’t alive. And as it turns out, they’re more into self-care than self-destruction. Dubbed Generation Sensible by their harder-drinking elders, they clearly posed a marketing hurdle for Club 18-30, the booze-cruise of package holidays.

As far as this particular party went, Ireland was invited late. The brand has only directly operated out of the Republic in the past decade, when it was already trying to distance itself from the salacious, often lewd, image it deliberately cultivated in the 1990s.

In Ireland of 1991, people could get hot and flustered without going anywhere near an airport: merely the picture of a woman’s bikini-clad bottom on a bus shelter advertisement for Budget Travel and the line “get your seat to the sun” triggered dozens of complaints to the advertising watchdog.

In Britain, by contrast, Club 18-30 happily collected raps on the knuckles for billboard slogans like “Beaver Espana”, “holiday forecast – damp followed by wet patches” and “wake up at the crack of Dawn… or Lisa, or Julie”.

They make Club 18-30 seem like the travel industry’s equivalent to a lad’s mag: it may have had its moment, but it’s not relevant in 2018.

Drinking games

Club 18-30 brought people to substantially more crowded versions of Love Island and staffed the resorts they invaded with some of the scariest people on earth: travel reps paid to organise drinking games. Personal space was not a feature of the Club 18-30 holiday. It was two weeks of posing poolside with no space for the width of a cocktail between each UV-radiated body. No wonder the reality TV-makers set off in pursuit.

The gang-of-friends, parent-free holiday has instead become an unremarkable rite of passage

But the imperative to combine holidays with hook-ups simply isn’t as great in an age when anyone who wants Tinder on their phone can, well, have Tinder on their phone.

If there are any vacancies on the final Club 18-30 trip from Manchester to Magaluf, they will surely be filled by journalists using their seat-back trays to write poignant odes to the death of hedonism. But while the name is dead, the phenomenon it represents hasn’t completely disappeared, notwithstanding the Insta-pressure.

The gang-of-friends, parent-free holiday has instead become an unremarkable rite of passage, the popularity of which rises and falls with disposable incomes.

Thomas Cook, for its part, is marketing something called Cook’s Club, a millennial-focused holiday concept that promises virtual reality gaming, escape rooms (think The Crystal Maze) and “rage rooms”, which I had to Google, but it turns out are places where people are encouraged to release their anger and feel better by smashing things up. According to Psychology Today, they are “not a good idea”.

Club Tropicana seems very far away.