Orient-Express Hotels, which owns and operates 45 luxury hotels, trains, river cruises and even New York’s City’s 21 restaurant, announced it will rebrand all of its holdings except the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express beginning March 10.

After a rigorous process, including the vetting of 650 potential new brand names and spearheaded by branding expert AgencySacks, Orient-Express Hotels chose Belmond, signifying “beautiful world,” as its new go-to-market global brand.

“Belmond is derived from Latin for beautiful and world and the stylized glow suggests the influence of our global reach and our world,” Ralph Aruzza, Orient-Express Hotels’ chief sale and marketing officer, said in a presentation this week about the rebranding.

“Belmond? Sounds like a city [Belmar] on the Jersey Shore,” says Tom Botts, chief customer officer at Deniham Hospitality Group and former managing partner at Hudson Crossing.

Botts acknowledges that “Orient-Express was due for a change,” but he isn’t enamored with the new trademark.

“It is a train and I don’t think there is much cachet associated with trains, even a fabled train like the Orient-Express,” Botts says. “Northwest Orient gave way to Northwest Airlines a long time before merging with Delta, so the name itself was somewhat colonial and anything but cool. But Belmond?”

What’s in Name?

Orient-Express Hotels, in justifying the change, notes that the iconic Orient-Express brand was licensed, and therefore the company put the bulk of its marketing efforts into promoting its individual holdings, ranging from Hotel Cipriani in Venice to Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro and the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town, at the local level rather than building up a global brand it didn’t own and couldn’t control.

And, a lot of people identify Orient-Express with an historical train, and don’t connect the name with the company’s multifaceted portfolio, Aruzza said.

But that emphasis on local properties versus global brand hurt the overall business.

Aruzza said during the presentation that only 14% of the company’s transactions were generated by Orient-Express.com while 86% arose from local hotel websites such as HotelCipriani.com.

Beginning March 10, the Orient-Express Hotels website will redirect to Belmond.com, and properties will be rebranded the Belmond El Encanto, Belmond Hotel Cipriani, Belmond Safaris, and so on.

Orient-Express Hotels hopes to build the Belmond global brand and get repeat business from travelers who may have allegiances to one of the properties, but in the future would be more inclined to try another hotel in the portfolio because they identify with the global brand.

The company also believes that by rebranding they will be better able to attract more business from travel agencies and corporations.

However, the question arises as to what drove a decision to rebrand at this juncture.

The Cost of Licensing

SNCF, the French government rail system, has owned the Orient-Express brand since the late 1970s, and licensed it to Orient-Express Hotels Ltd., but the two parties decided to terminate the agreement.

Was the license too costly or increasing further or did SNCF have its own plans?

SNCF announced it will inaugurate its own Orient-Express brand in April, with the debut of a luxury Paris to Vienna rail line, and it plans to launch other complementary, Orient-Express businesses, including a luggage line.

Orient-Express Hotels plans to put $15 million into the Belmond rebranding effort over the next five years, including $5 million in 2014. And, it intends to debut its first “international media campaign” in the third quarter.

A $15 million investment over five years hardly seems adequate when you consider that Priceline spent around $200 million in offline advertising last year.

Following is Orient-Express Hotels Ltd.’s branding presentation:

Photo Credit: Orient-Express Hotels is rebranding as Belmond, which means beautiful world. Placeit by Breezi