On the heels of the announcement that AccorHotels will be purchasing a 50 percent stake in the Orient Express name, the brand’s former licensor—Belmond—coincidentally is introducing a long-planned campaign designed to set itself apart from the crowd.
According to Arnaud Champenois, Belmond’s senior vice president, brand and marketing, “It’s a brand designed for the ultimate travel connoisseur….a heritage reminiscent of a golden age of travel and the nostalgia of travel.” Among luxury travelers, those images may also evoke Orient Express, but Belmond is determined to claim the brand descriptors for its own.
Belmond came about in 2014, after its collection of hotels, historic trains, and travel experiences parted ways with the Orient Express banner. Why was the exotic and iconic name discarded? Champenois explains that “since the name was licensed, the company previously didn’t focus on building up a brand name it couldn’t control. Instead, we chose to market the individual products.” As a result of this strategy, there was relatively little cross-pollination across the company’s assets, according to Champenois.
So, Orient-Express Hotels became Belmond, meaning beautiful world. “We wanted to develop our own hard brand to have 100 percent control over the whole thing.” This whole thing includes iconic hotels like the Mount Nelson in Capetown, the Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro, and the Hotel Splendido in Portofino, Italy. All were “re-branded” by adding the Belmond name up front. The company also runs three river cruise boats and operates a number of excursion trains, including the Royal Scotsman, the Hiram Bingham in Peru and, just to confuse matters, the Venice-Simplon Orient Express. Belmond owns the hardware and service operations of that train, but the name is licensed from SNCF.
Last week, The Art of Belmond was revealed, building on the strategic plan CEO & President Roeland Vos presented in 2016. The strategy focuses on three key areas – driving top and bottom line growth, raising brand awareness and expanding the global footprint. Amplifying on that, Champenois says “We want to introduce Belmond to new markets, and to introduce it to younger audiences in established markets.” Additionally, he says, “Part of the brand story we will tell is trying to reach potential investors and developers in order to achieve the objectives of doubling the development pipeline and EBITDA” within a few years time.
The campaign is made up of a series of cinematic shorts and a global advertising effort revolving around what Champenois calls the three brand pillars of Belmond: the Art of Savoir Vivre, Nostalgia and Authenticity, The print campaign will be focused on the brand’s key feeder markets of the United Kingdom and the United States. Advertisements will appear in publications like Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, GQ, Tatler, Departures and Tank. Belmond will also focus for the first time on new markets like Singapore, Hong Kong, and the Middle East through digital media.
Belmond is also producing additional visuals to engage and educate its audience on its varying product categories. Posters and travel stickers, designed by pop artists, are inspired by the golden age of travel. As a result, they look reminiscent of old-time travel posters and steamer trunk stickers luxury travelers used to collect while riding the Orient Express and other trains of that ilk.
Let’s turn to that elephant in the room for a moment. AccorHotels recently purchased a 50 percent stake in the Orient Express subsidiary of French state-owned railway SNCF. The plan is to develop a collection of upmarket Orient Express-branded hotels. Accor CEO Sébastien Bazin says the deal “cements the alliance of two major French players in the world of travel for a shared purpose, that of giving fresh impetus and international standing to an historic and world-renowned brand.”
When asked about how the Accor acquisition might impact Belmond’s efforts, Champenois hesitated to answer. However, a spokesperson from Belmond’s public relations company jumped in. According to Victor de Vita of Alice Marshall Public Relations, “By the time Accor has a chance to develop its Orient Express product, Belmond will have already built a massive global brand.” To paraphrase an old adage, timeliness will tell.