Interview: Belmond's John Scott

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The announcement by the company formerly known as Orient-Express Hotels that it was to abandon its world-famous name and replace it with Belmond from March 10 was unexpected. Here, we ask John Scott to explain the thinking behind the rebrand and to say what it means for the UK travel trade.

How difficult was the decision to drop the name Orient-Express?
We are extremely proud of the legacy we have created under the name Orient Express but the time is right for
the company to raise a greater awareness of the diverse range of travel experiences that we offer our guests. The name Belmond truly builds on our legacy: it represents our rich and hugely diverse collection spanning city landmarks and intimate resorts, great train journeys and river cruises. A successful brand evolves and this is the case with Belmond.

What do you hope the rebranding will achieve?
The new name will enable us to create awareness that we are a collection of unique travel experiences under a one brand identity. Our previous brand strategy had been to promote individual icons, rather than the umbrella brand. Travel partners told us they often had to explain to their customers that these icons are part of a wider collection – and I’ve often had to explain to people that we have hotels in Peru, Brazil, Italy and other parts of the world, as well as our world-famous trains in the UK, Europe and Asia. So, while this strategy worked to drive strong loyalty to the local brand, the recognition of the parent brand was not as strong. Many of our properties sit beside the globe’s most-celebrated sights, such as Machu Picchu, Table Mountain and Copacabana beach. We want to build a familiarity and comfort with our brand, regardless of location.

Where does the name Belmond come from?
It is derived from the Latin words for ‘beautiful’ and ‘world’. We have chosen the name Belmond as we believe it embraces all that is unique and exceptional about our diverse collection of hotels, river cruisers, trains and safaris.

How well known do you expect this brand to become and what are you hoping it will stand for?
By raising consumer awareness of Belmond, we hope to enable our travel partners to better describe what we offer and acquire new customers who have never associated our collection with a consistent brand message. We will ensure that our new brand becomes recognised and trusted through strategic investment in all channels of communication to our partners and consumers.

How do you plan to tell the UK travel trade about the brand?
We have started to engage with our travel partners through email marketing campaigns and will provide specialist extranets for travel partners with a GDS advertising campaign that launched on March 10 to raise awareness of the new brand. Our travel partners can expect to hear more from us over the next year as we continue to invest in Belmond. We will plan roadshows and events throughout
the year, plus our sales officers will be visiting many of our partners in the coming weeks and months.

How will you tell UK consumers about the brand?
We will invest $5 million in launching the brand in the first year and a further $10 million is expected to be invested over the next four – this will be a steady and strategic implementation and marketing campaign. This brand investment will include new website platforms, re-engineered customer relationship management, and the company’s first ever large-scale print and media advertising campaign.?

Do you expect agents to get behind the brand or are you worried the change will result in some of them not selling your product any more?
Based on what our travel partners told us prior to the brand launch about the need for a unified brand identify, and the positive reception that we have received from our colleagues, we expect it will help them better sell our products.

Should we expect to see the same product at the same prices or will that change too?
No, it won’t change. We have a truly remarkable and unique collection of assets that are travel experiences, more so than just hotels. The new brand marketing strategy allows us to retain the individual character of each property and increase consumer awareness that they are part of a wider collection. The enhanced branding of each property will see the name Belmond sitting alongside each property as a complementary extension of their own identity: for example, Belmond El Encanto, Belmond Safaris, Belmond Hotel Cipriani and Belmond Royal Scotsman.

Do you have any plans to expand?
We are always open to adding to our portfolio. We anticipate the transformation to the Belmond brand and marketing strategy will present a compelling opportunity for third-party luxury hotel owners. They will not only? be joining a stable of iconic properties but will also benefit from the substantial investment we a