From the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express to safaris in Africa, Belmond is one of the key players in luxury travel. Here, Sir Eric Peacock talks to Arnaud Champenois, its Senior Vice President of Brand & Marketing, about the passionate staff, luxury service and why mornings are the new night times.
Can you tell us about Belmond?
The business started in 1976, when the company collected the keys to Belmond Hotel Cipriani in Venice, and began the process of sourcing and restoring the vintage train carriages that form the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Since then, we’ve grown and expanded into a collection of 46 exceptional luxury travel experiences, including hotels, trains, river cruises and even safaris in 24 countries around the world.
What brought you to Belmond?
I’ve always worked for luxury brands. I joined Belmond two years ago from Starwood Hotels in Asia. Prior to that, I had worked in luxury goods, firstly for Cartier in London, and then for L’Oréal which took me back to Paris. I stayed there for nearly 12 years, working across brands such as Lancôme, Shu Uemura, Kiehl’s – mainly focusing on fragrances. In many ways my career has mirrored the same shift we are seeing in the luxury market: from personal goods to experiences.
Did this involve relocation?
Yes, I moved to Singapore where I looked after St. Regis, Luxury Collection, W Hotels and Le Meridien. It was really exciting being French in an American company; and in Asia, I was lucky enough to travel across so many countries. Then Belmond called and said they were looking for a new head of Brand & Marketing to develop the storytelling of the brand. For a marketeer, it was a dream opportunity to shape the future of a very exciting brand, so that’s where I went.
What are the values that underpin Belmond?
At the core is authenticity. Belmond is an understated brand because it’s all about the detail. We are places with a Soul. We’re also a timeless brand, built on a rich history, the many genuine characters who have defined our brand, and the heritage of our buildings.
And your advertising campaign, the ‘Art of Belmond’, reflects that…
Yes, over the past two years we’ve created stories around the idea of travelling in style and playing with what I call ‘contemporary nostalgia’. We’ve created a series of films showing the ‘Art of Savoir Vivre’ or ‘good living’, with Belmond characters experiencing one Belmond ‘adventure’ after another.
In the last two years, we’ve seen an incredible growth of awareness for Belmond, and we are increasingly recognised for going beyond travel, as a true luxury player.
In fact, we were delighted to recently become the first travel and hospitality brand to be named ‘British Luxury Brand of the Year’ at the Walpole British Luxury Awards.
Can you tell us how you recruit your staff?
We hire people who are passionate about their job and what they want to deliver. We encourage staff to be themselves and to put their humour and character into their work. I always say I hire people I want to have dinner with because it means I’ll enjoy working with them, now and in the long term.
You’ve hired young Scottish chef Adam Handling for the new Belmond Cadogan Hotel in London. Why?
Adam is particularly interesting because he puts a twist on classic British dishes. He’s also a firm adopter of a zero-waste policy, so he recycles everything in his kitchen, which chimes with Belmond’s approach to sustainable tourism and hospitality .
Could you describe the Belmond approach to guest service?
At Belmond, service is an art that has been mastered by our employees, but there is no training manual. It is part of our culture, and it is in our DNA. But when it comes to guest experiences, we are continuously exploring how we can surprise and delight.
This year, we have created a framework called the Belmond ‘Six Moments’. For example, ‘the Good morning’ where, as well as providing excellent breakfasts, we’ve introduced nature walks at dawn, which we do in partnership with binocular brand Leica Sport Optics. Accompanying guests on the walks are nature experts who make each outing really interesting. With our properties in national parks such as Iguazu Falls in Brazil or at Deia in Majorca, guests can get to know the incredible fauna and flora nearby. A lot of our competitors are focused on night-time but I think people are evolving, and increasingly, they like to wake up and seize the day.
What do you look to deliver with each Belmond experience?
We want to create an environment where our guests can switch off and spend time reconnecting to what matters most to them. It’s about encouraging people to discover the destination with locals and ensuring they get an amazing, memorable, emotional experience shared with friends, family and loved ones.
What does exceptional service mean to you?
It’s a personal connection. Today, beyond genuine interactions, people want personalised information from the brands they love so they subscribe to newsletters and follow them on social media. Over the last 18 months, we have invested to enhance our digital infrastructure, so we’re able to deliver content according to customers’ wants and needs.
For example, if you’re very into safari resorts or if you want to discover our river cruises, we’ll curate a newsletter to your preferences. In Q1 next year, we will be unlocking even more business intelligence capabilities, which represents a huge opportunity for our brand and our business.
In which regions are you looking to grow Belmond?
The US and the UK are our core customer markets, and our focus has been on increasing our share of this loyal and lucrative customer. But, of course, with our new website in place and our digital reach expanding, we’re preparing to grow and expand into new markets.
In luxury, outside of Europe, Asia and the Middle East are very important markets, as is Latin America. There is lots more to come from Belmond in 2019.
How do you communicate with the younger generation?
We definitely want to look at people between the ages of 30-40 because, at this age, you’re established enough to afford to buy into the Belmond brand. Social media has encouraged us to change our approach to marketing, especially through Instagram. I read a Financial Times article at the weekend that said 62 per cent of travellers refer to Instagram for finding their next holiday. Ultimately, personal connection is how we’re going to create a community, and something I see at Belmond is people travelling with us who feel as though they’re part of a club. It’s an emotional relationship with the brand. We’re also investing more into Facebook and Instagram – because they’re platforms that drive revenue.
What’s your view on ‘responsible tourism’?
It’s always been at the core of our business and we’ve always been conscious of our responsibilities. We recently sponsored a young designer, called Toni Packham, who collects discarded plastic from beach shores across the UK to make beautiful forms. She melts the different pieces down to create these incredible pieces of tableware. In addition to new talent, we should talk about the legendary chef and maître de maison at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Raymond Blanc. He’s been pioneering organic produce for the last 30 years. He is a true visionary!
What do you have in the pipeline over the next five years?
From a marketing point of view, we are focused on continuing to build brand awareness, and translating this into to top line growth. With our Business Intelligence tools soon coming into play, we want to bring our guests even more personalised information and experiences.
We will continue to foster exclusive partnerships with other leading luxury brands, such as the London Philharmonic Orchestra, to bring our guests ‘Exceptional Music in Exceptional Locations’ and to extend our points of differentiation from the rest of the market.
And we will continue to support the launch of the new properties coming on board. We have two properties opening in the Caribbean in December of 2018 – Belmond Cap Juluca in Anguilla and Belmond La Samanna in St Martin – and Belmond Cadogan Hotel will early next year, giving us our first hotel in the flagship city of London. With this momentum, it is really exciting to think what we might achieve in the next five years – one thing I do know, is that Belmond will continue to push the boundaries of luxury travel.
What trends are you noticing within the travel industry?
We work with trend forecasters to look at the customers of tomorrow – to help us to understand what will motivate them to travel.
From this research, we can see that it’s not about age or profession, but a mindset and a desire for a certain experience. For example, if you’re a high-achiever, we’re going to offer you journeys with a greater focus on adventure. For those travellers who we consider ‘fantasy jetsetters’, hopping from one place to another, we’re looking at how to create celebrations, weddings and honeymoons that stand apart. Finally, if you’re into culture and discovering a destination, we’ll connect you to local communities and facilitate access to ‘money-can’t-buy’ events. This forecasting approach has been very interesting for us and with the research, we hope to anticipate what our guests of tomorrow want.