Belmond, the global high-end hotel operator and adventure-travel company, is expanding its business in Southeast Asia, showing confidence in the Myanmar and Thai markets by including several new hotels in the former and a first property in Bangkok among its plans.
The group is largely unfazed by political issues or economic downturns in certain markets as its niche customers are high spenders that generally continue to travel despite such problems.
“The group seeks to operate additional properties and travel business throughout the world, as well as in the East. The company is pursuing management contracts for hotels in key destinations including major gateway cities, while seeking out properties and assets where it can promote a local brand’s unique identity,” Yann Guezennec, Belmond’s worldwide sales and marketing director for train and cruise business, said last week.
He said the group had begun running its first hotel in the Italian city of Venice in 1975, before diversifying into train, adventure travel and cruise businesses.
It now operates and manages 45 hotels, river cruise, safari and rail businesses in 22 countries.
Though the group originated in continental Europe, it is now headquartered in the United Kingdom and listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
“We have considered Asia our important place for sustainable growth since experiencing the financial crisis in the West [Europe and the United Sates] some years ago. Aside from Thailand, we also need to shift our expansion into Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong, despite [those markets being] tougher than looking at other places,” Guezennec explained.
In Thailand and Singapore, Belmond currently operates the Belmond Napasai Hotel on Koh Samui and the Eastern & Oriental Express luxury train service between Bangkok and Singapore.
Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, the group operates the Belmond La Residence d’Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and the Belmond La Residence Phou Vao in Luang Prabang in Laos.
It also runs the Belmond Jimbaran Puri on the Indonesian island of Bali, while in Myanmar, the group operates the Belmond Governor’s Residence in Yangon, the Belmond Orcaella and the Belmond Road to Mandalay – the latter being a luxury river-cruise business.
Jean-Christophe Moreaux, regional director of sales and marketing, Asia, said the group was currently also negotiating to manage a hotel in Bangkok, which would be its second property in Thailand.
The group is also adding to the train service between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, he said.
Meanwhile, Belmond is in talks over the management of four hotels in major tourist cities in Myanmar, with two of the deals expected to be signed this year.
Myanmar is promoting many destinations – notably Yangon, Mandalay, Nay Pyi Daw and Bagan, as well as Taunggyi – in order to attract international tourists.
Last year, the group relocated its office for train business from Singapore to Thailand. Combined with its existing office here, this has elevated Bangkok into Belmond’s regional office for train, hotel, travel and cruise business.
More offices in China and India were also added last year.
The group also completed a global rebranding and new corporate identity in 2014.
The company – formerly Orient-Express Hotels – began marketing its collection of hotels and travel businesses under the new brand Belmond, which was chosen after extensive research as a name that resonates well with the company’s celebrated collection of hotels, river cruises and trains, and is intended to heighten brand awareness, drive incremental revenue and build cross-visitation, the executives said.
The company established the brand by investing US$15 million (Bt489 million) over a five-year period in enhanced promotional and marketing initiatives, including re-imagined visual cues, websites, and its first ever large-scale print and electronic-media advertising campaign.
For Thailand and Myanmar, Belmond’s key markets are the United Sates, which accounts for 20 per cent of the business, and Germany, the UK and France, which each account for 15 per cent. China and South Korea are fast-growing markets for the group’s Thai and Myanmar operations.