Chris Reed
Mar 19, 2014

Orient Express runs out of steam as it rebrands as Belmond

Murder on the Belmond Express? Anyone?

Orient Express runs out of steam as it rebrands as Belmond

When brands rebrand it’s normally to try and lose their history or change negative perception or reposition. Quite why the Orient Express has rebranded all its properties barring some of the more famous iconic train journeys to the terrible name Belmond is beyond me.

Orient Express conjures up wonders and mystical magical train journeys, Agatha Christie and luxury, properties that ooze quality and premium brand values. 'Orient Express' says 'We’re a brand worth paying the extra money for to treat your loved one or just pamper yourself'.

What does Belmond say? Not much to me. It’s a very boring name that conjures up very little. But Belmond it is for the group’s existing collection of 45 hotel, rail and river cruise experiences. The move aims to unify these disparate travel experiences under one brand umbrella. The exception appears to be the iconic Orient Express lines such as the London-Venice line and the South East Asia line. All the rest are to be rebranded Belmond such as the Belmond Royal Scotsman.

Although Belmond’s executives say that the reason for this rebrand is that they do not have complete control of the Orient-Express name, which was licensed from French transportation company SNCF. According to the new CEO, a guest might visit the Hotel Ritz but wouldn’t know about the Hotel Cipriani. Is that a good enough reason to ditch an iconic brand name and rename it with a terrible one? Surely better holistic marketing communications at each property off and online would have been the answer rather than throwing out the baby with the bathwater?

Apparently cross visitation within Orient-Express’ portfolio accounts for only 3 per cent of total demand. This again sounds like an inability to market each property from within existing properties and channels. Did it really need the rebranding of all their properties?  

Instead of individual hotels being marketed separately they will be marketed within the context of the new Belmond brand. The Hotel Ritz will become the Belmond Hotel Ritz. There will be more holistic branding across the group’s products and services which they hope will lead to greater brand loyalty and cross pollination. Big hope, little chance of it working with the minimal spend of US$15 million over four years.

Many brands would die for the brand values and history of the Orient Express. The cache, reputation and exotic, luxury brand values. Communicating this new name and expecting them to see Belmond as the same luxury brand is going to be an uphill struggle.

Apparently the rebrand to Belmond came after vetting 650 potential new brand names. Blimey, what did they turn down to come to this name? Orient Express Hotels chose Belmond, signifying “beautiful world,” as its new go-to-market global brand. I’m not sure how Belmond communicates this but I am sure a $15 million marketing campaign will try and convince us. But really, what cut-through will they get with that spend globally?

Only14 per cent of the company’s transactions were generated by OrientExpress.com while 86per cent arose from local hotel websites such as HotelCipriani.com. The website will now redirect to Belmond.com and properties will be rebranded Belmond Hotel Cipriani, Belmond Safaris etc.

To add more confusion to the market there will be a new Orient Express Hotels brand and product range launching by SNCF, the French government rail system, which has has owned the Orient Express brand since the late 1970s, and licensed it previously to Orient Express Hotels Ltd., but the two parties decided to terminate the agreement.

SNCF will now themselves relaunch the 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.

Therefore it’s also then rather bizarre that Belmond have rebranded all properties bar the most famous, the iconic train journeys. Surely if they are rebranding it should extend to those too? Or does their confidence in the new brand name not extend that far? Otherwise they are going to continue to promote the new competitor chain too by association.

Consumer confusion will reign. That only woks one way as by changing the names of all the hotels etc away from Orient Express consumers who buy into the name will look out for Orient Express Hotels and only see the new brands ones by SNCF not the old ones owned by Belmond.

Murder on the Belmond Express, anyone?

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