LVMH’s Belmond Expands Luxury Train Offerings Ahead Of Rival Accor

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LVMH luxury travel company Belmond is expanding its presence on the rails from Scotland to Singapore and South America with more lavish accommodations, top chefs and new itineraries ahead of rival Accor’s launch of a competing product in 2024. The moves are designed to take advantage of well-heeled travelers’ desires for unique experiences, according to Belmond executives speaking to the media during the International Luxury Travel Mart.

The conference, being held this week in Cannes, France, at the venue of the eponymous film festival, attracts over 2,100 travel advisors from more than 80 countries. Some 330 brands, including hotel companies, cruise lines, tourist boards, destination marketing companies and luxury railroads are exhibiting.

For Belmond, the growth continues with the investment and expansion of the brand since being acquired by the French luxury goods conglomerate for $3.2 billion in 2018.

Controlled by Bernard Arnault, who is ranked second behind Elon Musk on the Forbes Billionaires List with a net worth of $187 billion, the group includes Louis Vuitton, Dior, Bvlgari, Tiffany, Hublot, Loro Piana, Dom Perignon and other well-known luxury houses.

Last week, Belmond announced the restart of the Eastern & Oriental Express, which was suspended at the outset of the pandemic. It is due to restart in February with new itineraries and “restyled” carriages departing from Singapore.

During today’s press conference, executives revealed the appointment of Chef André Chiang as the train’s new chef. Earlier this year, he was named one of the 15 most influential chefs for the next decade by Elite Traveler Magazine.

Nearly 7,000 miles to the north and west, Belmond is adding a pair of Grand Suites to The Royal Scotsman. Designed by Paris-based Tristan Auer, whose credits include Benetti superyacht Motopanfilo, The Carlton Cannes, A Regent Hotel, and The Hôtel De Crillon’s pastry shop, guests will receive complimentary treatments in the train’s Dior Spa, which debuted in April.

Beginning in May, the British Pullman launches what’s being billed as The Carriage Club Dinners, “a series of immersive evening journeys combining decadent dining, fine wines and entertainment.”

Skipping to South America, the Hiram Bingham and Andean Explorer have named Peruvian-born Jorge Muñoz, who earned a Michelin star during his tenure at Patka in Barcelona, as Executive Chef.

Back to its roots, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is adding a new route between Paris and Portofino. The journey ends with a stay at the Splendido; however, for guests, the train’s chef, Jean Imbert, will host a gala dinner.

A second Paris to Istanbul roundtrip itinerary is being added for the first time next year, and after its first Paris to Courchevel run, scheduled for December 21st, Belmond announced the trip will be repeated next year.

Belmond is also expanding accommodations with eight new suites next year for a total of 16 Suites and six Grand Suites.

The focus on luxury trains is part of a trend referred to as slow travel. It’s part of the fast-growing luxury travel market. According to Grand View Research, luxury travel has already rebounded ahead of pre-pandemic levels, accounting for $1.28 billion in spending during 2022. It’s projected to increase by 7.7% per year through 2030.

Paul Tumpowsky, Founder and CEO of Skylark, a high-end travel agency, says, “(Belmond has) increased supply significantly and they have done a better job of making sure that you understand the product outside of just the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (between Paris and Istanbul) they used to only run once a year and now runs twice.”

He says, “They really have expanded the network and made it much easier to see pricing and availability for the product on their website. We have always seen a lot of interest in these products for ultra-high-net-worth clients. At times, it’s been a challenge because it’s very difficult to find the appropriate routing based on the limited schedules.”

However, LVMH isn’t alone in targeting rail fans. Belmond was previously known as Orient-Express until 2014. However, it was a licensing agreement with the brand’s owner, the French national railway known as SNCF, which has since partnered with hospitality giant Accor to expand the brand with a new generation of luxury hotels and trains.

Trumpowsky says Accor is planning to use the Olympics in Paris next summer to showcase its new rail product. The rival will begin taking pre-reservations for its rail excursions this Wednesday.

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