Not even two years since becoming Belmond's Chief Executive Officer, Roeland Vos has already made big strides into the company’s ambitious growth plans to double in size by 2020, both in number of properties and the amount of annual EBITA (earnings before interest, taxes, and amortization). Luxury Travel Advisor correspondent Emily Goldfischer caught up with Mr. Vos in London, where the company is headquartered.
Belmond has laid out significant growth plans, how will you achieve this by 2020? We plan to “double double” by 2020, increase our size by adding about 50 new properties and double our EBITA. We have a clear strategy to do this, our emphasis is on organic growth, and our priority is to make sure we provide our customers with the unique experiences and services they are looking for in a luxury holiday. This growth follows the Belmond 2014 re-brand, which increased market-place recognition, attracted new guests, and increased cross-visitation across our portfolio.
Can you share more detail on your plans? Yes, we have three areas of focus:
- To do a better job in existing properties, make each experience more unforgettable by putting money into renovations.
- Building our brand, this is a challenge as each property is unique, so our focus is on customer touch points that unify the different hotels, for Belmond the brand is our signature service and experiences.
- To expand our footprint, finding new properties in destinations where our clients want to visit.
Where are you looking for new properties? We have identified a master list of 1,000 unique properties around the world with 75-150 rooms, in historic buildings, where Belmond can add value. But we won't be adding all of those! We hope to sign about 50-60 deals by 2020, and expect to open at least 30 new properties during the same timeframe. The expansion will come through a combination of new management agreements, acquisitions of individual properties or small portfolios, new trains and cruises offerings and franchise agreements.
Can you share specific target cities or destinations? We’ve staffed up our development department, just added three new executives at the end of 2016 to cover Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, and we are looking to add one more executive the US, to cover the Americas and the Caribbean. In Europe, some cities we are looking at: Barcelona, Vienna, Amsterdam and Berlin; places that are known for culture and not your typical business destination. For example, we are not looking to add a Belmond property in Manchester.
Which new projects are you most excited about? The launch of the Belmond Andean Explorer coming up in May, our new train experience in Peru, which will be South America’s first luxury sleeper train; really it is like a modern version of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. The incredible launch of the Belmond Grand Hibernian in Ireland this past August; we were actually delayed by 10 days, and every journey was sold out, so this was a bit tricky! Thankfully everybody loved it so much the Hibernian is already nearly booked for 2017. Feedback was that the train is the best way to see Ireland: you get to sample many places that would not be easy to reach so quickly by car. There is also great excitement about the addition of two new barges to the Belmond Afloat in France fleet launching this summer. Each will only have three or four cabins, private pools. This will be a super luxurious way to tour the wine regions of France.
What about renovations? We just reopened the Belmond La Residence D’Angkor Siem Reap after a complete refurb of the 59 suites. The new look features lovely teak and basalt accents echoing the local Khmer architecture but the experience of visiting Angkor Wot, this type of cultural vacation is what our clients want. In fact, I’m just back from the new Belmond Eagle Island Lodge in Botswana. The wildlife there is different than any other part of Africa, as the animals roam free – elephants, giraffes, lions, wild dogs, leopards – which you see right from the lodge’s open lobby. We did a helicopter safari where you fly over running hippos, weighing a ton each – to see them running at speeds of nearly 20 miles an hour is breathtaking. This is a great trip to combine with a visit to the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town, where we also just finished a room renovation.
Any new special initiatives for travel advisors? For Belmond, travel advisors are like family, truly an extended part of our sales force and we work as closely as possible together as they guide the customers and explain what is so unique about the Belmond experience. We are always very happy to pay commissions to agents that bring us travelers.