Why luxury travel doesn’t have to mean five-stars and butler service
As luxury hotel group Belmond’s top marcomms guy, Arnaud Champenois has a unique perspective on what constitutes luxury travel, and how social media is helping it to evolve.
Belmond’s footprint is global and vast. From storied properties like the Hotel Cipriani in Venice, Italy (the first property that Belmond founder James Sherwood acquired in 1976, and a cornerstone in the Belmond empire) to the Eastern & Oriental Express sleeper trains that trundle along from Singapore to Bangkok and back, the group consists of 35 hotels, seven trains, three river cruises and one restaurant. LVMH acquired Belmond in December 2018.
On his Instagram bio, Arnaud Champenois (@arnaudcc) describes himself as a “Travel Maniac, Arts Lover and Husband. Made in Paris. Live in London.” He was based in Singapore for eight years until he moved to London in 2016 to take up the role as Belmond’s Senior Vice President, Global Head of Brand, Marketing and Communications. Champenois’s biggest pet peeve is when a hotel is “overly or poorly designed”, for the avid traveller believes that “the soul of the building and its location should always shine through”.
THERE IS NO ONE RULE ABOUT
how today’s modern travellers define luxury travel. Some want to relax and unwind, some seek adventure. Others want to do both on the same trip.
FOR ME, LUXURY MEANS
being lifted out of the everyday and into the extraordinary. It happens when you are made welcome in that environment, no matter the destination. You want to feel a sense of arrival, that you belong; and when you return, that you have come home.
LUXURY CERTAINLY DOESN'T NECESSARILY MEAN
five-stars and butler service. Nor is it necessarily about opulence. It’s about the understated elements – avoiding the ostentatious and focusing, instead, on authenticity and timeless, refined luxury cues with a contemporary twist. It should be about passion and discovery; and that one-of-a-kind authentic experience with an extra special je ne sais quoi that simply cannot be replicated. Plus, of course, a glass of champagne!
THE MOST LUXURIOUS TRAVEL EXPERIENCE I'VE EVER HAD
was on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, and being taken by speedboat to the private dock of the Belmond Hotel Cipriani, the playground of Hollywood’s elite. It’s a journey I will always hold up as the ultimate in luxury. It makes you feel like James Bond.
MY COMPANY INTERPRETS LUXURY TRAVEL
by providing exciting, never-been-done experiences. We’re continually re-imagining how people travel to, and discover, a destination while celebrating the history and heritage of each place. For example, our recent concert series with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Extraordinary Music in Extraordinary Locations, we set exclusive performances by one of the world’s finest symphony orchestras against the breathtaking backdrop of our properties in Sicily, Brazil and Botswana.
A BELMOND EXPERIENCE IN ASIA THAT BEST CAPTURES
the sense of luxury travel is the Eastern & Oriental Express. It’s a journey like no other. Our guests experience not only Asia’s most glittering cosmopolitan cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Singapore, but also the ancient ruins and countryside of Asia. With its elegant carriages furnished in Thai silk, Malaysian embroidery and cherrywood panels, it represents the quintessence of class and luxury travel.
IN THAT SENSE, WHAT MANY LUXURY HOTELS GET WRONG
is the belief that one model fits all. Whilst a certain design, menu and travel experience is perfect for one location, it wouldn’t necessarily be the best fit for another.
THE PROPERTIES THAT GET IT RIGHT
are those anchor you to a particular place and immerse you in the richness of the destination, without taking anything away from that environment. Or even enhance it. Amangiri in Utah is a good example, but there are many others.
WHAT MAKES ME MAD IN A HOTEL
is a space that is overly or poorly designed. The soul of the building and its location should always shine through.
WHAT MAKES ME MADLY HAPPY IN A HOTEL
is great service. Nothing can beat great service. It makes the whole difference between a good hotel and an exceptional one. Little things such as being on first name terms with the General Manager and staff can make you feel more at home and that you belong. But the interactions must feel natural and they must be genuine.
IN THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS, SOCIAL MEDIA
has fuelled a shift in focus towards specific sub-genres of luxury travel to create new opportunities to express yourself, and your interests to your followers. This has ranged from cultural tourism – travelling to specific events such as the Venice Biennale or the World Cup – to trips that bring you closer to nature or trying local delicacies.
LAST YEAR, BELMOND LAUNCHED A SERIES
of tailored gastronomic itineraries that enable guests to enjoy sensorial trips across landscapes in Asia or Peru; tequila rituals on a Mayan beach; slow cruises through Champagne; breakfast among elephants in Botswana; and sustainable soul food and Michelin-starred cuisine that nourish the body and mind.
WHETHER YOU'RE A HOTEL OWNER OR AN OPERATOR,
it’s important to not only stay attuned to trends, but also to understand your core customers, or the customers that will shape your future. What role your brand plays in their lives is key. At Belmond, we try to blend our internal proprietary data with outward-looking expertise. We work with luxury trend forecasters, such as The Future Laboratory, whilst our own steering groups, comprised of trade representatives, guide us as we evolve our offerings for key target groups through our Luxury Travel Advisory Board.
SUSTAINABILITY IS A BUZZWORD TODAY.
But it’s about more than just protecting the environment. It is being aware of the impact we all make individually at a local, national and global level. It is about respecting the planet and the communities we are integrated with. At the Belmond Hotel das Cataratas in Brazil’s Iguassu National Park, we give back to the local ecology and community by supporting an ecology school and a project to protect endangered jaguars and pumas.
IT'S IMPORTANT TO KNOW WHAT YOU STAND FOR
and not lose sight of this as you continue to grow. Nature, culture and wellbeing are key pillars for the Belmond brand. We strongly believe in using local artisans, craftspeople and design that celebrate the essence of the location. That’s why no two properties are ever the same. Our guests are well-informed and they want experiences that are local, authentic, and genuinely different. Belmond Hotel Rio Sagrado in Peru is a great example of how we rise to this challenge. Here, guests can experience soothing spas and yoga on the riverbanks, but they are also able to explore the area’s astounding beauty on horseback.