Starwood veteran and seasoned traveller Roeland Vos, opens up exclusively to Luxury Society about his new role as President & CEO of Belmond, and his fresh vision for the iconic luxury travel provider.
Last year, Orient-Express Hotels Ltd, owners and operators of 45 luxury hotel and travel experiences made a decision that would change the company’s history forever and forge a new future for the luxury operator, its strategy and services.
Marking a new era for the iconic company, on March 10, 2014, Orient-Express Hotels Ltd and its enviable collection transitioned to a new brand identity, to be known as Belmond.
“ Vos has surprised & delighted many with the gusto with which he has taken on his new role ”
Just a year and a half later, Belmond announced another milestone when it appointed Dutch national Roeland Vos to the helm of the company, replacing incumbent President & CEO John M. Scott.
But rather than shy away from the spotlight, as many new chiefs catapulted into a similar position previously have, Vos has surprised and delighted many with the gusto with which he has taken on his new role – simultaneously providing staff, media and competitors a rare and early insight into both his spirited character and vision for the company.
As the newly-appointed head of travel curator and connoisseur Belmond, and with 12 years of invaluable experience in travel and hospitality with luxury giant Starwood, Vos intrinsically understands the gem that has recently come into his care – and he’s happy to share his impetus.
“ With its exceptional arsenal of hotels, trains, safaris & river cruises, Vos is adamant that Belmond can & will cater to the new generation of wealthy ”
“I have always been fascinated by the idea of travelling and exploring new unchartered destinations and I was fortunate enough that I was able to start exploring the world at a young age with my family. I am very grateful to combine my personal passion with my professional life, or perhaps it’s vice versa,” he says.
“Demands from today’s luxury traveler are much more personal and it’s about being able to immerse themselves in the destination,” he continues, alluding both what Belmond does best and where it’s attention will be squarely focused on improvement next.
It’s not an easy market to be in – and it’s changed a lot on the past few years as he concedes – but with its exceptional arsenal of hotels, trains, safaris and river cruises, across four continents (Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia), Vos is adamant that Belmond can and will cater to the new generation of wealthy and achieve new heights of luxury in the years ahead.
Here, he gives Luxury Society his exclusive preview of what he’s capable of – and what’s to come.
The Belmond Hotel Cipriani, Venice
You were elected to the Belmond Board of Directors in 2014, but are relatively new to the business and now at the helm – what is your your career trajectory and association with luxury and travel, in a nutshell?
I joined Belmond just over two months ago as president and CEO after having worked in the luxury hotel industry for over 30 years. I have always been fascinated by the idea of travelling and exploring new unchartered destinations and I was fortunate enough that I was able to start exploring the world at a young age with my family. I am very grateful to combine my personal passion with my professional life or perhaps it’s vice versa.
What is the definition true luxury travel mean to you and how do you hope to infuse your vision of this into the future Belmond offering?
Luxury is personal to each individual – this can be defined by aesthetics, exclusivity, service but for myself and most people in these busy times – the greatest luxury of all is time; having the time to spend with family and friends to create everlasting memories.
What I’m excited about at Belmond is the collection of hotels, trains and cruises across the world which are perfectly placed to allow our guests the time to create these memories – whether it’s slowing down and taking one of the famous train journeys, or staying in one of our hotels in iconic locations such as Machu Picchu in Peru, Iguassu Falls, Brazil, or amongst the temples of Bagan, Myanmar or Angkor Wat, Cambodia.
“ Luxury was once defined by opulence and extravagance – that was enough to satisfy luxury travellers ”
For me, one of the indicators of luxury is also not to have to plan anything in too much detail, in advance, but be able to make decisions on the spur of the moment. That of course means that the staff in our hotels needs to be able to quickly adapt or even try to anticipate providing whatever is needed at that time. The good thing is that this is exactly the type of service our teams are well known for.
In your view, having observed the market for some time – and through your own travel experiences – do you believe that the demands for what is expected of luxury travel experiences, as well as most popular destinations, have changed and how?
Yes it definitely has changed over the years – luxury was once defined by opulence and extravagance – just to know you were staying in a hotel that was recognised for its over the top interior designs and luxurious fittings was enough to satisfy the demands and tastes of the luxury travellers.
Today, however, travellers are more sophisticated and there’s a demand for the luxury touch to be more subtle – of course you have to ensure that linen, tableware and interiors are luxuriously appointed but they should appeal more to the knowing eye rather than scream luxury.
“ Belmond is in an excellent position to capture the imagination of the independent and experienced traveller ”
Also, it appears that nowadays every travel company in the world is looking for the experiential travel brand as demanded by their customers – our guests.
Belmond is in an excellent position to capture the imagination of the independent and experienced traveller, who is looking for the more in depth connection with the place and the local community.
The early pioneering spirit of the company has meant that Belmond is the market leader in some of the most off the beaten track destinations such as Myanmar and Peru whilst also offering the ultimate in ‘bucket list experiences’ such as a journey on the iconic Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train.
Belmond’s Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train
On the subject of disruptors, companies such as Crystal Cruises have recently announced plans to expand from sea cruises into river cruises, tailored land tours, and private jets; whilst Airbnb is making moves into luxury accommodation – are these moves on your radar?
Yes, naturally we follow the trends in the industry. Cross-overs from cruise lines to river cruises etc. show us that Belmond has been on the right track from the beginning as we as a company have always offered a diverse collection of travel experiences with hotels, trains, cruises and safaris.
You’ve been in the hospitality/travel business for some time, most recently moving from Starwood – have you noticed any other changes in terms of the demographics of luxury clientele in the past few years? (nationalities, destinations, demands?)
We are seeing more ‘multi-generational’ travel and travel forming part of milestone celebrations.
Demands from today’s luxury traveller are much more personal and it’s about being able to immerse themselves in the destination. Familiar brands in far-flung destinations have offered a sense of comfort but as travellers become more experienced a cookie cutter approach does not work for them anymore – in particular when on holiday.
“ The younger generation has grown up travelling and has a much more open mind to trying out new things ”
Today’s traveller is willing to experience more – the younger generation has grown up travelling and has a much more open mind to trying out new things. By the same token they have also become much more demanding and hotels have to keep up with the demands of that generation.
The millennial set and luxury travel consumers in general are increasingly mobile – how do you then choose and measure your marketing mix to ensure you’re targeting them effectively?
Social and digital media is a key focus in our marketing mix to reach today’s global citizens and in particular the millennial set.
A great deal of social media content revolves around sharing so posting pictures and links to places visited and capturing the social media traffic enables peer to peer marketing – trusting those who you consider to be in your social set to endorse experiences and destinations.
“ As the brand is becoming increasingly better known we will also look into new options on the digital side ”
At the time of the rebrand, it was reported that the company would funnel $15 million into the Belmond rebranding effort over the next five years – now you’re at the helm where and in what way do you see those funds being invested in the developing business?
We will continue to establish the Belmond brand through traditional marketing channels but as the brand is becoming increasingly better known we will also look into new options on the digital side and more direct marketing efforts geared towards recognition of our frequent guests.
The best marketing, however, takes place within a hotel when a guest can experience the brand directly through interaction with staff. This is where the brand really comes to life.
Looking ahead, what are the emerging growth areas and opportunities that you would like to capitalise on in the future?
Belmond has been able to define a niche market within the five-star market by offering iconic/trophy hotels in some of the most exotic location and we want to continue to add more of these exciting destinations providing a guest with even more options for truly experiential travel.
Belmond River Cruises
The way to get there is to focus on allocating our resources to signing management agreements, which we believe is the best opportunity to grow the portfolio in an efficient and meaningful way while making sure we stay committed to our brand values.
What key challenges do you foresee on the horizon for the luxury travel industry as a whole?
While the travel industry at large is a cyclical business (disruptions by economical or geo-political factors have just about become the norm) I believe that the travel and hotel industry will continue to grow especially in the luxury segment.
The number of affluent travellers with time and disposable income has increased tremendously over the past years with new markets maturing all the time.
“ Belmond is well positioned to capture the interest of the new luxury traveller ”
The younger generation has become accustomed to travel and is more adventurous in selecting new destinations. Belmond as a global company with properties in exotic locations is well positioned to capture the interest of the new luxury traveller.
Traditional destinations remain strong such as Italy and France – we are always on the look-out for new emerging destinations to build on the pioneering footsteps creating with the origins of the company.
For more in our series of conversations with Luxury Leaders, please see our most recent editions as follows: