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Ralph Aruzza, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer, Belmond

Ralph AruzzaLast week Orient-Express surprised the travel industry when it changed its name. During a meeting with Editor-in-Chief Douglas Gollan in London Belmond Chief Sales and Marketing Officer Ralph Aruzza explained why the new name holds a World of beautiful possibilities.

Elite Traveler: When did the idea of a name change start and why? 

Ralph Aruzza: We’ve been looking at it since (CEO) John (Scott) and I came onboard about a year ago.  A lot of people didn’t understand the Cipriani was related to the Copacabana or the train experiences we have, so we weren’t getting the same cross visitation as our competitors.  The value of a cross visitation guest spends 13% more than a one-time guest.

ET: I think it surprised a lot of people you didn’t own the Orient-Express name?

RA: Exactly.  The licensing agreement with (name owner) SNCF (for the Orient-Express name) didn’t give us the platform to invest in the brand.  It’s like leasing a residence any money you put into the apartment ends up benefiting the owner.

ET: So does the name change mean big changes? 

RA: We wanted our own brand, but at the same time we didn’t want to walk away from the 37 years of culture we’ve built up around the hotels and travel companies we operate.  We wanted to make sure it wasn’t vein, that it wasn’t just changing the name.

ET: Did you go through many options? 

RA: We started working last May and we looked at 678 names.  At the end of the day it’s a name, it’s a vessel, so it’s what we make of it.   It was almost like American Idol.  We got down to six names and then we did outside surveys with high net worth individuals in the US and UK who were frequent high-end travelers.

Belmond is a combination of beautiful and world, and it was the one everyone ended up selecting.  We also went to every market where we have hotels or we get business with the two names that were finalists to make sure there was no negative connotation and they were pronounceable.  So far the hardest and most expensive part to date has been registering trademarks around the world.

ET: Are you planning to promote the new name? 

RA: As part of this launch we are going to spend a great deal of additive marketing funds at a group level, which we’ve never done before.

ET: When is the consumer launch? 

RA: We launched to the investment community but the consumer launch doesn’t happen until March 10.

ET: Were there any conflicts in getting the name? 

RA: There is a town in Iowa and we had to purchase the URL from them.

ET: What about changes? 

RA: We are very deep in travel experiences.  We have the trains, the hotels but we also have riverboats and we also do tour operations. We want to make sure the experiences stay where it is.  We want the brand to become a conduit for telling that experience which we didn’t have before.

That said internally we are asking all of our employees give us input on service standards.  We have incredible diversity, and related to our service touch points.  We will start making group offers, grouping clusters.  We have a loyal customer base and now we can do a brand promotional approach.

ET: What type of expansion and growth are you planning? 

RA: We are selling the Inn at Perry Cabin but maintaining management.  We have some other announcements upcoming.  With our brand message it is very appealing to third party owners, and if we see something of interest, of course we will look at it.

We are also reinvesting, particularly in Charleston Place, Miraflores and Grand Hotel St. Petersburg.  There is a focus on the suite product.  In St. Petersburg we will convert 19 rooms to six suites.  The key is having a good mix of mid-level suites.  You’ll see more announcements.

ET: What does the name change portend for the portfolio of trains? 

RA: Trains are very pivotal to our heritage.  We are continuing to license the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express name. The Royal Scotsman is very successful and we are very close to announcing a new train product.  We are bullish on charters, families, company meetings.   It is even a group friends doing golf, for example.  We would like to grow boats too.  We were the pioneer in Myramar.  River cruises are hot in general.

ET: Are you looking at adding a loyalty program? 

RA: The next big thing is customer relationship management.  We are looking at ways to impact customers with recognition.  We will have a program established by the end of the year.  Our customers are not looking for points. They are looking for personal touches, what they want versus what we think they want.  Our key is to key in on what their preferences are.

ET: What’s the customer profile? 

RA: We did some profiling with American Express.  They tend to be slightly older, high net worth individuals, they’ve arrived and they don’t see travel as a badge and they are less affected.  They are also brand centric and that was a place we were missing, so that’s a huge opportunity.

ET: Anything else you would like to mention? 

RA: We are very discreet.  We get a lot of celebrities and high profile guests.  We are very good at keeping things private.