It’s the biggest recent news rocking the hotel business, especially for luxury travelers: today luxury fashion and alcohol conglomerate LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton) announced the acquisition of hospitality company Belmond Ltd.
Formerly known as Orient Express Hotels, Belmond is the owner, part-owner or manager of 46 luxury hotels, restaurants, trains and river cruises, including some of the most famous names in travel and dining, such as New York’s venerable 21 Club, the fabled Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train, Anguilla’s Cap Juluca and Rio’s Copacabana Palace – just to name a few.
Belmond began over 40 years ago with the acquisition of Hotel Cipriani in Venice. It is one of my favorite luxury lodging brands because its focus has always been adamantly anti-cookie cutter, with many distinctive, historic and one of a kind properties. I’ve stayed at several, including the Cipriani on its own island in Venice’s famed lagoons, and it is wonderful; Le Manoir Quat Saisons in Oxford, England is one of my all-time favorites, a fantastic boutique resort that is home to the only Michelin 2-starred restaurant with dedicated cooking school in Europe; and the company’s Royal Scotsman is by far the most luxurious of the many luxury trains I have ridden around the world.
In addition, what sets Belmond apart is that it has repeatedly chosen to operate its hotels in desirable but offbeat locations overlooked by other top tier hospitality companies. Just as Le Manoir rules the roost in Oxford, the Hotel das Cataratas is far and away the top choice at world renowned natural wonder Iguassu National Park, the iconic Hotel Splendido is THE place to stay in Italy’s Portofino, and the Sanctuary Lodge is literally the only place to stay at the famed ruins of Peru’s Machu Picchu. There are no Four Seasons or Ritz-Carltons in Charleston, SC, Botswana, Angkor Wat or Madeira, but there are stunning Belmond hotels in all these places. Belmond pioneered luxury trains and river cruises in Southeast Asia and South America, does safaris in Africa and now operates in 24 countries.
Likewise, when it comes to luxury lifestyle, LVMH is no slouch. Its wines and spirits portfolio includes the world’s most famous wine label, Dom Pérignon, the bestselling champagne on earth, Moët & Chandon, along with champagne “rivals” Veuve Clicquot, Krug, and Ruinart. It owns the most famous dessert wine, Château d’Yquem, ultra-collectible Bordeaux Château Cheval Blanc, California cult wine Colgin Cellars, New Zealand’s beloved Cloudy Bay and many of the biggest names in the spirits world including Hennessy cognac, Glenmorangie and Ardbeg Scotch whiskies, Belvedere vodka, and many others.
Its fashion division is even more dominant with a plethora of the world’s best-known brands such as Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior Couture, Celine, Loewe, Kenzo, Givenchy, Thomas Pink, Fendi, Emilio Pucci, Marc Jacobs, and Loro Piana. LVMH is also big in perfumes and cosmetics, luggage, and notably watches and jewelry with Bvlgari, TAG Heuer, Zenith and Hublot.
In 2006 LVMH first dipped its toe into luxury hospitality with its first 36-room Cheval Blanc luxury hotel, in France’s famed Courchevel ski resort. The model is one of a kind French maisons, grand home-style boutique properties, and they have since opened Cheval Blanc hotels in St. Barts, St. Tropez and the Maldives. The acquisition of Belmond is a move that fits an expansion by the world’s best-known luxury consumer brand into yet another sector, travel and tourism. That’s my sector and I for one am pretty excited.
I haven’t stayed at a Cheval Blanc property but I have had the pleasure of traveling and visiting some of LVMH’s alcohol and fashion production facilities, and nothing I have seen has been less than first rate. Combined with my years of great experiences at Belmond hotels and trains, I expect this will be a significant benefit to luxury leisure travelers around the world for years to come.
(According to a press release, the companies jointly announced that they have entered into a definitive agreement for LVMH to acquire Belmond (NYSE: BEL) for $25.00 per Class A share in cash, which represents an equity value of $2.6 billion in a transaction with an enterprise value of $3.2 billion. In the twelve months ended September 30, 2018, Belmond recorded total revenues of $572 million and the transaction is expected to complete in the first half of 2019 subject to the approval of Belmond’s shareholders and clearance by the relevant competition authorities).
By Larry Olmsted