The Reinvention of the Orient Express: Lessons from LVMH and Accor for Legacy Brands

Jason Papp
Founder & Editor-in-chief
July 8, 2024

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PARIS, FR - Have you ever travelled on the Orient Express? No, me neither. But perhaps all that is about to change. You see, LVMH announced a strategic partnership with Accor aimed at rejuvenating the iconic Orient Express brand. And it’s set to extend the brand from luxury rail travel to hotels and sail ships, the latter being set to sail by 2026. 

Since its inaugural journey in 1883, the Orient Express has been a symbol of opulence and adventure. The train has transported the elite across Europe, offering a unique blend of mystery, luxury, and romance. Following its acquisition by Accor in 2022, the brand is being adjusted to fit the luxury traveller of the 21st century. Slow travel is continuing to gain popularity amongst the backdrop of a chaotic world we live in. “Slow travel is about quality over quantity,” said Phil Dengler of The Vacationer.

Accor’s plans are ambitious. The company aims to revive the historic train in addition to launching the first Orient Express sailing ship by 2026. Concurrently, the brand will establish its presence in the hospitality sector with the opening of hotels in Rome and Venice, marking a significant expansion into luxury hospitality. And so the brand will have an air of permanence being seen in one place instead of that fleeting glance experienced as the luxury train journeys on through and representing a bygone era. 

The Strategy

LVMH’s strategic investment in the Orient Express brand sees the first ship, already under construction at Chantiers de l’Atlantique in France. And with LVMH's deep heritage in luxury products and services, they bring invaluable expertise to the table. 

Accor also offers the largest portfolio in the hotel industry: Raffles, Orient Express, Faena, Banyan Tree, Delano, Sofitel Legend, Fairmont and also Emblems. 

Accor said, “By contributing to the revival of this iconic brand, LVMH will add its unique expertise…in the world of travel…by the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train and the five other trains also operated by Belmond around the world. These extraordinary experiences reflect the  operational expertise and creativity of LVMH Hospitality Excellence in this field.”

Speaking to Skift in February, Gilda Perez-Alvarado, CEO of Orient Express said, “There’s a tremendous opportunity in the evolution of hospitality above and beyond just hotels. If we, as hotel companies, fail to take advantage of what’s happening in the market right now, shame on us…We expect the first three hotels next year, two trains by 2026, and one sailing yacht by 2026. 

But we’re still in the early stages. There’s a lot of work to be done in relaunching a quite storied brand. We want to pay homage but also be entrepreneurial. 

We’re also making sure that the pipeline is looking very robust.”

A Shared Vision for Luxury

Bernard Arnault, Chairman and CEO of LVMH, emphasised the cultural and historical significance of the Orient Express. He said,  “Orient Express has embodied adventure and elegance since its origins. Its name has become part of our cultural heritage and remains a source of inspiration for the greatest artists. Orient Express epitomises the art of refined living and the audacity that drives each of our Houses. We are delighted to be partnering with Accor to accelerate the renewal of this travel icon. Each of our groups will bring the best of its expertise to take Orient Express to the pinnacle of the art of hospitality.” 

Whilst Sébastien Bazin, Accor Group Chairman and CEO, said, “Orient Express is a legend ever since its creation 140 years ago, drawing on its roots and its oneiric universe while remaining at all times firmly focused on the future. With Orient Express, Accor is reinventing the art of travel, discovery and great odysseys. With LVMH today, we are opening a new chapter in this exciting journey, with the ambition of exploring new horizons and embodying the audacity and creative passion that drive our groups. We’re delighted to enlist LVMH’s rare expertise to continue pushing further the frontiers of this legend and bringing its embodiment to life in an ever more singular way.”

Why Ships and Hotels? Building on the Brand’s Legacy

Introducing ships and hotels under the Orient Express brand is a strategic effort to extend its legacy. By introducing ships and hotels, the Orient Express can provide a seamless luxury journey from hotel to train station to the high seas. This holistic approach reinforces the brand’s identity and delivers a unified travel experience that highlights the unique blend of history and elegance the Orient Express represents.

Reaching a Broader Market

The expansion into hotels and ships opens up new customer segments. And amongst the clientele of luxury travel there’s a desire for spending time with loved ones, including family travel, celebration travel, and multigenerational travel, according to the 2024 Virtuoso Luxe Report. With the brand offering luxury experiences across rail, hotels and sea each family member’s needs can be catered to.

Responding to Demand for Experiential Travel

Modern luxury travellers increasingly seek immersive and narrative-driven experiences. According to National Geographic, “broadly speaking, the concept of experiential travel refers to immersive experiences — the kind that aims to forge a deeper connection with a destination…” Quoting trend-spotting agency Mabrian, they say that “these kinds of trips are now almost as high on the average traveller’s wish list as more conventional holidays — defined as involving activities such as sunbathing, family gatherings or shopping.” How much more so for the luxury traveller. 

Financial and Strategic Growth

By entering the hotel and cruise markets, Accor and LVMH are diversifying their revenue streams, reducing reliance on a single market segment, and mitigating risks associated with market volatility. This strategic move opens up new growth opportunities and enhances profitability.

The long-term vision behind this expansion is to solidify the Orient Express brand. By consistently delivering high-quality, interconnected experiences, the brand’s equity is enhanced, fostering greater customer loyalty and increasing lifetime value.

And so the decision to expand the Orient Express brand into ships and hotels is a strategy that leverages the unique heritage of the Orient Express. It also aligns with market trends of luxury travel and thus offers a comprehensive luxury travel experience. 

This partnership sets to differentiate the brand in a crowded market and sets the stage for sustained growth and enhanced brand equity. As the world of luxury travel evolves, the Orient Express is positioned to captivate a new generation of discerning travellers.

Three Key Takeaways for Legacy Brands

Leveraging Heritage for Modern Relevance: Going back into your brand’s archives can help your brand tap into powerful nostalgia and heritage while aligning with contemporary trends and demands. Look back at your most successful campaigns, appeal to the next generations whilst reigniting brand love with the original generations targeted. Think of Coca-Cola's Christmas advertising.  

So, if your brand has a rich history, continue to leverage it. Consumers are looking to interact with your brand through compelling narratives that resonate authentically and with depth, whether that’s across socials, OOH etc. Show, don’t tell. 

Well Executed Strategic Partnerships Enhance Capabilities: Forming strategic partnerships can amplify strengths and expand capabilities beyond what a single entity could achieve alone. Done right, collaborations allow brands to pool resources, share expertise, and tap into new markets more effectively than going solo.

Creating Cohesive Brand Experiences: Offering a seamless and integrated brand experience across various touch points can enhance customer loyalty and satisfaction. Can you reduce pain points or barriers holding back your brand experience by analysing how well you are performing? By doing this across different platforms and services, it can strengthen brand identity and brand love or customer loyalty.

The LVMH and Accor partnership has the potential to show us how leveraging heritage, forming strategic alliances, diversifying , responding to consumer trends, creating cohesive brand experiences, and harnessing storytelling can significantly enhance a brand's market position and appeal.

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Jason Papp
Founder & Editor-in-chief