Former Bangkok expat Maria Kuhn is expected to help Belmond Ltd. expand its global brand presence and further its communications strategy across all markets.
by Percy Roxas.
In August 2015, London-based Belmond Ltd. appointed Maria Kuhn as Corporate Director of Communications. If her name rings a bell, that’s because Maria has previously lived in the Thai capital for six years during her tenure with Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. Maria was in Bangkok recently as part of her present role with Belmond.
Belmond, of course, needs no introduction. The company owns and operates 46 hotels and rail and river cruises operations around the world, including the Belmond Grand Hotel Europe in St. Petersburg; Belmond Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro; Belmond Maroma Resort & Spa in Riviera Maya; and Belmond El Encanto in Santa Barbara. Belmond also encompasses three safaris, six luxury tourist trains including the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, three river cruises, and the New York restaurant ‘21’ Club.
In fact, many discerning travelers already know Belmond as the ultimate travel curator and connoisseur that creates exceptional experiences worldwide. But as they say, changing times require changing strategies. Maria’s appointment comes at the heels of a “rebrand” for Belmond that started in 2014. Her main job: to develop Belmond’s global communications strategy, to guide and supervise the company’s global PR team, and to build Belmond’s reputation worldwide.
“The main purpose of this trip is to further promote the Belmond name so that people connect our products more instinctively,” Maria says.“Belmond’s global collection is established in some of the world’s most unique destinations, and while each property is known individually for the distinctive experiences they offer and provide, there was no common denominator that told the public they are all connected.”
One example is the renowned Belmond Hotel Cipriani in Venice, which marked Belmond’s first hotel acquisition 40 years ago, yet only few are aware that the property is part of the Belmond family. In fact, when Belmond underwent a rebranding last year incorporating the Belmond name to most of its properties worldwide – quite a few people thought the company was changing hands. “That is not true at all,” says Maria. “It’s the same company, there was no takeover in any way.” What the company is really doing, she adds, is similar to an umbrella — putting the Belmond name on top of its properties to gather them all under one name.
So if the public already know of the Belmond operations individually, how come very few really know they all belong to a joint brand? “How could they know if there was no common name before? And during the rebranding, Belmond has been taking a soft approach precisely because the public might think that there is a sort of company change, which is not the case,” she reiterates.
With Maria, the company expects the perception to change soon. As one Belmond executive was quoted saying, “Maria’s specialized expertise will help us build our global brand presence and further our communications strategy across all markets.”
But Maria’s job does not only entail clarifying why the name Belmond is now being added to the names of most of its properties and how different Belmond is from other brands. Another main focus is Belmond’s further development. “In the future, we plan to enter into more management agreements, and for that, we need to be recognized as a brand. Our goal is to develop and promote the Belmond brand and bring all these properties together,” she says.
How important is Bangkok in all these? Bangkok, Maria says, is a hub for Belmond, which has hotel properties in Bali, Siem Reap, Luang Prabang, Yangon (Myanmar’s legendary Belmond Governor’s Residence, no less), and Koh Samui. But it’s not only that. “Asians — including Thais – travel a lot these days,” she explains. “We are in fact seeing more and more Thai travelers in Europe.” She cited how an entire Thai delegation recently stayed at Belmond Hotel Cipriani. “It was fun to teach our Italian general manager how to address them with “Khun” to make them feel more at home!” she shares.
And Belmond is indeed unique because it combines hotel operations with train, cruises, and safaris. “With 46 products at present, Belmond is– comparatively speaking–a fairly small company. But, we own most of our properties,” Maria points out. “Not only that, Belmond does the opposite of what other brands are doing. We are going against the grain,” Maria says.
For example, while other brands have 80 percent of their properties located in a city, the locations of Belmond properties are destinations by themselves.”
Maria’s successful career, which debuted in hospitality operations in Germany before moving into PR and communications, has seen her travel and work in many countries around the globe with Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts and Kempinski Hotels; she now seems to be in her best element again with Belmond. As Maria herself puts it, “I joined Belmond because I believe that it’s a unique and distinctive company, and truly offers what I really like about hotels and hospitality.”
Now she didn’t say this, but that same passion for providing guests only the best during their Belmond holiday experience probably makes her job of promoting the company as the ultimate travel curator and connoisseur, relatively easier.