The luxury industry is big business. So much so, it is reported that the net sales of the world’s top 100 largest luxury goods companies hit US $217 billion (around £166,500) last year. But it’s no longer just about designer handbags or statement watches and jewellery – things have started to shift, with the luxury travel industry predicted to rise by 8.5 per cent annually for the next five years.
This is thanks, most notably, to the increased purchasing power of technology-savvy millennials who, in swapping handbags for the ultimate Instagram snap, are choosing to spend their hard-earned cash on authentic one-off travel experiences. And with millennials and Generation Z anticipated to collectively represent nearly half of the overall luxury goods market by 2025, it’s no wonder all the big players are scrambling to raise the bar.
Steeping it up a notch further is the French conglomerate LVMH. The global brand – that produces everything from fashion to wines, spirits, watches and jewellery – has smartly boosted its hospitality arm, which already comprises the Cheval Blanc and Bulgari hotel brands, with the recent US $3.2 billion (approximately £2.45 billion) acquisition of hotel company Belmond. “Belmond delivers unique experiences to discerning travellers and owns a number of exceptional assets in the most desirable destinations,” says Bernard Arnault, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of LVMH. “This acquisition will significantly increase LVMH’s presence in the ultimate hospitality world.”
Launched over 40 years ago, with the purchase of Hotel Cipriani in Venice, Belmond is now scattered across 24 countries, with seven trains – such as the fabled Venice Simplon-Orient-Express – two river boats, six restaurants and a collection of 36 hotels. These include a number of legendary boltholes like Copa Cabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro or London’s recently opened Belmond Cadogan Hotel, which have become firm favourites of high-rolling luxury lovers for their sumptuousness, service and exclusivity.
But what sets Belmond apart are its immersive, experiential offerings and its faultless locations that allow for exclusive access to some of the world’s biggest bucket-list sights – from the breathtaking Iguazu Falls to the Angkor Wat temples. “Our brand of experiences is true to our personality: quirky, authentic, with a celebratory nod to the art of good living. We often refer to them as ‘adventures with champagne,” as one of the Belmond team puts it.
This is best summed up in Peru. Here, Belmond’s stellar collection of hotels and trains culminates in the ultimate way to experience a country that has become known for its gastronomy and, of course, Machu Picchu. At Lima’s Belmond Miraflores Park, guests can while away the day at the rooftop pool against magnificent views of the sparkling Pacific Ocean; arrange a private tour of the city’s bohemian Barranco neighbourhood; or relish the intoxicating sights, sounds and smells at Surquillo market, before picking out a variety of products to cook up back at the hotel. Cusco’s Belmond Palacio Nazarenas is a lovely spot to acclimatise to the region’s high altitude within the confines of the peaceful cloistered courtyards of a restored 17th-century convent, while the adjacent Belmond Hotel Monasterio provides a private tour of the hotel’s collection of original 18th-century artwork, displayed within the former monastery’s imposing stone masonry, vaulted ceilings and arcaded walkways.
Of course, with Machu Picchu being the highlight, Belmond’s showpiece is, no doubt, Sanctuary Lodge. The only hotel just steps from the entrance of the ancient Incan citadel, it might not be as sumptuous as the brand’s two Cusco properties, but its exclusive location more than makes up for any lack of luxury trappings. So while the masses are hiking up treacherous hills or crammed in buses as they zigzag along the side of the mountain, Sanctuary Lodge guests can beat the crowds and be the first in the gates at 6am to watch the sun’s pastel wash illuminate the sprawling 15th-century structure as it rises above the surrounding muscular ridges cloaked in lush thickets of emerald jungle.
Round off the experience by booking a seat on Belmond Hiram Bingham, the luxury train that chugs between Cusco and Machu Picchu, while sipping on cocktails against a sweeping tableau of muscular mountains and enchanting villages. Adventures with champagne, indeed.