Although the sky literally seems to be the limit on luxury travel as airlines continually increase their first-class perks, Orient-Express is banking on rail-based travel taking off, with Asian luxury travellers looking for more unique experiences.
We chat with Marcos Pires, the director of sales and marketing for Orient-Express trains and cruises about the new Asian traveller and the company’s bet on interest in Southeast Asia, expanding its offering in Myanmar with the 12-day “Road to Mandalay” cruise, and longer rail journeys with “Chronicles of Southeast Asia”.
LifestyleAsia: Orient-Express’ newest rail offering is The Chronicles of Southeast Asia, which is significantly longer then the original Classic Journey trip. Tell us why you decided to lengthen rides in the region.
Marcos Pires: We started our Classic Journeys services, which run though Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, in 1993. Two years ago, we got requests from our guests in Asia and across Europe, to add more routes.
The Classic Journeys trips are only two or three nights, and at the end of the trip, people actually started to complain: “Aw! It’s finished? We don’t want to get off!”
For more luxury travel, read on at "Asia's Best Yachts and Cruises".
They often were excited if we arrived at a station late – they wanted the extra time on the train. They want to enjoy [the trip] to the last minute.
Because of this feedback we decided to introduce a more regular service to difference areas [of Southeast Asia], and a richer program in terms of visiting and cultural activities. We also wanted to offer a trip that let guests spend more time on the train.
For The Chronicles, we expanded our partnership with local communities, and local travel agencies. Since they are longer trips, we bring additional speakers and lecturers with us who understand our destinations and can educate our travellers about them.
LSA: Other than bringing experts along, how else do The Chronicles differ from other trips?
MP: For The Chronicles, the average stay on board is six nights. As it’s quite a long trip we only offer our estate cabins and Presidential Suites, not the Pullman cabins. This means that there are only about 60 passengers on The Chronicle trips, versus the normal 122-person trips.
LSA: Who is your primary customer market for the trips?
MP: Our second largest source of bookings worldwide comes from Asia. Number one is Europe – mainly the UK market. The third largest market is the United States, and number four is Australia.
Find a foodie retreat in Malaysia at Indulgence Restaurant and Living in Ipoh.
LSA: Do you foresee Asia becoming your primary market?
MP: Asia? Yes. The future is here, where there is more of a chance to do private charters for companies. In Asia we work with luxury lifestyle brands to do events on our trains, and Asian banks will book the trains for special clients.
Revenue wise, Asia is also sure to be number one; for passengers, it might also be as well, but there will also be a shift in who will be on the trains.
Right now, 60 percent of our bookings come from the expat community in Asia, and 40 percent are local. I think in the future, it’ll be about 50-50.
LSA: Clearly the company is responding to the market change since you’re putting an emphasis on travel in Asia. Why do you think there is resurgence in luxury train travel here?
MP: People are looking for travel alternatives, for new adventures. They’re looking for authenticity; they’re looking for experiences they’ve never had before -- once in a lifetime experiences.
If you want to check "the five-star luxury island resort" box, read on for our review of The Viceroy, Bali.
In an airplane you can fly first class, but most of our passengers have already flown first class – many times. They’ve all experienced staying in a five-star resort. On the train, they experience the countryside, have contact with the locals – all in a luxury way.
LSA: China now has one of the largest outbound luxury travel markets. Have you seen an increasing interest from mainland travellers?
MP: Yes, but mainlanders are a relatively new market for us. Usually trains have always been an expat market because Europeans and Americans are used to taking trains to get around.
For mainland Chinese, as well as younger travellers in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia, they don’t have the same background, but they now have experienced luxury travel like luxury cruises and they’ve flown first class. The train is now something that will give them status. This kind of travel differentiates these travellers from their friends.
LSA: So for the up-and-coming Asian traveller, it’s all about status?
MP: Yes, it is. I hope that in the future as we get more and more Asian travellers, they start to appreciate us for more than that though. I don’t want Orient-Express to just be a status thing. I want people to get off from a trip and say, “This was the experience of my life.”
For more on luxury travel in Asia, read on in the LifestyleAsia luxury travel section.