HM on location: Best Western to focus on current brands

David Kong, president/CEO, spoke to attendees of the 2019 Best Western North American Convention and Global Conference on Oct. 5. Photo credit: Best Western Hotels & Resorts.

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD.— Five years ago, Best Western Hotels & Resorts debuted the Vīb and BW Premier Collection by Best Western brands. In the years since, the company has continued to roll out more brands— GLō in 2015, three SureStay brands in 2016, BW Signature Collection by Best Western in 2017, Sadie and Aiden last year and now SureStay Studio this year. That streak, however, may soon end.

At the 2019 Best Western North American Convention and Global Conference this past weekend, David Kong, president/CEO of Best Western Hotels & Resorts, told Hotel Management he believes the company has “enough brands for now.” Though he wasn’t willing to say the company will not launch a new brand at next year’s convention—“Never say never, right?”—Kong admitted Best Western has no such intentions right now.

“I think growing too fast is not a good thing,” Kong said. “You need time to assimilate and you need time to consolidate your base. I think right now, going forward, we’ll be focused on all the brands that we have, trying to ramp them up nicely to a critical mass and then we can think about the future.”

Less than eight months after Best Western acquired WorldHotels, Kong did leave room for similar acquisitions. “I think if there are opportunities that come along that make sense, we’ll definitely want to look at it,” he said. “Especially in the upper-upscale and luxury segments, I think that would make more sense.”

Though it would depend on the specific opportunity, Kong said it is likely that these potential future acquisitions would take a similar shape to that of WorldHotels,’ where the company is run as a separate entity but remains able to take advantage of Best Western’s sales and marketing, technology and operations support.

WorldHotels Acquisition

Kong admitted the process of acquiring WorldHotels' 300 hotels and resorts and then integrating them with Best Western Hotels & Resorts has been difficult, but he said he thinks “it’s going as good as can be expected.”

On the other side of the transaction, Geoff Andrew, CEO of WorldHotels, said it has taken a little bit of time, but the company’s owners and operators are “beginning now to understand the benefits, the strategy and, obviously, they’re all looking forward to getting more business because of the platform.”

Andrew said the company is working on rolling out a WorldHotels rewards program using the same back end as Best Western’s rewards program, but with a different positioning. Points from either program will work for the other, Andrew said.

“Some of our hotels have asked the question, quite rightly, “Well, is that Best Western profile going to be the same guy that will buy a WorldHotel?’” said Andrew. “There’s plenty of evidence out in the industry to show that people’s travel habits and their inclination to spend at a certain level will change depending on what hat they’re wearing, what trip they’re making, what their motivations are.”

Though WorldHotels historically has focused on Europe, Andrew said the Best Western acquisition places it in a much stronger position in North America. “We’ve always had a presence over here,” he said. “In fact, in the past we’ve had U.S. ownership, but we’ve never had such a strong base here and now a parent company here that can help us so much grow the network. I mean, I fully see this market as being one of the biggest opportunities that we have, no question.”

Gregory Habeeb, president of WorldHotels North America, said the company plans to stay focused on major city centers and key resort areas where it can deliver international business. As far as its brands’ placements on the segment scale, he said the Best Western acquisition has driven the company to push its brands higher, “to build more white noise between Best Western Premier” and its own brands.

Addressing For-Profit Vote

Nearly a year after Best Western Hotels & Resorts outlined plans to convert to a for-profit corporation in August 2018, the company’s North American members voted against the change. According to Kong at the convention, Best Western will stick to its membership nonprofit model “indefinitely.”

“All along we’ve said that if it failed, we’re not going to pursue it any further because I want to be respectful of our membership’s vote,” said Kong.