Since launching the prototype for its new Vīb boutique hotel brand less than a year ago, Best Western International has eight Vīb projects under development, the five most recent signing on in August. The eight markets are a mix of primary and secondary U.S. destinations plus one international location.
The primary markets are Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami (where two Vīb projects are under way). Secondary markets are the New York City borough of Staten Island; Little Rock, Ark.; and Springfield, Mo. The international destination is Seoul, South Korea.
In addition, the Phoenix-based membership association reports it is actively negotiating deals for Vīb properties in Atlanta, Dallas, New Orleans and San Diego as well as Charlotte, N.C., the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale and Charlotte, N.C.
Unlike established boutique hotel brands like Starwood Hotels & Resort Worldwide’s W Hotels, Morgans Hotel Group’s Delano and Mondrian or Marriott International’s Edition, all of which position themselves as either upper-upscale or luxury, Best Western has designed Vīb for the upper-midscale lodging segment, seeing an unmet need on the part of both developers and consumers.
Like the established boutique brands, however, Vīb emphasizes stylish design, a vibrant lobby scene and a surplus of user-friendly technology. The lobby is envisioned as a comfortable, highly interactive space, thanks, in part, to LED mood lighting and a fireplace. A mezzanine level will hold a 700-square-foot Zen Zone for guests looking to relax or meditate. Gaming pods will be available for the un-Zen in the crowd.
For those looking to eat and drink, a bar and grab-and-go stations will serve food and coffee 24 hours a day. Lobbies will also incorporate elements of the particular destination or (in the case of the two Miami properties) submarket, ensuring that no two Vīb hotels are exactly alike.
Picking up on the tech-friendly positioning, lobbies will provide numerous USB and power ports for connecting or recharging devices. A media wall in each hotel will display custom local content, again incorporating some local flavor. Best Western expects the first round of Vīb properties to be open by late 2016.
Changing the Equation
When W, Delano and Mondrian hotels first started opening in the 1980s and 1990s in the initial wave of boutique hotel development, the industry thinking was that to be considered a true national or international brand, you needed to have dozens, if not a hundred, units open and operating across the U.S. (or the world). That had been the standard certainly for midpriced brands like Hampton by Hilton, Courtyard by Marriott, Holiday Inn Express and Best Western’s own Best Western brand.
But that first wave of boutique development changed the equation. A dozen units open in key, high-enough visibility markets, creating enough media buzz among members of the targeted audience, could give a boutique brand the “national” status it sought. It was true in the 1980s and 1990s and it’s even truer today with rising millennial generation travelers so heavily plugged into social media.
As with any brand launch, hotel companies hope to attract a mix of developers and owners they haven’t worked with before as well as satisfied existing partners. That’s the case with Vīb. According to Ron Pohl, SVP for brand management, Vīb is attracting a number of first-time Best Western developers.
With more than 4,000 hotels in roughly 100 countries, Best Western’s place in the market changed dramatically in 2011, when the chain repositioned itself as three distinct descriptors—Best Western, Best Western Plus and Best Western Premier. This move was intended to appeal to different segments of the broad midmarket.
Not that the changes stopped there. In addition to Vīb, other recent initiatives include the launch of the BW Premier Collection, a soft brand, and Best Western Plus Executive Residency, an upper-midscale extended-stay product.