Best Western opens a new boutique door with Vib

The boutique industry segment has a curious family history. A growing industry force dating back to the 1980s, three industry giants could each make a legitimate case for claiming parentage. In alphabetical order, they are Bill Kimpton, who as founder and head of Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, started opening quirky, individually designed hotels in San Francisco; Ian Schrager, who brought a sexy vibe and active nightlife to the bought concept in New York, Miami and other gateway cities in what morphed into Morgans Hotel Group; and Barry Sternlicht, who brought all the distribution clout of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide to bear in creating the boutique W Hotels.

Now the boutique segment can add a fourth name to its hall of fame: David Kong, president & CEO of Best Western International, which 10 months ago unveiled Vib (pronounced Vibe, as in vibrant), its take on the boutique concept. Then four months ago, Kong and his team followed up on the initial announcement with news that Best Western had signed agreements in hand for the first three Vib hotels. Given the boutique segment’s Kimpton-Schrager-Sternlicht lineage, it’s no surprise that the first two Vib properties will open in major urban gateways, namely Chicago and Miami. Nor should the location of the third Vib—Seoul, South Korea—come as a surprise, considering Best Western’s long history as a brand with thousands of locations around the world (“International,” after all, is part of its name.)

The Balkrishna Patel Family and Rebuild Miami-Edgewater, LLC, are the developers of the Chicago and Miami hotels, respectively.

Like its forebears, Vib is intended to focus on style, technology and guest engagement, designed to appeal to what Best Western calls the “connected traveler” who, for example, is comfortable with social media. With this target guest in mind, Best Western has put a lot of focus on designing Vib’s prototype lobby.

As envisioned, it will be a comfortable, highly interactive space—cozy, in fact, thanks 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 (think of it as the quiet car on a busy commuter train). 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, ensuring that no two Vib properties 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.

Game changer

Vib, however, differs from its predecessors in one critical way. Where earlier generations of boutique hotels were consistently designed and priced for the upscale, upper-upscale or even luxury industry tiers, Vib targets the upper-midscale hotel segment. Kong and his team see this as an unfilled niche in the market that consumers want to see addressed. Likewise, they expected developer interest to be strong and it has been.

Since being named president and CEO in 2004, Kong has been a change agent at the 69-year-old Best Western, a membership association as opposed to a traditional hotel franchise operation. With more than 4,000 hotels in roughly 100 countries, Best Western had been known as a midscale legacy brand not particularly known for innovation.

That reputation changed dramatically in 2011, when the Phoenix-based chain, under Kong’s direction, repositioned itself as three distinct descriptors—Best Western, Best Western Plus and Best Western Premier. The distinctions are intended to appeal to different segments of the broad midmarket.

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.