By Colleen Isherwood, Editor
PHOENIX, Ariz. — As Best Western marked its 70th birthday in Phoenix this week, the prevailing theme was that the only constant is change and the septuagenarian company is working hard to lead and adapt.
“I love the theme of our convention, It's a New Dawn,” president and CEO David Kong told 2,500 attendees from around the world. “It's peaceful, it's quiet and it's also full of promise. … The possibilities are limitless. And the same is true of Best Western. As we celebrate our 70th birthday, I know our greatest times are still ahead of us. It's up to us to seize each day and make it extraordinary.”
He asked those members who had been with the brand for 25 or more years to stand, and then those who had been with the brand for more than 50 years. All together, Best Western has 600 members who have been with them for 25 years or more, and 50 who have been with them for more than half a century.
SureStay — a “white label” approach
Five years ago, Best Western expanded from one brand to three, using descriptors — Best Western, Best Western Plus and Best Western Premier. In the last couple of years, they launched four new brands — Vib, GLo, Extended Residency by Best Western and the BW Premier Collection.
Their latest move has been to launch SureStay, what Kong calls a white label approach to the economy sector. SureStay will operate as a separate subsidiary while plugging hotel owners into the company’s infrastructure and distribution channels. Hotels will not carry the Best Western name, and their website will be separate from Best Western's.
“The economy and lower midscale sectors are of great interest to us. It's a huge market with 17,000 branded and 12,000 independent hotels. But we are always hesitant to compromise our brand image — people don't relate to Best Western as an economy brand.”
There are three distinctive brands – SureStay Hotel (premium economy), SureStay Plus Hotel (lower midscale) and SureStay Signature Collection (midscale soft brand).
Kong said there are many reasons for hotels to join the SureStay brands. There are a lot of brands with no consumer awareness and those properties might decide to go the independent route. By joining, they can access the resources Best Western offers, and instead of paying 18-22 per cent on OTA fees, they can benefit from Best Western's favourable fee structure. And SureStay hotels don't have to have a property improvement program (PIP).
Gus Genetti, who has an independent hotel in Williamsport, Penn., with his name on the hotel and a TripAdvisor rating of 4.5, is the first hotelier to join the SureStay brand, it was announced at the conference.
The Hotel of the Future
Ron Pohl, senior vice president of brand management, painted a picture of what hotels will be like just four years from now, where guests arrive in driverless cars and avatars assist them with check-in. “Guests may not come into contact with hotel staff unless it is in the lobby or breakfast rooms. And everything I talked about is available today. There's even Rosie, a vacuum cleaner programmed to vacuum the guestrooms without bumping into furniture.”
In her presentation, Dorothy Dowling, senior vice president and chief marketing officer, challenged delegates to maintain emotional relevance and connection, since the emotional connection people have to a brand plays a large part in decision-making.
Having technology replace customer service functions and maintaining connections with guests are not mutually exclusive; instead they necessitate a new approach to communications.
“We need to make the user experience fantastic — make it as easy to do business as possible,” said Kong, citing the check in text as an example. “We need to be efficient. Ultimately, what we have versus the OTAs is that these people are actually at our hotels, in our lobbies, and breakfast rooms. That gives us opportunities to talk to them. Housekeepers can say good morning. And the texting trend leads to a whole new level of scripting. Hoteliers can actually write the scripts.”
“Communication won't be text based; it will be voice-based,” predicted Dowling. “Typing and writing will not be part of the future. I am already using [Amazon Echo's] Alexa — there's very little you can't do.”
The only constant is change
Said Kong, “I am blessed with three grandchildren. The girls are adorable. Sometimes, when I play with them, I would wonder: Will they need to learn to drive? What will their phones be able to do? What will shopping be like when they grow up. Our world is changing so fast!”