By Colleen Isherwood, Editor
SAN ANTONIO, TX—Best Western adopted the slogan “People who Care” a few years back, but this year’s annual convention emphasized the personal, caring theme more than ever. Interspersed between announcements of a new partnership with Google, and a continued partnership with Disney, were personal stories including several examples of Best Western staff who showed they cared. The last of these stories, about the Best Western in White Bear Lake, MN hosting Christmas dinner for local nursing home residents without visitors, prompted tears and lumps in throats among even the most cynical journalists.
Julie Montmaneix, board chair and second-generation California Best Western owner/operator, emphasized the personal as well. At the 2007 convention in Montreal, she was distressed because plans announced at that meeting made it sound as though only the three-diamond Best Westerns would be welcome. As an owner of a two-diamond property with corridors, what she heard was that her hotel was not a good fit, and its days with Best Western were numbered.
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The brand needed to move forward, and indeed it has dropped 1,000 hotels from the chain since then.
But that was not the case with Montmaneix. “I got more involved, and became closer to the brand that at any other time in my life. The membership rallied over the last six years, and they have done it while preserving the individuality of our hotels,” she told the 2,300 members at the convention.
“As an owner, I know the stress and strain of the past six years—when they told us that adding eggs, string cheese and a breakfast attendant would increase the value of our hotel.”
Montmaneix says after years on the board, she sees things differently from six years ago. “Then, I only looked through the eyes of a hotel operator. Descriptors saved the [brand] by opening the brand up to new members and properties, allowing us to bear new fruit.
“I truly appreciate it now in the board room, representing my district and brand. Things may not always make sense for my hotel, but they are best for the organization and the brand.”
Success of Descriptors
Best Western International president and CEO David Kong also talked about the success of the descriptors initiative, launched two and a half years ago to leverage Best Western’s product diversity and instill confidence in clients regarding the type of product they are booking.
In Canada, Best Western core hotels are performing at 130.3 on the RevPAR index which measures its performance vis-a-vis its competitors. Canadian Best Western Plus hotels perform at 105.9 per cent on the RevPAR index. In the Best Western Premier category, Canada’s hotels are below the average at 95.3 on the RevPAR index, likely because there are only a few Premiers and some are brand new.
Partnership with Google
Dorothy Dowling, senior vice-president of marketing and sales, announced that Best Western has initiated a groundbreaking initiative with Google.
“Google has two thirds of the search market, and I appreciate that they came to us regarding a partnership,” she said.
Google is offering to showcase Best Western hotels to customers at the point of sale with 360-degree views of key areas of the hotel, similar to Google Street View.
Best Western has found that every customer is looking for something different, and these 360-degree views allow them to look for what they want. At $900 per hotel, the Google feature costs about the same as five to 10 room nights. And as one Best Western member noted, static photos just don’t do it any more.
Now in beta testing, the brand hopes to have the 360-degree view available to all of its hotels by the end of 2014. “It’s a massive undertaking,” Dowling noted in a media roundtable session.
Best Western has no delusions about the partnership remaining exclusive, but Kong notes the advantages of being first movers. “Search results for hotels that have adopted the product are outstanding, with participating hotels ranking No. 1 or No. 2 on TripAdvisor for their city.”
Google views photo assets as generation 1.0 technology, while the 360-degree technology makes the generation leap to 3.0.
Best Western also announced it is working with JDA Pricing and Revenue Management Group on a new revenue management tool for members. Ron Pohl, senior vice-president brand management and member services, noted that while many companies offer forecasting capability, not many can forecast the optimal price each day. Best Western chose to work with JDA, even though they just recently entered the hospitality industry market, because they could evolve their system to provide that service.
“Market price is a key element, and people just don’t have time to give it their attention,” said Kong.
While the service is part of Best Western’s capital program and will cost the company $5 million in the first year and $3 million per year on an ongoing basis, Best Western will offer the service free to members.
Again, the JDA system is not proprietary; Carlson is already using a version of it.
Extended Stay revisited
Best Western has gone back to the drawing boards with its extended stay prototype. The major difference from the prototype version announced last year is that the old version included the option of building only a portion of a hotel as extended stay; the new prototype calls for 100 per cent extended stay rooms.
The prototype is far more detailed than previous prototypes said Amy Hulbert Manketlow, Best Western International's managing director of design, who led a special extended stay session attended by about 100 interested members, including several from Canada.
Last year’s design called for a much larger guestroom, while the new prototype calls for 330 square feet for king/studio suites. There is an opportunity for customization in the marketplace, as rooms can easily be added or subtracted to a core of public spaces.
The whole design is one of “seamless technology and warm hospitality” with lots of landscaping, especially close to guestrooms. The entrance features a cantilevered port cochere, while the lobby is crowned by second storey with windows all around the exterior.
It has an upscale feel common to the Best Western Plus descriptor, and a timeless quality suitable for a large variety of guests.
The reception desk consists of pods, backed by a feature wall with a metal screen back-lit with LED lighting.
Green features include the exterior, which is made from Trespa cladding, made from 75 per cent wood fibres from managed forests, also used by Target retail outlets and Aloft hotels.
Foodservice includes a communal table, a breakfast area, a lobby bar option, and coolers for sundry items.
Specs for an 86-key hotel include a 1.94 acre lot, a four-storey building measuring 56,000 gross square feet, and guestrooms of between 330 and 576 square feet.
Hulbert Manketlow noted that Best Western has priced the as yet unnamed prototype in seven different markets, coming up with a cost of between $88,000 and $114,000 per key.