NATIONAL HARBOR, MD—Seeing a tremendous interest in the premium-economy, extended-stay segment—and to capitalize on the success of its SureStay Hotel Group—Best Western Hotels & Resorts (BWHR) has launched SureStay Studio.
The brand launch was revealed at the 2019 Best Western North American Convention and Global Conference, held here at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center.
The segment is hot right now. “The economy extended-stay market just recorded the highest occupancies in history, nearly 80%,” said Ron Pohl, SVP/COO, BWHR, at the conference. “This creates another opportunity for us to build upon SureStay’s success.”
According to Pohl, the prototype for this brand is a 67-room, 32,000-sq.-ft. building with a construction cost estimated under $60,000 per key. The brand is intended for both conversion and new-construction hotels.
Interest from developers and travelers was the impetus for the brand’s launch. “We start everything with the customer,” David Kong, president/CEO, BWHR, told Hotel Business. “Our customers in this case are the developers and the paying travelers that stay at our hotels. If you look at those two sets of customers, both of them have indicated tremendous interest in an extended-stay product in the premium-economy segment.”
He continued, “The fact that these products are running 80% occupancy is demonstrative that there is a huge demand for it. We asked ourselves, ‘What do developers want to do with this product?’ I think it is an opportunity to appeal to a very broad set of travelers who have a need for an extended-stay product, but [developers]also see an opportunity to be very profitable with that product, because it is scaled down; it is not too expensive to build.”
Kong elaborated on the cost efficiencies. “For example, you probably don’t need to service the room every day, especially when you have programs like the Best Western Rewards Clean program where people can earn points by not having their room cleaned,” he said. “That is a huge savings for the operators. If you look at the developers and paying customers staying at our hotel, you see that there is a demand for it.”
The market was ripe for a premium-economy, extended-stay product, according to Pohl. “We actually talked about it a year ago,” he said. “We were on the edge with that because we were launching Aiden and Sadie at the same time, so we thought, ‘You know what, let’s focus on what we need to focus on for right now and get those off the ground.’”
The company already has 10 SureStay Studio hotels in the pipeline across the country. “There are a lot of people interested in it,” said Pohl. “It is a combination of developers saying they would like to build something new or they have an existing extended-stay product that they would like to convert.”
Given the current economic uncertainty, he said that the segment has also traditionally weathered the downturn well. “Not only are they strong in their own segment, but people trade down in a downturn,” he pointed out. “Companies are restricting travel or limiting the travel budget. That is like an automatic segment that people gravitate to—and even for leisure travelers to save a little money, they don’t mind staying in the premium-economy segment. I think that segment will weather the downturn the best.”
Best Western also held its second annual “Today’s Women in Leadership Forum” at this year’s conference. The forum celebrates the vital role women play both inside the organization and out, and delivers relevant content for today’s women in business.
The forum was led by Dorothy Dowling, SVP/CMO, BWHR. She created the event in 2018 as a place for women and men to gather and discuss ongoing challenges, celebrate successes and learn from each other in a collaborative and motivational environment.
“Last year was a hard act to follow because we had such a powerful lineup,” Dowling told Hotel Business. “We have leaned into three pillars in terms of the programmatic work because we know in terms of development, you have to have sales skills, you have to have financial skills and you have to have people leadership skills. We built specific platforms around that.”
Among the speakers at the forum, which was sponsored by AAA, was Jane Gould, SVP, consumer insights and programming strategy, Disney Channels Worldwide.
“[She] was absolutely brilliant; she talked about the cohort and gender-based research, insights and statistics that Disney is building its content around and their focus on young girls, how young girls are thinking about the world,” said Dowling. “I think, for all of us, you have to be able to take off the glasses that we see the world through and try to see the world through our customers’ eyes. I think she touched a lot of people in the room because I think all of us get stuck into whatever cohort group we belong. We all get stuck and sometimes we need someone to remind us that we really don’t know how a nine-year-old girl thinks. She was pretty definitive about that and showed us exactly how they think.”
Dowling said that all of the programs and speakers were well received by attendees. “Many of the women…gave us feedback of how much they appreciated learning and being with other women, and hearing stories that they can relate to because it grounds all of us,” she said. HB