Best Western On Track Again, Seeks To Boost Image

PHOENIX? The member/owners of Best Western properties in North America have voted to financially support a $34.5 million initiative that is expected to bolster their competitive edge in the marketplace. The action comes a year after the same members trounced a request calling for $8.5 million to balance the annual budget. More than 78% of the chain?s 2,200 members voted? the largest turnout in Best Western?s 53-year history? on proposals calling for members to pay $4.15 per room, per month to add heft to the brand?s media presence and to pay 60 cents per room, per month to enhance its quality-assurance programs. Both measures passed by a slight majority. More than 58% of the members okayed the three-year, $10 million annual advertising incentive; some55% approved a three-year, $1.5 million annual increase for hiring more regional service managers, who will help to bring forward QA program changes. According to Jim Evans, Best Western?s president/ CEO, the vote represents not only approval on the initiatives, but signals a vote of confidence in the chain?s executive management. ?This vote was a big decision for our members and one that they dealt with in the right way by really balancing: ?Does this make sense??; ?Can I afford it??; ?Do I want to get on top and be a part of it?? And a large percentage did,? said Evans. Evans and his executive staff did their own balancing act at the beginning of the year after the membership rejected the $8.5 million budget request, and he saw those efforts as endemic to the current vote victory. ?We put together a team of seven ad hoc members and seven board members and they became our budget review committee,? said Evans. The group met twice to balance the budget. ?We attacked it every way you could imagine,? Evans said. ?We did cost efficiencies, we eliminated 52 positions. We weren?t drastic in any one department; we just tried to trim where it would least affect our competitiveness and least affect our services to our members. ?Our goal was to to get the costs in line so we didn?t have a problem later on this year and to get it done by Feb. 15, and we did,? said Evans. The team then repeated the exercise in May. ?We put together a ?phase two? and told our members we weren?t just cost saving dollars, we?re shifting dollars around so where we spend those dollars is more relevant to them and more relevant to our competitive stance in the marketplace,? said Evans. ?By going through those two exercises, our members began to see an attitude that was very business-oriented and very focused on Best Western brand-building and helping them be more successful.? According to the company, the average buy-in for the initiatives (based on a 90-unit property) will run $54 per month for the QA assessment and $373.50 per month for the advertising assessment. New York-based member Jim Bates, who operates the Best Western President, Woodward and Ambassador in Manhattan and voted for an assessment last year, said, ?I?ve always felt Best Western needed to improve its market share, even to hang on to it by advertising because it?s so competitive in the mid-markets.? Bates, who worked on Best Western?s memorable Yakov Smirnoff ad campaign in the late ?80s and recalled its success, believed the current initiative will have ?major impact? and termed the assessments reasonable. ?I?m a strong believer in advertising and promotion for brand awareness to build your brand and maintain your market share,? he said. Dollars For TV Advertising On the media side, Best Western will pour the greatest amount of dollars into television advertising; its GDS and the Internet are other areas it?s exploring. ?The Internet is our fastest growing distribution system,? noted Evans. On the QA side, the chain expects to hire 10 to 12 persons as regional service managers who will do quality-assurance inspections twice yearly, then work with the property?s management team on a proactive basis to implement a quality improvement plan tha