HB ON THE SCENE: Best Western Pushes HQ Hotel, Development, Experiences

NASHVILLE, TN—While the setting was here in Music City for its annual convention, there was nothing honky-tonk about Best Western Hotels & Resorts’ lineup of strategies for the coming months, presented to some 2,600 attendees this week at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel.

“Best Western is doing well,” President/CEO David Kong told the crowd, “But we also need to be careful that we don’t fall into the trap of complacency and lull ourselves into thinking our future will take care of itself. Our future depends on our imagination, and our continued motivation and passion. In a world where everything is evolving so fast, when consumer expectations are being reset all the time and our competitors, OTAs and disrupters are all trying their best to take our market share, we must use our imagination to compete.”

To give itself a leg up on the competition, the association is building a dual-purpose hotel proximate its headquarters in Phoenix.

The first 100% corporate-owned property, which will be a working 138-key hotel, will include “innovation” rooms for each of Best Western’s brands so developers and new managers can experience the latest in brand offerings. It also will feature a lounge, full-service restaurant, pool and 7,500 sq. ft. of meeting space.

“We have a need to showcase the different kinds of products that we have. People want to see what a Vib room looks like, or a Glo room or Executive Residency room, or how a Best Western room compares to Best Western Plus or Best Western Premier,” Kong told Hotel Business.

“We are in the supply/procurement business also. We have all these furniture packages—all the things hotels can buy. People want to see it and touch it and feel it in the hotel room,” the CEO added. “We do a lot of training in our campus and we wanted all the general managers and all the people who come for training to experience [the brands]firsthand, not just theoretical training in a classroom setting.”

The hotel will be open to the public; however, one floor will be dedicated to the so-called brand “innovation” rooms.

Construction on the property is slated to begin in the second quarter of 2018.

A Special Deal

Piquing developer interest also is coming in the form of a limited-time offer, according to SVP/COO Ron Pohl.

“One thing I have learned over the years about hotel development: Everyone wants a deal, a good deal. I thought, why not have a member convention special for development?” he said. So, like a Black Friday special, the Best Western board authorized the executive to offer a deal to current members if they would commit to developing a Best-Western-branded hotel.

To add intrigue, Pohl said he emailed all BW voting members the offer—without saying what it is—together with a letter of intent (LOI). On the form, members would indicate to which city or cities they would commit to developing a hotel, which brand and submit the information before year’s end.

“Our development team will begin to source opportunities for you,” Pohl told attendees. “These things take time, but you must be willing to submit an application within the next 12 months to take advantage of this offer. But you need to act quickly; you need to submit the LOI no later than Dec. 31.”

And the “surprise incentive” of the deal?

Hotel Business found out those who commit and submit will get their first year’s fees waived.

“That’s huge,” said Kong.

And something expected to resonate strongly with the membership. “Almost 35%-40% of our deals come from our existing members today,” noted Best Western Chairman Terry Bichsel.

With more than 530 hotels in the pipeline globally, Pohl suggested if 10% or 20% of members at convention “committed to a new project with us, we could double our pipeline today.”

Debuting “Experiences”

And fresh off the introduction late last month of its eleventh brand, BW Signature Collection by Best Western, the association made a similar move with its loyalty program, launching “Experiences by Best Western Rewards.”

The initiative is designed to bolster the already-robust program by expanding the range of offerings BWR members can put their points toward.

Initial experiences include offerings in Orlando, New York City, Las Vegas, Arizona and Paris and will be in tandem with stays at BW’s highest-performing hotels in those locations.

“Our Rewards members will be able see the awe-inspiring Grand Canyon by rail or by air, experience culinary delights that only Paris has to offer, see a Broadway show in New York City or be able to take the kids to Walt Disney World,” said SVP/Chief Marketing Officer Dorothy Dowling.

Hotels currently in the mix for the “Experiences” program include The Florida Hotel and Conference Center, BW Premier Collection; Best Western Premier Grand Canyon Squire Inn; Best Western Premier Herald Square; the Stratosphere Hotel, Casino & Tower, BW Premier Collection; and several BW Premier Collection properties in Paris.

This spring, Rewards members also will be introduced to BWR Bot, a conversational agent for Facebook Messenger that will help them “get the most” out of their membership.

“We have to be where consumers are going,” said Dowling. “Today’s consumer expects responsiveness. Whatever it is they’re looking for, they need it right now. Due to that sense of urgency, voice-command technology continues to rise in popularity in today’s marketplace. Google Home, Siri and countless others are in our homes and in our lives…The world has gone mobile, with messaging applications now taking the lead on how consumers prefer to communicate.”

(For more on Best Western Hotels & Resorts’ annual convention, catch the Dec. 15 issue of Hotel Business.)

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