It’s hard to believe the North American members of Best Western International have agreed to allow the brand to adopt designators that will reflect the offerings of BWI properties. The issue had been met with resistance for so long that I didn’t think it would ever see the light of day.
The 2,200 North American Best Western properties have owners who are as diverse as the properties they own. But over the years, they stood together to rebuff any suggestion of designators, or segmentation, or any other form of publicly differentiating the properties. I’ve got to give David Kong, BWI’s president and CEO, and the brand’s board of directors led by chairwoman Beth Campbell, a hearty congratulations for educating the members of the importance of a designator program.
president and CEO
Best Western International
I’ve covered Best Western conventions from Honolulu to Phoenix to Orlando and all points between. I’ve been to about 10 of them, and each of them had some form of conversation about a designator program. Some of the conversations were part of the official program; others were confined to the hallways; and others were part of the brand’s almost-anything-goes town hall meetings. But it was always there.
Former Best Western leaders Ron Evans, Jim Evans and Tom Higgins—as well as each and every hard-working regional governor and member of the board—dealt with the question at some point during their tenures.
When Best Western Premier was launched in Europe in 2002, there was a media trip to visit some of the properties. I was on the contingent that went to Belgium. There were two Best Western Premier hotels in Bruges—they were located within a few blocks of each other—that were unlike any Best Western I had ever seen. This includes unique ones such as the Best Western Grand Canyon Squire Inn, where GM Greg Bryan might take you on in a game of midnight cosmic bowling if you ask nicely.
The beauty and the curse of the Best Western system is that all properties are not created equal. Some truly are roadside motels that live up to the image of the brand that was founded as a referral group by M.K. Guertin in 1946. Others are entrenched mid-market hotels that serve airports and suburban locations. And others are upper-end hotels in urban or resort locations that can demand higher rates than their brand brethren.
What’s appealing about the descriptor program that will officially launch in 2011 is it’s a three-level structure. For years the argument focused on having an “upper tier” and a “lower tier.” Much like the current U.S. political climate, somebody’s bound to get ticked off when there’s a choice of two. Having three tiers—Best Western, Best Western Plus and Best Western Premier—gives every hotel a story. They can have the characteristics of the original BW properties, offer the standard amenities of a mid-scale hotel or have extraordinary, award-winning cuisine. The descriptors program agreed upon by the membership will allow consumers to know which type of experience to expect.
BWI leadership made it clear the descriptors program is not a tiering system. It’s really just a matter of semantics. The descriptors program allows consumers to differentiate between products, and more important, manage their expectations. In this day and age, that’s nearly as important as a comfy bed and a clean bathroom. One bad stay and the ensuing circus can become an Internet sensation.
Best Western as an organization has taken a huge step forward. By having its members recognize that transparency is what rules the roost, the brand will be able to better inform consumers of its offerings. That will lead to good things.