BEST WESTERN THINKS LONG-TERM
Updated bylaws, a modernized website in eight languages, new design standards, a new emphasis on quality, a stress on service and consideration of bringing its upscale Premier variant to North America were top of mind during a recent media event Best Western International staged at its Phoenix headquarters.
Ray Johnston, the member who chairs Best Western's board this year, says bringing the bylaws up-to-date will align operations of the world's biggest hotel membership organization with the forward-thinking, contemporary executives who have run the 60-year-old flag for the past two years. Membership is expected to vote on 41 changes in the Best Western code this month.
Ric Leutwyler, senior vice president of brand quality and member services, says new design standards, covering items such as upgraded materials, will be in place by January. So will a Mentor Membership Program in which Best Western selects specific properties as “role models” for operations. The flag also is introducing a Best of the Best award for customer service, Leutwyler says.
In marketing, Best Western expects to stay with NASCAR and the flag's favored driver, Michael Waltrip; Nickelodeon; the American Automobile Association; and its Gold Crown Club International loyalty program, says Dorothy Dowling, SVP for marketing. A self-styled “operational marketer,” Dowling says long-term deals are a principle of hers, adding processes go deeper and last — and take longer at membership organizations like Best Western.
David Kong, who became president and CEO of Best Western in fall 2004, says the group will continue to infiltrate Asia and build up its presence in Europe. In China, where 14 Best Westerns are open and nine are in the pipeline, the idea is to build four- and five-star Premiers in mixed-use developments. Already, Best Western's presence is second only to Holiday Inn in China, he notes.
As for bringing Premier to the U.S., the issue is standards. “If you don't set the standard properly, that just creates confusion,” he says. At the same time, there's no cap on Best Western standards; its diversity and variety are its strengths, he suggests.
His approach to branding is “surround-sound,” Kong says. “It's not one component, it's not one speaker that's broadcasting. It's the whole set of components.”
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