At Best Western’s annual North American Convention and Global Conference earlier this month, the company touted its many successes from the past few years. Huge jumps in guest satisfaction, new brands brought to market, and development growth were all enthusiastically reported to the convention’s attendees. At the event, LODGING sat down for an interview with Ron Pohl, Best Western’s senior vice president and chief operations officer. Here’s what he had to say about Best Western’s recent accomplishments.
How do you keep the scrappy mindset of a small hospitality company now that Best Western oversees 11 different brands?
I think there are two reasons we can maintain that mindset. First, our membership association model forces us all to continue to be engaged in how we move forward. Many other brands—and this isn’t a negative comment, this can be successful—make their decisions at the top and then move forward with them. We engage everybody in those discussions, and when you do that, you get people with their feet on the ground helping strategize and move ideas forward. Second, I think being scrappy or working from that DNA is always beneficial because once you perceive yourself as big and able to do things differently, I think you lose some of that competitive advantage. And that’s what we don’t want to ever lose. David [Kong, Best Western’s CEO], Dorothy [Dowling, Best Western’s CMO], and I engage in every one of these conversations because we think that’s where we need to be to help maintain that scrappy perspective, build a business case around it, and move forward. At the heart of our company, everybody wants to be involved and be a part of the strategy and help move our business forward.
When working with so many members, how do you pick good ideas over bad ones? Or are there no bad ones?
Oh no, there are always bad ones. What it does is it forces you to build a good business case, and if you can’t build a good business case, you shouldn’t be doing it. Some companies, even outside of our industry, do things because of ego. That’s never a good strategy, in my opinion. If I come up with an idea, I need to be able to convince 2,000 people that it’s a good idea. And, as everybody thinks about it, they’ve got to buy into it and become a part of it. It’s a benefit. This is helping us grow in a smart and sustainable way.
Your 11-brand portfolio is relatively new for the company. For decades, it was just Best Western. How are you ensuring that you give all the brands the love and attention they need to grow?
For 65 years, we were Best Western. In 2012, we split into three with the addition of Best Western Plus and Premier. We did that based on just product quality and said, “If you’re a two-Diamond hotel, you’re Best Western. If you’re three-Diamond, you’re a Plus, and if you’re three-diamond and full service, you’re a Premier.” And we separated them that way, but then we looked at the market as a whole and looked to where it was seeing the most growth. And we found that was the upper-midscale and upscale segments. So that turned our focus to Plus and Premier. Until about a year ago, that was where we were directing a lot of our development strategy. Since then, we’ve started launching some additional brands that compete in the same world, but they’re different products. They’re the extended-stay or dual-brand properties, both of which we’ve had a lot of success with.