Best Western International announced a new boutique hotel concept and a soft brand at its 2014 North American Convention, which drew approximately 2,300 people to Toronto this week. The company also is on track to open its first extended-stay property in 2015 and will introduce new design prototypes for the Best Western and Best Western Plus brands. With a projected North American RevPAR index of 110 for 2014, a rewards program that’s expected to generate $1.5 billion in revenue this year, and more than 400 projects in the global pipeline, Best Western executives expressed enthusiasm about the company’s current and future success.
Boutique Brand: Vib
To gain better traction with the millennial segment and appeal to developers, Best Western is launching Vib (as in “vibrant”), a new urban boutique hotel concept focused on style, technology, and engagement.
“Our brand has enjoyed a long relationship with baby boomers. They practically grew up with our brand,” said Best Western President and CEO David Kong. “Now, we must think about how we can appeal to the next generation of travelers without compromising our sweet spot.”
With Vib, Best Western aims to replicate the approach of contemporary furniture and accessory store West Elm by offering style for a great price without sacrificing quality. “We want this prototype to have broad appeal, not just for millennials, but also Gen Xers and baby boomers,” Kong said. “This is a great time to introduce an exciting new boutique concept that is inexpensive to build, cost-effective to operate, and at the same time, highly stylish and desirable across all guest segments.”
Vib hotels will have large, interactive lobbies with 24/7 grab-and-go stations, a relaxation zone, a bar and fireplace, a media wall, gaming pods, and ample USB and power ports. The design incorporates bold colors, layers with textures, LED mood lighting that changes throughout the day, and custom furnishings. Best Western is currently working with vendors to get kiosk check-in capabilities and eventually plans to offer mobile check-in and Bluetooth locking systems.
To accommodate for the larger lobby, guestrooms will be less than 200 square feet with minimal furniture. In-room features will include smart TVs, LED lit showerheads with mood lighting, fold down hooks instead of closets, bathroom shelving, and a desk that doubles as a headboard.
This model of having oversized, high-energy lobbies but small guestrooms emulates the approach of successful European concepts like Motel One. “The model is built on the areas of the hotel that can create and generate profit for [owners] in addition to the rooms revenue,” said Ron Pohl, senior vice president, brand management and member services for Best Western. With a footprint of less than 1 acre, construction costs for a Vib hotel will be approximately $60,000 per room. “Aside from being cost-effective to build, it’s very cost-efficient to run,” Kong added.
To create the new brand, Best Western Director of Design Amy Hulbert collaborated with two firms out of Houston—EDI to design the prototype and Acumen Design for the branding. The teams worked quickly over a period of 90 days in order to introduce Vib to members at the convention.
Pohl said Best Western is targeting major cities such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, but there is also a lot of opportunity to open Vib in markets like Seattle, Portland, Austin, and Dallas. The majority of projects will be new construction, but Best Western is open to conversions so long as they stay true to the concept.
Soft Brand: BW Premier Collection
Best Western also announced a soft brand called BW Premier Collection that will feature high-quality hotels in urban and destination markets. Properties must maintain a TripAdvisor rating of four or above and AAA rating of three diamond or above.
Kong said the brand will appeal to independent hotels that desire another source of revenue and a new customer base to tap into. “Those independent hotels have a real need, and that is, how can they avoid being over reliant on OTAs?” Kong said.
Members of the collection will not be part of the Best Western membership but they will be listed and can be booked on the Best Western website. Guests also can earn and redeem points at these hotels. Rather than charging royalty fees, Best Western intends to replicate the model of OTAs by charging a commission fee for the business it drives to the individual properties.
Extended Stay: Best Western Executive Residences
Best Western Executive Residences, an extended-stay product in the upper midscale market, is on track to open its first property in Drayton Valley in Alberta, Canada, early next year. There are three more projects in the pipeline, including two in Texas associated with oil and shale production.
Best Western saw a void in the market for a mid-priced, extended-stay product. The Executive Residences will have an average daily rate of about $95 to $100.
“It did take a little bit of time to get started,” Pohl admitted. “We’ve gone back and made some changes to the engineering and cost to build it, which made the model more attractive to developers.”