PHOENIX, Arizona—BWH Hotel Group announced that David Kong, president and CEO, will be retiring at the end of 2021. Kong, the industry’s longest running CEO, joined Best Western Hotels & Resorts in 2001 and was named CEO in 2004. During this 20-year journey, Kong transformed the company, formed BWH Hotel Group, and shaped it into a global leader. He leaves a mark on the hotel industry.
“David Kong is a once in a lifetime leader whose contributions to Best Western and BWH Hotel Group are truly immeasurable,” said Ishwar Naran, board chairman, BWH Hotel Group. “It has been the honor of my career to work alongside David and witness first-hand his remarkable passion and dedication to our industry. David has always led by example and, most importantly, cared deeply about those he serves from hoteliers, to colleagues, associates, guests, and communities.”
“David Kong is recognized in our industry as a leader that truly cares about people,” said Chip Rogers, president and CEO, American Hotel & Lodging Association. “He has been an amazing leader and among the most respected people in this industry.”
“David has been a mentor to so many of us over the years,” added Geoff Ballotti, president and CEO, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts. “He inspired me early in my career as he has so many others to get more involved in our industry, including the American Hotel & Lodging Association, AAHOA, and the U.S. Travel Association. He is someone I trust and greatly admire.”
Kong’s first step toward a lifelong career in hospitality began as a dishwasher and busboy. When he arrived in the United States from Hong Kong as a young adult, like many immigrants before him, he had no money, no job, and no connections to offer support. Despite these challenges, Kong leaned into the values and work ethic instilled by his parents to rise through the ranks of the hospitality industry, culminating in his role as president and CEO of BWH Hotel Group. These values have shaped David Kong into the leader he is today.
“David’s legacy is the integrity of a promise, keeping your word and delivering on it,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO, U.S. Travel Association. “He’s a role model for how this industry leads to fulfilling careers, going from the frontline to CEO, as he’s done.”
Under Kong’s leadership, BWH Hotel Group has evolved into a modern hotel company. Together with his leadership team, Kong spearheaded a number of initiatives that transformed the hotel brand into a global leader.
“What he has been able to do with Best Western is really create the consistency of the highest level of performance,” added Rogers. “David has created an environment at Best Western that encourages its owners to be their best and to create the best products.”
Kong’s achievements at BWH Hotel Group include:
- Growing BWH Hotel Group from one to 18 brands covering every chain scale segment and every type of accommodation, including boutique/lifestyle and extended stay.
- Setting successive records of RevPAR growth from 103 in 2004 to 112.4 in 2021.
- Setting successive records of highest guest and hotel satisfaction ratings.
- Setting new company record of highest EBITDA growth. Company cash reserves and net equity grew over 10-fold since becoming CEO.
- Growing company loyalty program contribution to becoming the third highest in the industry.
- Setting company record of industry awards and accolades.
- AAA Lodging Partner of the Year 12 years in a row.
- 2019 J.D. Power Best Upscale Brand (Best Western Premier).
- 2020 and 2021 J.D. Power Best Economy Brand (SureStay Hotel Group).
- 2018 Fast Company Top 20 Most Innovative Companies.
- TTG Asia Best Midscale Brand 12 years in a row.
- 2020 Business Travel News Best Midscale Hotel Brand and Second-Best Upper Midscale Hotel Brand.
- Leading unprecedented growth globally.
- Leading acquisition efforts of a hotel company (WorldHotels Collection) and PMS provider (AutoClerk).
“This industry has empowered me to dream boldly about the future and to pursue those dreams without hesitation. I feel blessed to have been surrounded by exceptional teams throughout my career and through sheer passion and dedication, we have chased bold dreams and achieved what many might have considered impossible,” said Kong. “I feel very fortunate to have played a role in building BWH Hotel Group into the brand it is today. I have always wanted to move on at my peak. With our caring culture, our extraordinary hoteliers, executive team, and corporate staff, I have no doubt the best is yet to come for BWH Hotel Group.”
“David took the company through a significant transformation from a single brand to a multi brand family,” said Pat Pacious, president and Chief Executive Officer, Choice Hotels International, Inc. “That required a lot of listening, a lot of partnership and a lot of persuasion, but created a great outcome for his company and his members.”
“David brought a sense of family to life at Best Western,” added Mark Hoplamazian, president and CEO, Hyatt Hotels Corporation. “Everyone affiliated with Best Western has a similar family feel and I think David did a great job of nurturing that even as he was navigating and leading a very significant transformation for the company.”
Like many leaders today, Kong was faced with the greatest challenge of his career in 2020 when the global pandemic decimated the hospitality industry. From the onset of the pandemic, Kong was fiercely committed to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the brand’s hoteliers, helping to ensure the survival of their businesses, and protecting their family legacies. He immediately sprang into action, implementing a comprehensive strategy which included:
- Extending over $65 million in fee rebates to its hoteliers since March 2020.
- Adjusting operating standards and rolled out enhanced cleaning protocols with the launch of its We Care CleanSM program.
- Becoming an industry voice to advocate for the needs of hoteliers across the nation.
Kong met with President Trump and government leaders and conducted interviews with many major TV network to cast a light on the hardships of hoteliers and advocate for much-needed federal support.
“David not only led the company through its most devastating time yet, but he inspired hope, encouraged those around him to not be defined by their hardships, and showed others the light inside each of them to continue fighting and enduring,” added Naran. “Throughout the darkness of the pandemic, David led with caring, empathy, and a steadfast resolve to overcome. He set an example of leadership through crisis that will be remembered for generations to come.”
BWH Hotel Group will announce a new CEO at the company’s Annual Convention on October 7, 2021.