During the recent ALIS Conference, Best Western Hotel Group President/CEO Larry Cuculic took some time to assess the first 12 months of his tenure with LODGING highlighting the growth momentum of several of the company’s relatively newer brands and companies.
Upon entering what Cuculic referred to as his “sophomore year” at the helm of the Phoenix-based multi-brand company, which now includes 19 flags, he also stressed the importance of creating the right internal environment since being named to the position in December of 2021.
“To me it’s about culture and about having a leadership team that builds that culture where everyone knows they make a difference. They’re appreciated and they enjoy working at Best Western. That’s really what I’ve tried to do the first year is build that culture of collaboration and shared responsibility. Our employee net promoter score was the highest it’s ever been last year. That’s a reflection of them [our associates] knowing we appreciate them and we do the best we can to support them and make them successful,” he said.
Cuculic went on to tout some of the company’s fastest growing brands, including Aiden, an upscale boutique chain which was launched in 2018. The brand—which currently has 19 properties globally—recently announced a deal to add some 30 new hotels in Scandinavia through a partnership with CIC Hospitality.
“That’s a 150 percent increase in a one-year period of time and I think that shows the strength of that brand,” he said, adding a lot of the existing hotels “just need a slight investment” to be elevated to the Aiden brand.
The brand is also scheduled to debut in India, in addition to maintaining a robust pipeline within the U.S., according to Cuculic, who added, “we’re very excited about the Aiden brand.”
Meanwhile, the company’s economy SureStay Hotel Group—a separate division that was launched in 2016 and consists of SureStay, SureStay Plus, SureStay Studio and SureStay Collection—recently surpassed the 400-hotel milestone.
Cuculic spoke about the momentum of the aforementioned brands.
“We saw this opportunity in the premium economy segment where we could leverage the Best Western name and reputation in that segment. All of a sudden you have 400 of them in a matter of years, which is pretty phenomenal,” he said.
While acknowledging the brand’s growth potential, Cuculic noted there was a chance to ratchet up the brand’s reputation.
“We’re going to continue to focus on it, but now we’ve hit that critical stage where we’ve got to make sure we’re only bringing in quality SureStay products. It’s got to be the right product. We can be even more selective now with regard to that growth. The brand is new, exciting and people want to be part of it and it fits well in our portfolio,” he said.
Finally, the company’s soft brands continue to gain momentum—particularly its luxury WorldHotels Collection—which was acquired by Best Western in 2019 and now has more than 170 properties globally. The company last year named Best Western veteran Ron Pohl as president of WorldHotels, as well as international operations for the company, to put an emphasis on growth outside the U.S.
“I thought it was really important that we put someone who could be focused on international growth, as well as WorldHotels. As a result of that in 2022 we signed 34 new hotels, this year we’re looking at 40 and we’ll continue that growth pattern of 40 to 50 per year,” said Cuculic, who added “it’s important to have a development team focused on WorldHotels.”
He further added, “The reason we acquired it was we think it can grow substantially by having a global platform and global presence, that’s the intention. I’m very hopeful that our World Hoteliers will recognize that and we’ll see it continue to grow.”