As longtime president and CEO of Best Western Hotels & Resorts, David Kong has led the company’s growth to its current global portfolio of 4,500 hotels across all market segments and 16 brands. He recently shared with LODGING how the company’s recent acquisition of WorldHotels—a collection of approximately 300 hotels and resorts around the world that will expand Best Western’s presence in upper-upscale and luxury segments—fits into its vision.
What was the appeal of the WorldHotels Collection for Best Western?
In keeping with our desire to grow our scale—which is a tremendous competitive advantage—we had already launched several new brands, which are growing organically, but slowly. To ramp things up, we turned our focus to growth through alliances or mergers and acquisitions. We evaluated this opportunity with WorldHotels in terms of how it might complement our existing portfolio. We already have a dominating presence in the midscale and upper-midscale segments, and we recently launched SureStay, which now has 200 hotels around the world, to move into the economy sector. What we lacked was a significant presence in the upper-upscale and luxury segments. With its wonderful hotels in prime locations, WorldHotels allowed us to offer our guests more solutions in new locations, as well as new price points and types of hotels. All in all, it was a very good fit for our portfolio.
We also felt we could dramatically improve the potential of the WorldHotels through our technology, structure, e-commence platform, loyalty program, and sales and marketing relationships. And by creating a sister loyalty program with our Best Western Rewards platform, we can leverage the OTA commercial terms that we already negotiated and provide that benefit to WorldHotels—all of which will save them money and grow their portfolio.
Are there any particular markets Best Western was looking to break into through this alliance with WorldHotels Collection?
WorldHotels does have hotels in some places where we have none, but even where we overlap—for example, Switzerland, where they have 20 hotels and we have 12—they are in more cities; and even where they are in the same cities, they are in different locations and are of a different type and price point. There, like elsewhere, WorldHotels complements our current portfolio.
What are your priorities in terms of transitioning WorldHotels Collection into the Best Western portfolio?
We have to focus on integration before we can begin unleashing WorldHotels’ potential. We plan to drive a significant amount of business for WorldHotels through our platform. The launch of the WorldHotels loyalty program will play an enormous role in their ability to compete against players that don’t have them. As a recognized soft brand with a robust loyalty program, we will be at a distinct advantage over those that don’t have our technology, sales and marketing relationships, and OTA leverage to negotiate more attractive returns.
What type of reaction has there been to the acquisition by owners?
Most understand the vast potential gains to be gotten through Best Western’s modern infrastructure and strategies and are eager to get started. But some—especially those at four- and five-star hotels and resorts—have expressed concern about being associated with Best Western. We need to make it clear to WorldHotels owners that being associated with Best Western will not be a consumer-facing trend. WorldHotels is a standalone, very successful brand, and, as such, will have its own identity, loyalty program—WorldHotels Reward, website, and app. Everything is going to be WorldHotels centric.