The New Best Westerns
By separating its properties into three tiers, the brand hopes to reach new customers.
Monday, October 25, 2010
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The prevailing thought as you walk into the Best Western Premier Crown Chase Inn & Suites in Denton, Texas, is that it doesn’t feel like a typical Best Western.
In a sense, it’s not. Suite-like rooms feature contemporary design, iPod docks, 42-inch flat-screen TVs, and walk-in showers with upgraded fixtures. The lobby has a full bar. Outside there is a pool and hot tub in front of a decorative rock wall with a waterfall and sprays.
In another sense, though, the hotel is the future of Best Western. The 74-room property is the brand’s first Premier property in North America. Best Western is dividing its properties into three categories — Premier, Plus and regular Best Western — based on their services and amenities. Owners approved of the plan in April, and Best Western will begin marketing the changes in January.
“Customers couldn’t identify which Best Western they were picking because they were all called ‘Best Western,’” said Ron Pohl, the company’s senior vice president of brand management and member services “This was a customer satisfaction strategy, and also a revenue strategy. Once recognized, [Premier hotels] can get a higher ADR. It removes the false ceiling people have [about what a Best Western should cost].”
Premiers will compete against brands such as Courtyard by Marriott and Hilton Garden Inn and require brand standards including: personalized services such as a concierge or turn-down service; an in-room safe, a sundry shop, oversize fitness room with upgraded equipment, predominantly 42-inch flat screen TVs with HD channels available; on-site dining offering at least breakfast and dinner; premium linens and terry; and deluxe bath amenities.
The company used AAA ratings to classify its properties, with two-diamond properties becoming regular Best Westerns, three-diamonds as Best Western Plus, and three-diamond or higher as Best Western Premier, although owners needed to have a property improvement plan to achieve the highest designation.
Owners who disagreed with their hotel’s rating could request an on-site evaluation, and executives made about 100 visits. Owners who qualified for the Plus designation could also choose to remain a regular Best Western. The process resulted in about 1,400 regular Best Westerns, 805 Plus properties and 25 Premier properties.
The goal was to provide the guest with a consistent product by grouping like properties.
“It’s the surprise we are trying to eliminate,” said Charles Helm, owner of the Denton property and a member of the Best Western Board of Directors. “As long as the guest knows what to expect, it will work out.”
Helm’s wife, Sharon, who designed the hotel, agreed.
“I think it’s the best thing Best Western has ever done,” she said. “There are a lot of Best Westerns. We’re able to tell the customer we have high-end, low-end and properties in between.”
One of the strategic decisions behind the change was the decision to divide the brand into three groups rather than spin off the highest tier into a new brand.
“We knew there was a lot of strength with the Best Western name,” Pohl said. “We didn’t want to take it out of what we did. We wanted to keep the association.”
Pohl said that, had Best Western launched a new brand, the other properties could have been considered inferior. Executives instead are hoping for a “halo effect” in which all properties improve as standards for Plus and Premier rise.
The designations also will guide Best Western’s expansion strategy. Mark Williams, vice president of North American Development, said most new-build hotels will be at the Plus level, and the brand will seek to upgrade regular Best Westerns to Pluses.
Williams said the idea is to have standards that today’s consumers want in a property — such as flat-screen TVs — as well as reward owners who invest in their properties. It also steers away from a one-size-fits-all model of brand standards.
“A few years ago, some of the stipulations we were putting on did not make sense in a tertiary market because it wasn’t going to get you extra revenue,” he said.
The company will steer Premiers into gateway markets like Dallas as well as secondary markets where guests would be willing to pay $150 a night or more for the product. You won’t see Premiers as highway properties. You also won’t find a regular Best Western sited near a Plus or a Premier. Owners will have a protected geographic area based on the market – five miles in suburban Dallas, for example, and a quarter of a mile in New York City.
“It’s not a development strategy for us,” Pohl said. “This wasn’t intended to see how many Best Westerns we could build.”
At the 70-room Best Western Plus Duncanville/Dallas, the hotel offers many of the amenities of a Premier but decided not to make the upgrade.
General Manager Pankaj Lad said the Plus designation was driven by the competitive set, particularly a nearby Holiday Inn Express. The hotel is content with its current designation, he said, but could make a change in the future.
“If the comp set starts to get crowded, maybe it makes sense to look at the costs involved [to upgrade],” he said. “How cool is it of the brand to do this? It’s giving the properties the ultimate decision.”