Leaving A Leadership Void
Best Western’s Kong Announces Plans To Retire At End Of 2021
In the lodging industry, as in any industry, dedicated leaders are always hard to come by. Best Western Hotel Group President and CEO David Kong announced earlier this week that he will be retiring at the end of 2021 leaving a void in leadership that will be tough to fill, and not just for Best Western but the industry as a whole.
At the end of the year Kong will conclude what has undoubtedly been the most successful CEO tenure in the company’s 75-year-plus history having been at the helm for some 17 years of his 20 years with Best Western.
As a membership organization, Best Western has long operated a bit differently from its large competitive franchisors. Getting things done has proven a bit more challenging for CEOs as the powerful board of directors must approve everything on behalf of its members. Nevertheless, this structure did not prevent Kong from moving forward with plans to grow the company and take it to the next level.
The Phoenix-based company–which was rebranded a few years ago as Best Western Hotel Group–has grown from one midscale global brand in Best Western to include some 18 brands and a presence in every segment within the industry.
That catalyst for that expansion was the company’s descriptor program, which was launched in 2011 to differentiate BW properties across the globe. While this program took years to roll out, Kong ultimately was able to get it done creating Best Western, Best Western Plus and Best Western Premier and a corresponding set of standards for each.
The years that have followed have seen a series of internal brand launches—such as Glo, Vib, Aiden, Sadie and Sure Stay to name a few—as well as acquisitions such as luxury brand WorldHotels.
But in addition to growing the company, Kong became very visible within the industry over the past decade serving on panels at major industry events and often advocating for the AH&LA and its efforts. There is no doubt that he earned the respect of his colleagues.
“David has been a mentor to so many of us over the years,” said Geoff Ballotti, President and CEO, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, in a press statement. “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.”
“David took the company through a significant transformation from a single brand to a multi-brand family,” added Pat Pacious, President and CEO, 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.”
It’s not often you hear those kind of comments from competitors. Best Western Hotel Group will announce a new CEO at its annual convention next month, and while we don’t know who that will be yet we do know they will have some big shoes to fill.