Lead Stories

Transition At The Top

Best Western Begins New Era With Continued Growth Momentum, Member Feedback

By Dennis Nessler | February 23, 2022

Despite a major transition at the top of the company following the retirement of long-time CEO David Kong in December, BWH Hotel Group is sharply focused on growth throughout its brand portfolio, as well as ensuring that its membership maintains a voice in the direction of the company.

During the recent ALIS Conference, Ron Pohl, SVP and COO, Best Western Hotels & Resorts, offered Hotel Interactive an update on the Phoenix-based, multi-branded company beginning with the start of a new era with Larry Cuculic at the helm as President/CEO after serving as SVP and senior counsel for the past 12 years.

“It’s been a very smooth transition over to Larry. He’s really bringing in his own vision for the company, but not creating it on his own. It’s been very interactive with all levels of the organization to say ‘you know what, we’re going to continue our gears of success going forward, but let’s have fun doing it,’” he said.

Since taking over, Cuculic has been engaged in a “listening tour,” according to Pohl.

“He’s traveling around the U.S. to talk to our members and get a sense of what’s important to them and how we can do things differently,” he said.

Meanwhile, Pohl emphasized that the company has been building momentum in development, pointing out that “2021 was really good.” As an example, the company opened nearly 100 Best Western branded hotels, as well as 70 properties within its SureStay Hotel Group, which includes SureStay, SureStay Plus, SureStay Collection and SureStay Studio franchises.

Pohl further noted the company’s projecting a similar number of openings this year.

In addition, he added that its soft brands—BW Premier Collection and BW Signature collection— “did more deals last year than we ever have.”

Pohl also pointed out that conversions have been driving development for the most part, adding that “boutique and soft brands are kind of the hot spots right now.”

Specifically, Pohl maintained that the company’s boutique Aiden brand—which was launched in 2018 and primarily targets repositioning opportunities for existing hotels—is “getting a lot of traction.”

The boutique brand—which recently opened its eighth hotel with the conversion of a Country Inn & Suites in the Phoenix/Scottsdale market—has some 16 properties in the pipeline. Pohl explained some of the key tenets of the brand, noting “it is not cookie cutter” and that each property carries a unique restaurant bar concept.

“What we do conceptually is we sit down with the owner and say ‘let’s have fun with this, what do you want it to be?’ We want local flair built into it. We want a more experiential approach that’s authentic to that area bringing in local beverages or beers if we can. That kind of stuff that just makes it feel like where it is,” he said.

The COO went on to tout the company’s boutique Vib brand, which was launched in 2014. The brand debuted its first hotel, the Vib Best Western Springfield in Springfield, MO, in 2018. The brand recently made its entry into the Tempe/Phoenix, AZ, market and is slated to open in Denver this spring. The brand also has international locations in Bangkok, Thailand and Antalya, Turkey.

Pohl noted he expects the two most recent U.S. properties, in particular, to help generate additional development interest in the brand.

“We really wanted to focus on proof of concept and show developers how this hotel can really work well. So we’re pretty confident that developers will see these two hotels once they open and really understand conceptually,” he said.

Meanwhile, Pohl noted the company continues to be fluid when it comes to key operational issues impacting owners, such as housekeeping and breakfast programs.

“Right now we’re going to make every effort we can to stay the course of not cleaning ‘stay over’ rooms. We think it’s the right thing to do based on customer feedback, it’s the right thing to do based on owner feedback, and it’s the right thing to do for the environment,” he said.

Pohl also acknowledged the company has had discussions about potentially generating additional revenue through housekeeping as well. “If you need to have your room clean maybe that does become something you can charge for?”

In addition, the company has seen an evolution in terms of breakfast offerings following the outbreak of the pandemic, according to Pohl.

“We’ve evolved from COVID breakfast standards to something that is more like what we offered pre-COVID with the exception of no buffets,” he said, further adding the company has also reduced its hours of operations around its breakfast program.

Pohl added that in lieu of the breakfast buffet the company’s brands have been offering a hot breakfast sandwich or plated bacon and eggs, for example.

“Those sort of things customers seem to have responded very well to. We piloted it for four months at the end of last year and our breakfast scores returned to where they were pre-COVID and so we’re hoping we can maintain that,” he concluded.


Dennis Nessler

Dennis Nessler is Editor-in-Chief of Hotel Interactive, parent company of Hotel Community Forum. Nessler brings more than 28 years of editorial experience to his position, including some 17 years in the hospitality industry. As part of his duties, Nessler not only covers the industry editorially but moderates various high-level panel sessions at hospitality events and frequently conducts one-on-one interviews with C-level executives.

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