A Look at What Makes a Best Western Hotel
Carlyn Harbour from Ruston, Louisiana performs in Nashville.
Jacob Heal of Portsmouth, New Hampshire wows the crowd in Nashville.
Fedra Vargas-Barrer leaves her Kansas City job to perform in Nashville.
Peter Kwong of Los Angeles shared Beethoven at the Nashville convention.

When I recall the Best Western hotels we’ve stayed in, there’s always a pleasant surprise, an offbeat architectural detail, unexpected kid-friendly perk, or a free breakfast buffet worthy of a five-star resort.

My husband calls Best Westerns “idiosyncratic.” He says of the lack of uniformity, “It’s so refreshing.”

Having recently attended the annual Best Western Convention in Nashville with several thousand members of the global chain, I’m ready for a deep dive into where this group has been… and where they’re headed.

Best Western Back in the Day

Privately held, Best Western Hotels & Resorts comprises 4,200 hotels in more than 100 countries and territories worldwide. While it’s comparable in size to behemoths like Marriott, Best Western – or BW to its fans — is different, and that’s its strength.

Many hotel companies are just real estate investments. Others manage hotels as franchises, establishing brand standards and operations guidelines like McDonald’s. BW however, provides hotel services to independent member-owners who want to retain the individuality of their property — their idiosyncrasies – yet have the clout, innovation and best practices of a big company. If members are not happy with the results, they can vote BW off the island every 12 months.

That difference allows a very diverse group of owners to run authentically local hotels in unique – and often personal — ways.  For our family, it means “living like a local” without having to worry about getting the key, bringing our own towels, or finding your host’s dog hair on the pillow.

Now, Best Western is about Choice

The big message at the convention was that customers like having BWs grouped into 11 distinct brands with varying degrees of amenities and facilities. Member-owners can categorize their hotel as a Best Western, Best Western Plus or Best Western Premier with more amenities; Executive Residency by Best Western for longer stay guests; and the BW Premier and Signature Collections for truly one-of-a-kind luxury properties.

Coming in 2018 are two new build brands – V?b and GL?  — that will be colorful boutique hotels, with organic toiletries, designed to attract style conscious and younger travelers. The expansion continues with so-called soft brands: independent hotels that franchise just the name and technology to become a SureStay, SureStay Plus or SureStay Collection by Best Western hotel and take advantage of lower commission rates on online travel agencies (OTAs).

My family doesn’t want that idiosyncrasy to go away. But that’s not true for everyone says Ron Pohl, Senior Vice President and Chief Operations Officer, who explains the boutique multi-purpose style V?b and GL? concept. “It’s difficult for the millennials to afford travel,” says Pohl, “so they love to take advantage of business trips to combine some leisure time with family.”

Keeping Up with the Times

Because points never expire, and can be redeemed at any hotel worldwide, more than 32 million travelers have joined Best Western Rewards (BWR) loyalty program. Perks like gift cards or seasonal points promotions make it easy to benefit from, which everyone appreciates.

New for 2018 are “Experiences by BW Rewards,” the opportunity for families to redeem their BWR points for a two-night stay plus very special activities. Whether it’s a hike at the Grand Canyon with a stay at the Best Western Premier Grand Canyon Squire Inn; massages; a weekend at any of the brand’s high-end BW Premier Collection hotels in Paris with private cooking classes; or catching a show on the Great White Way, “Our rewards members are going to be scratching trips off on their bucket list, sooner rather than later,” says Dorothy Dowling, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer.

As much as we love the quirky charm of independent hotels, we need efficient technology. Interestingly, the non-quirky BW executive team has been early adopters of new technology to improve the customer experience.  

Ms. Dowling talked about their partnership with Google Street View to provide narrated VR videos. Augmented and virtual reality views of each hotel are coming to search results pages. IBM’s Watson is adding machine learning to enhance staff training and customer service through simulated real life guest interactions.

BW is everywhere: a new website that gets 62,000 bookings weekly, reservations and customer service tools on Facebook Messenger, and mobile apps. About 400 BWs are trying out the Amazon Dot (like Alexa’s cousin.) Guests can ask their virtual butler for a wakeup call, request housekeeping and more…  such as Chicago’s Best Western Plus Hawthorne Terrace using Dot with the voice of veteran sportscaster Hugh Caray to welcome guests during Pennant games.

Start ‘Em Young

We love that BW is reaching families with genuine promotions though Harley-Davidson, Minor League Baseball and Disney. According to Ms. Dowling, more than 1.2 million kids entered one Snapchat contest to connect to the stars of Disney’s Descendants 2 and win a Disney World vacation at an Orlando BW. The contest reminded kids that the Florida Hotel and Conference Center, BW Premier Collection is an upscale, family-friendly resort near Disney World where their parents – maybe BW Rewards members – could redeem points for a room and two-day Park Hopper tickets.

Maybe Mr. Pohl said it best when he told Best Western members, “Music and hotels have a lot in common” in the way they connect with people. For many, the staged musical interludes of “Best Western’s Got Talent,” by winners of a company-wide talent contest, were the highlight of the convention.

So thank you to these unique talents:

  • Carlyn Harbour (a.k.a “Shine”), General Manager of BW Plus Ruston Hotel in Louisiana.
  • Jacob Heal, Front Desk Agent of BW Plus Portsmouth Hotel & Suites in New Hampshire.
  • Fedra Vargas-Barrera, Housekeeping Supervisor of BW Plus Seville Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri.
  • Peter Kwong, Board Director District VI of BW Dragon Gate Inn in Los Angeles.

It’s the individuality of these hotels and their employees – and maybe some idiosyncrasies — that will continut to attract travelers who seek “refreshing.”

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