David Kong, Best Western Hotels & Resorts

If there were such a thing as a corporate headquarters man-cave at Best Western Hotels & Resorts, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to find David Kong making a pit stop there to make sure all the awards and trophies won—“earned,” the president/CEO would say—over the 12 years he’s been at its helm are lined up just right and in their proper places.

“Best Western continues to win a large number of industry awards and recognition. Notably, in January, we won 50 Adrian awards at the HSMAI (Hotel Sales & Marketing Association International) gala. That [50] is unheard of in the industry. Then [in the fall], we were notified we won 32 Magellan awards from Travel Weekly. That’s another record,” said Kong, making sure thanks are extended and given to “our talented and dedicated staff.”

It’s just such an attitude that has catapulted Kong into the lodging limelight, increasingly recognized for his efforts at transitioning the membership association from a single, albeit iconic, brand to an organization filled with options for owners looking for the basic Best Western and beyond.

Among numerous advances, Best Western on his watch is achieving record RevPAR, with an average RevPAR index of 110 over the past four years, and has gone from one to eight brands. These include Best Western, Best Western Plus, Best Western Premier, extended-stay product Executive Residency by Best Western, the upper-upscale BW Premier Collection, boutique offerings Vib and GLo and, in late September, the SureStay franchise subsidiary, which will give owners with branded or independent hotels in the upper-economy and midscale segments an alternative across three tiers: SureStay Hotel (premium economy), SureStay Plus Hotel (lower midscale) and the SureStay Signature Collection, a midscale soft brand. The company’s overall distribution now exceeds 4,100 hotels in more than 100 countries.

While most C-suite executives are tasked with moving the needle on their companies, Kong also needs to consider Phoenix-based Best Western’s structure and balloting process when major shifts are put forth, such as last year’s segue from Best Western International to its current name, and the accompanying revamp of logos and brand identifiers. The current television commercials with the catchy jingle touting the refreshed—some might say revitalized—70-year-old company bear witness to the support the change received to go forward in a new direction.

With the potential of capturing new guests always in play, the CEO has made it a point that the quality of the association’s products is maintained according to standards, with some 1,200 properties culled over a decade for failing to comply.

While change largely has been the operative word at BW since Kong became CEO, it’s not been of the knee-jerk variety. Surrounding himself with key executives who are attuned to his innovative wavelength, initiatives are well-researched and unrushed—the new logos were two years in the making—indicative of the executive himself, a well-coiffed, debonair dresser whose measured tones and considered commentary often are a return-to-focus for any audience he’s addressing while on a panel or at a podium.

Such a thoughtful approach was the case with the company’s recent launch of SureStay, the chain’s new “white-label” business model.

While Kong knew there was revenue to be had and market share to be gained in the economy and lower-midscale segments, there was hesitation.

“It’s a huge market: 12,000 independent hotels and 17,000 branded hotels in those segments. But we were always hesitant to tap into [those segments]because we were afraid it might compromise our brand equity and cause harm to the brand. But we came up with the white-label approach idea, copying what a lot of these premium brands do by appealing to a lower price point through a store brand—the white label approach. We felt now we can comfortably get into that space without risking harming our brand in any way,” said Kong.

The CEO considers it will also be a win-win-win situation as the new model gets rolling, giving chances to current Best Western members who don’t want to do renovations and therefore need to exit; applicants who applied, but did not qualify for Best Western membership; and franchisees of other brands who are unhappy with their ROI. Kong’s vision comes to life this month when a SureStay Signature Collection property opens in Wilkes-Barre, PA, and the subsidiary’s dedicated website debuts.

Kong structured SureStay as a separate entity to keep any negative impact away from Best Western, and his thinking remains on its membership, which he sees benefiting from the potential reduction in fees driven by the “tremendous revenue stream” he anticipates SureStay could produce.

Keeping members and guests top of mind remains a focus for the CEO, and he and his team decided to ditch the company’s lauded and awarded website in favor of a new bestwestern.com, part of a phased-in revamp of the organization’s digital platform. Among key aspects of the site is its ability to adapt to the screen size of whatever device is being used and decreasing the amount of finger-work needed to complete a booking.

According to Kong, the team vision was to “start fresh, building a flexible new digital platform that would really resonate with our customers. We believe the new site will earn just as many, if not more, accolades as the last and that it will further position Best Western as an innovator…

“It’s a brave, new world,” he continued. “We must not be afraid of change; change is a constant in life. We must embrace it and use it to our advantage.” HB

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