Sure enough, this isn’t the first time Kristin Intress is newly appointed CEO at WorldHotels, a collection of approximately 300 independent hotels and resorts worldwide. She previously served in the role from 2014 to 2016.
“We are calling it the boomerang effect at WorldHotels,” she said. “It is a good thing—everything good in life seems to come back if you let it go.”
The CEO attributes her return to the company to maintaining a great relationship with David Kong, president/CEO of Best Western Hotels & Resorts (BWHR), which acquired WorldHotels this past February.
“I have known David Kong for many years because I used to own a hospitality company called InnLink, and we were the preferred provider for the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA),” she explained. “I am a little outgoing, and I met David about 14 years ago. I went up and introduced myself, and we basically built a very good relationship. Through those years, even with everyone going in different directions, we stayed close.”
In fact, Kong was one of the first people she spoke to when she had her first go-round with WorldHotels, and worked to pique his interest in the hospitality company.
“I planted the seed, which I tend to do a lot,” said Intress. “Sometimes, good things grow, and sometimes they get washed out, but I planted the seed telling him that I really felt these two organizations would be perfect together because the DNA is so similar.”
How so? “They are entrepreneurs,” she said. “It is membership-based. So many people don’t understand that Best Western is owned by members, so you don’t have to have the same rugs. You have to have quality and service. It is not any different for WorldHotels. It is like Volkswagen; you can buy Volkswagen or you can buy Bentley, but you know that it is made by the same company.”
Intress and Kong stayed in touch after that, and after BWHR acquired WorldHotels, she said that Kong would call her and ask questions or look for her insight. When Geoff
Andrew, the previous CEO of WorldHotels, decided to step down, she called it a “natural evolution” that she would return to the company.
“I think it was a natural step for David to reach out because I had built the trust and moved the organization in a very healthy way,” she said.
Intress is ready to move the company forward after some of the growing pains of the ownership transition that have already taken place. “The beauty that I have coming in nine months later is that a lot of the heavy lifting has already been done,” she said, which enables her to dive right in. “I appreciate all of the people who have done that.”
However, she also has the benefit of bringing a new perspective—but one that also understands BWHR’s customers. “When you are new, you see things in a different fashion than if you have been in it,” she said. “That is the gift that I have been given walking into both sides of the organization from BWHR to WorldHotels. In the past, InnLink—my technology company—really serviced a lot of the two-star and three-star hotels—the Best Western hotels. I understand that side very well. It allows me to speak differently to the [upper-upscale and luxury] WorldHotels properties of merging the two families together.”
The new acquisition brings stability to the company after it changed hands twice in the last few years.
“It is a huge opportunity to have an organization with a great leader like David Kong to help the WorldHotels team feel confident, like they could now go after the things that they want,” Intress said, pointing to the numerous benefits that come with BWHR.
“WorldHotels will have the financial stability and backing of an organization that is entrepreneurial and embraces that change,” the CEO said, noting that the transition has had its challenges—as such things often do. “I have seen a lot of what has happened, but I think it has ended up in an amazing place, and now it is about embracing that and working together.”
As she continues in her new role, she is working to establish the foundation of how the company moves forward with the backing of BWHR. “How do we look at opportunities that will now evolve out of this relationship—buying power, the capability to look at some of the great things that BWHR has been doing from the leisure end of things?” she asked. “We help independent hotels globally get their feet in different markets—so a hotel in London needs the New York office to help it with inbound business. It needs the L.A. office. It needs the Singapore office. It needs the Australian office. On both sides, we have completely different models, and we are going to be able to leverage both of those. Now that hotel in London can embrace all of the talents and skills of Best Western, really focusing on regional activities. In the past, we just couldn’t do both. We didn’t have the bandwidth. That wasn’t our focus.”
She continued, “That is what I bring to the table, being able to understand both sides and take a step back. It is not about us or them—it is about us all together. I think that I will be very close to the Phoenix office because a lot of these initiatives are intertwined, and I will be able to talk to the Best Western hoteliers because a lot of them remember me from the past.”
Intress is excited about the future of the company. “We have some exciting things that we are looking at with introducing new parts of the collection and stirring up some noise in the marketplace,” she said. HB