Best Western GB: Quality better than quantity
22 SEPTEMBER 2014 6:07 AM
According to CEO Richard Lewis, the company’s growth is largely due to an increased focus on quality, something he is determined to move forward even further.
YORK, England—This year has seen Best Western Great Britain experience a five-year high, with double-digit revenue growth over five consecutive years and room stock rising more than 5%. In the first four months of 2014, more than 1,500 rooms were approved to join the group, representing more than 10% of its bed stock.
Yet while room stock has risen sharply, the number of hotels in the group has remained static over the past five years, in part thanks to Best Western’s mantra that quality is better than quantity.
“We are determined to move the hotels that for any number of reasons cannot keep up with our quality standards out of the brand,” said CEO Richard Lewis, a 35-year veteran of the hospitality and travel industry who joined Best Western in 2011.
“While we are successfully growing our total room stock, our focus on quality is far more important than rapid growth. This strategy does create a positive challenge of having more hotels wanting to join the brand than we are prepared to accept,” he said.
Lewis said there are two aspects to the group’s strategy: physical improvements to the hotels and an increasing focus on the people behind the scenes.
“Tougher quality assessments ensure that we drive up the standard of the physical environment,” he said. “Of equal importance is the approach of the people working in Best Western hotels who are encouraged to allow their personality to shine through as they deliver a memorable experience to our guests.”
Any operator who doesn’t match up won’t be with Best Western long, while those that perform best are publically recognized by the brand each year, driving quality up further, according to Lewis.
“Clearly if you’re in any way competitive, you want to be near the top of that list,” he said. “The perfect circle is to improve quality.”
Lewis believes this focus on quality has led to higher-quality hotels joining Best Western, which might have been reluctant in the past. For example, in May, it was announced that seven Greene King hotels would join the brand.
“They had one hotel with us in Middlesbrough (England), and on the strength of our relationship with that hotel and our ability to increase their profitability, they’ve now brought another seven to us,” Lewis said.
Focus on individuality, stories
One of the key elements of Best Western’s quality improvement strategy is a new training program developed by the brand, which is designed to bring out the personality of each individual member of staff, as well as the stories behind each hotel in the group.
Delivered over two and a half days to senior staff from member hotels who then cascade the training to their teams, “Personality Experience Training” is free of charge to all member hotels and has so far been delivered to 102 hotels out of the group’s total 280.
On top of modules covering leadership, turning conflict into opportunities and tuning into guests’ needs, there is also a module focused on helping staff find and share the unique stories behind their hotels.
At Best Western there really are hundreds of these stories, and Lewis thinks now is the time to play on them.
“We’ve got hotels with stories that no other hotel brand in this country could consistently deliver. And now we’re celebrating our differences,” he said. “Whereas in the past the industry as a whole has been quite critical of Best Western for not being consistent, our time is now because not all travelers want perfect consistency. We can add real value to a travelers’ experience.”
The group’s CEO does accept, however, that unique experiences must be balanced with consistency of quality and service, particularly as Best Western is now competing directly with the top brands in the country. The 2014 British “Hotel guest survey” saw Best Western move into the top five brands for the first time, after Hilton, Premier Inn, Holiday Inn and Marriott.
“Our competitor brands offer various degrees of consistency, and there are times when standardization is of real value to both corporate and leisure travelers,” Lewis said. “We also have exacting standards to which every Best Western hotel must adhere. However, we also offer and deliver differentiated experiences at each of our 280 independently owned properties.”
Technology: Key to the future
Lewis often has spoken at industry conferences on the subject of technology, whether to discuss free Wi-Fi or the evolution of online travel agents, and the technology side of operations has been a key priority for Best Western in recent years.
For example, it was the first hotel group in the United Kingdom to offer free Internet access to guests across its entire portfolio in 2011, the cost of which was borne by hoteliers and depended hugely on the suppliers they went for, but did offer quick payback, according to the group.
Looking forward, technology will continue to play a key role in Best Western’s growth, Lewis said. The group has developed a responsive mobile website for its guests, which has already led to an increase of 157% in mobile revenue since its launch in February of this year. Yet, mobile conversion does remain low; over the last six months mobile bookings accounted for 20% of total online bookings, with 15% from tablets and 5% from mobile phones.
“Mobile devices are going to become more and more important, so we’re making sure we have those building blocks in place. When more guests start using mobile devices, we’ll be ready,” Lewis said.