A leader in hospitality, Best Western Hotels & Resorts' commitment to excellence is continually recognized with industry accolades and awards. With more than 4,000 hotels around the world, the 70-year history of this chain serve as proof of the quality as well as affection and recognition on the part of the guests. How do you remain a leader in the market and what innovations should be implemented in hotels today in order to retain guests? What do millennials choose and how do hotels respond to new market demands? We talked about these issues and more with Yuliya Denysenko, Director of Revenue & Systems in Best Western Hotels & Resorts.
Tell us about how Best Western attracts a new generation of travellers to its hotels?
We attract guests in many ways. If we talk about the new generation, then here we cannot do without the new and latest technologies. This is what modern travellers require. They no longer only want to talk to the concierge or managers at reception, many prefer to communicate via text or voice messengers. So, we use a number of different technological solutions, but the main thing that we pay attention to is the needs of our guests.
For the millennials for example, Best Western has developed a new concept of high-tech hotels – Vīb® (meaning “vibrant”). These new hotels are currently being built. They cannot be altered or adapted from existing buildings because of a fundamentally new idea, which essentially rotates around technology: rooms in such hotels are small and lobbies are conceptually different and equipped with interactive devices. Millennials can play games here and communicate using various communication tools, meaning to use what they are used to – the Internet. The first Vīb hotel opened last year in Antalya (Turkey) and first U.S. Vīb property opened in early August in Springfield, Missouri; it is a good example of what we are developing today, looking to the future.
What other needs do Best Western guests have today?
Different guests want completely different things. First of all, we pay attention to the age of the guest. The main marketing requirement in the hotel industry is to focus on various generations of people. I, most likely, belong to the previous generation which remembers life without the Internet, and I prefer live communication. Speaking through devices or greeting in the room via the TV screen does not impress me. A letter written by hand waiting for me in the hotel room is something that I give preference to. So, preferences are shaped and formed depending on the age of the guest. One’s country of residence is also important. Europe, Asia, Australia, South America – expectations of the guests in different parts of the world are very different. Personal experience plays an important role as well, and so does demography, which dictates one’s preferences and priorities. Therefore, world marketing research and knowledge of local practices are important for Best Western.
How are interests of different generations combined in the hotels?
Irrespective of the generation, our guests remain our guests. The older generation require a reception area, millennials prefer robots. This is why we need to have both a traditional reception space and at the same time allow for self-check-in. Similarly, a traditional concierge desk is needed, perhaps not all the time, but at certain hours, and guests should equally be offered a virtual concierge service or an I-pad in the room with which to place an order. Technology enters our lives irrespective of whether we like it or not. And as hoteliers we must understand that our guests also change, they are ready for innovations and want these changes.
What other challenges do you face? How does Best Western react to market changes and new guest requests?
Just imagine, according to the research results and expert opinions, by 2020, 40 billion devices are expected to be connected to the Internet. And this is only a couple of years away. For comparison, this means that each coffee machine will have access to the Internet. Indeed, why press a button on the coffee machine, if you can control it from a tablet device?! The Internet-connectivity of objects is firmly finding its way into our lives. Can we change this? No. Can we work with this? Certainly.
That is why the brand portfolio of Best Western has grown from three classic sub-brands to 11, with 2 more to come in 2019. This is what the market dictated. Another response to market changes and the emergence of the Internet-connectivity of objects is the technology that we are implementing in the Vīb hotels – “smart” windows. It allows you to use the window in the room for work or entertainment. Do you want Star Wars? You are welcome. Do you want silence, tranquillity and natural materials? Select “blinds” mode. If a guest needs a room service or an electronic concierge, this function is also provided.
Tell us more about the cooperation format among and between hotels in the chain?
All Best Western hotels are individually owned and operated. Best Western does not manage hotels. Our model is probably closest to that of a franchise. However, while normally an international franchise costs a lot of money and involves long-term cooperation, we differ in that Best Western is probably the most affordable international brand (here I would like to emphasise that this does not mean cheap). A contract can be signed for a period of five years. For our Ukrainian market 5 years is a rather profitable timeframe for the business owner.
What does the hotel expect to introduce in these five years?
We stress the importance of customer service: the experience of the guest from the visit and the impressions they take home. We have our own standards that a hotel must comply with even before joining the chain. A guest in a Best Western hotel must be offered a 24-hour reception service, tea, coffee, hairdryer, a towel in the room and, at the very least, a clean room, clean bed and pleasant staff. If a hotel meets all the standards and wishes to join the Best Western chain, there is no need to bring anything new, and this is also our fundamental difference from any other international brand.
If we are talking about new buildings, here we offer the developer our solutions and our name (by Best Western). If it is an existing hotel, a high-end object and a successful brand, then we offer a version of a joint brand. This means that the hotel does not need to change the name and signage, we simply place a small corporate flag that symbolises our chain. If a new hotel is being built in a strategic location or an existing hotel is being completely refurbished and reopened as a new one, this is probably the best cooperation option as part of a full franchise. Here we offer not only a distribution network, but also a recognisable name, external communication (signage, etc.) and create a traditional brand hotel. We also have a successful partnership experience with Soviet heritage hotels, when a specific hotel has been fully converted into a modern brand. And we have a lot to offer to such hotels, which need renovation and of which there quite a few.
What does the Best Western franchise entail?
The Best Western franchise envisages that hotels pay a one-off joining fee and then we receive a monthly percentage of the hotel’s accommodation income. Hoteliers get access to and receive support with the award-winning marketing programs and partnerships, operational programs and services while maintain their independence – all guided by a strong leadership team committed to driving revenue and value to their hotels. As part of the Best Western brand, hotels gain access to key business tools and strategies: Best Western Rewards® loyalty program, Global Distribution System (GDS), Quality Assurance, Revenue Management, Worldwide Sales and Digital Marketing support. Now is the perfect time to put Best Western Hotels & Resorts to work for you. Today’s Best Western truly offers what hotels need.
How do you ensure fulfilment of obligations under the franchise agreement?
There are a number of standards for guest comfort that must be upheld by the hotel: cleanliness, including of the premises, technical condition – these are mandatory. There are also, for example, breakfast standards, and there are certain requirements for guest reviews. If the hotel gets a higher number of negative surveys, this is when Best Western team gets involved. We come to the location, conduct a series of trainings, observe, give recommendations. If negative feedback persists or even increases, quality inspectors come to inspect the facility and give their recommendations. If the hotel quality is completely poor, it will be closed until the owner brings it in order, because our guests must be assured of the service quality. In some cases, we have introduced preventive measures. If a hotel inspection has demonstrated poor results, the following year before sending the inspector, we arrange for a training inspection. If the hotel passes it, it means that it will also pass the main inspection. If not, the managers have a few months before the main inspection to bring the hotel to order.
How frequently do hotels fails such inspection?
There 3 are elements of the assessment, we allow hotels to lose points to a certain level, we hold our hotels accountable for Cleanliness and Maintenance, Brand Standards and Brand Identity. In the region, failing scores are few and far between, and can regularly be resolved within a short timeframe.
Do you consider developing further in the Ukrainian market?
I think that the Ukrainian market is ready for the Best Western model. With the arrival of international brands and specialists the culture of hospitality in our country is still in the development stage. Hotels have their own managers, marketing and sales directors. It is good to see that we start to appreciate our people. That said, there already exists a number of hotels operating in the market – either luxury, that the market is already oversaturated with, or of post-Soviet heritage, which are often (not always) managed by people lacking knowledge and experience in the industry. It is here that Best Western comes as a solution, either as a franchise or marketing and revenue support. It must be noted that hotel owners retain ownership and management of the hotel. We do not claim to have the final say. The mission of Best Western is to select the necessary development direction for the hotel and to help it to meet international standards, which would result in the growing number of satisfied and happy travellers and the efforts will be awarded with increased profitability.