Like many other hotel groups, Best Western International (BWI) sees Asia as where the future lies – at least that’s the impression given by a four-day conference this week among owners and representatives from new and upcoming Best Western properties in Asia and Middle East. The event, namely The 8th Asian and Middle Eastern Members Meeting, took place at the 362-room Best Western Premier Dua Sentral, the brand’s recent debut in Kuala Lumpur.
Unlike other hotel chains, BWI, boasted as the largest in the world, runs a membership system in which properties pay a fee based on the initial investment cost and the number of rooms. In return, they get support in marketing, reservations and operations. While a set of standards has to be kept, member properties can maintain their own style and identities.
Best Western’s formula also works well in countries where land-ownership rules restrict how international hotel groups can acquire properties. One example is the Philippines.
“Best Western prides itself to be able to work with other developers, who want to have a personal masterpiece, and design their own property. That’s the management edge we have in the market place. It gives developers their final say in design, the look, the feel… as long as from guest expectation standpoint they have what they call minimum standards,” said Glenn Nakamura, area development manager of BWI Philippines.
Other attendees of the conference were from different parts of Asia, including many strong-growth markets. According to Glenn de Souza, BWI’s vice-president international operations Asia & Middle East, Best Western plans to up the number of member properties in the Philippines from 12 to 19 by 2015 and from nine to 15 in Vietnam. In Indonesia, there are currently five Best Western properties, with one in Jakarta, another in Solo and three in Bali. Ten will be added by first quarter of next year, with another 12 in the pipeline.
Japan and South Korea are also two markets looking up, with the former having 16 Best Western properties, which is to rise to 22 by 2015. Figures from the latter are 10 and 14 respectively. Other growth markets include Malaysia and there will also be more properties in Singapore, as well as emerging markets such as Bangladesh and Iraq.
These numbers are not shocking compared to those by other major hotel groups, and BWI’s strongest presence remains in the US, but the rate of expansion is expected to accelerate, especially with the introduction of Best Western Plus and Best Western Premier.
According to Ron Pohl, senior vice-present of brand management of BWI, the two new brands, which are to be more upscale than the Best Western core brand, add a “halo effect” to the entire brand name. He added that these descriptors could vary in meaning based on the region. In the US and Canada, both Best Western and Best Western Plus are limited-service products, with the latter being “upper mid-scale” and competing with Hilton’s Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn Express.
“When we move into Europe and Asia and Middle East, Best Western Plus moves into a full-service hotel, but ‘limited full-service’ if there is such a thing. It will only have probably only one dining outlet in most cases, and a bar,” he said. Best Western Premier, he added, would be a full-service brand competing with Hilton and Marriott and the likes.
Rohl said that the group believed both Plus and Premier had a lot of viability in Asia.
According to Jariya Sakulkittithamrong, managing director of Best Western Plus Grand Howard (see picture above), which has soft-opened in Bangkok for several months, her hotel has chosen to be a Best Western hotel because of the system’s flexibility, even though it has also been approached by other hotel chains. The property, close to the business area of Sathon Road and Rama III, features 150 suites, more than 1,000 sqm of function space as well as amenities such as an infinity pool that looks out to the city’s skylines.
In Indonesia, the presence of the more premium brands is also expected to increase. “The economy of Indonesia is growing. Currently we operate five properties – one in Jakarta, one in Solo and three in Bali,” said Iwanto Hartojo, chief executive of area development office of Best Western Indonesia. “So far we have only two [Premier properties] in Indonesia, but we will have Plus soon. We target from the middle-class to the middle-upmarket.”
Iwanto said that another 10 Best Western properties are expected by the first quarter of 2013, with an additional 12 hotels in the pipeline.
Other projects presented in the event include a Best Western in Makkah in Saudi Arabia, which is to be part of a mega complex that will include 38 hotels, and Kenton Residences in Ho Chi Minh City, which aspires to be the city’s own Marina Bay Sands.