20 May 2020 00:41
Best Western has announced a deal with Hallmark Hotels that will bring 26 properties into the brand, representing the largest group deal in its 43-year history. The deal will increase the independent organisation's room count by more than 2,500 across the mid and upscale brands within its portfolio and represents a significant step for Best Western in the UK. It comes in the wake of a partnership agreement with Corus hotel group and reported increased membership enquiries during Covid-19. Rob Paterson, chief executive of Best Western, said: "It was tough, competitive tender and we are delighted that they have chosen Best Western as the preferred brand partner for the Hallmark Hotels portfolio. Paterson said it was an "important step in our business development and our growth plans as an organisation".
He said his ambition was for Best Western to be the "natural go-to home for independent hotels and groups in Great Britain", and to be one that represented "superior accommodations, exceptional service and first-rate amenities." He concluded: "We will weather this Covid crisis together and be stronger as a collective as a result." Best Western will this month be showcased in a Channel 4 docu-series following chief executive Paterson and his Yorkshire HQ team as he leads the membership organisation through the hotel's period of growth. Best Western GB is a retained-profit membership organisation that helps its 280 hotels maintain their independence. Pamela Whitby chats to the CEO of Best Western about the Channel 4 series that launches this evening, its new marketing campaign and why the appetite for tech innovation has never been stronger Shortly before the summer of 2019, when Channel 4 began filming the documentary A very British Hotel Chain: Inside Best Western, the world was a very different place. They are among the hotels giving key workers in local authorities a welcome and convenient break from their work tackling the coronavirus crisis. "We had a really good start to the year [sighs]… but then we had Covid," says Rob Paterson, the CEO Best Western, Great Britain, the nation's largest independent hotel chain which actually has roots in the US.
Nevertheless, the Australian who joined Best Western two years ago with ambitions of doubling its members remains optimistic. And when they do, he believes they will be looking for a 'staycation', hopefully at a Best Western hotel! From a marketing point of view, the timing of the Channel 4 show could not be better because it neatly dovetails with what people are looking for today, namely a bit of light relief. Better still, a spot on prime time TV will place the brand top of mind for people planning a holiday at a time when international travel is off the cards and there is a real desire to support local and independent businesses. We have tried to create a real personality to the brand…to show that we are not 'corporate' like Hilton and Marriott As one of the main characters, Paterson feels a "little daunted' ahead of the first episode tonight but, he says, it is "a fun, human interest show" which people should enjoy. In highlighting the 'spirit of independence' and the individual character of every Best Western hotel, there are regular cuts to the blurred out logos of the big hotel chains like Marriott and Hilton. The idea, he says, was to show that Best Western GB "is not cookie cutter. Speaking about the marketing campaign that launches at the same time, Paterson says: "We have tried to create a real personality to the brand…to show that we are not 'corporate' like Hilton and Marriott". Paterson points to "compelling" data from technology firm Avvio, which saw direct bookings for July and August surge 370% after the Irish prime minister announced a road map for opening hotels. To further highlight the opportunity, UK residents made 47 million outbound visits in 2018, according to real estate firm Frank Knight, which believes "the potential for increased room nights in the leisure segment could be significant". To prepare for this uptick, Paterson is one of many hospitality executives who is involved in an industry taskforce that is working to co-ordinate a consistent approach to hotel reopening that includes appropriate standards for safety and cleanliness (this is a key thread of the new marketing campaign). Although an exact date for reopening all hotels is not yet known, Paterson says hotels are "itching to get to July to see what they can and can't do to get trading". Since the beginning of the year the group has activated 22 properties and is on track to double that by the end of May. At this uncertain time, it seems that many hotels are looking for security and by joining Best Western, they are able to retain their independence and flexibility while also enjoying the benefits of scale. Behind many closed hotel doors, discussions are underway about what hotel distribution can and should look like on the other side this crisis. With deep pockets and access to financial markets, Booking.com and Expedia, not to mention Google, are expected to survive the freeze in travel but they are unlikely to win any popularity contest in hotels. If nothing else, Covid-19 has forced hotels to think about their future distribution partners like never before. "We have about 150 hoteliers on a Whatsapp group chat and this is a hot topic," says Paterson, who says it is very clear that hotels do not wish to return to the status quo. Held to ransom by the OTAs for far too long, he firmly believes that hoteliers will think twice about high commission, price-led programmes like Booking.com's Genius. Internally, this is one of the strategic issues that Best Western is focused on, but it is also looking closely at mobile check in and billing. Although the technology has been around for some time, to date most hoteliers have been "a bit frightened of it. The appetite to get this right is greater than it is has ever been," he says. For the hard hit, highly fragmented hotel industry, cost efficiencies post-Covid-19 will be an overwhelming priority, and this is expected to accelerate technology development. So if there is any silver lining for hotels in this crisis, it is giving management teams a very rare opportunity to upgrade ageing systems with minimal business impact. Indeed, any technology that helps hotels to better manage guest relationships, the customer journey and employee performance, as well as improving yield and revenue management will be gleefully welcomed (Why AI might be checking into hotels sooner than you think). Leah Anathan, chief marketing officer of Mews, says: "We are definitely seeing a shift, primarily from the group properties." In fact, even last year, when the start-up ran a focus group with hoteliers from multiple countries several described changing a PMS system in their hotels as 'open heart surgery.' "This is particularly true when the system is older and on-premise," she says. Looking ahead, innovation will be in the B2B space and technology partners that have not, in Paterson's words, "exactly covered themselves in glory" through this crisis may be shown the exit. After all, in these testing times what hotels want and need more than anything are partners that have their back! Still, while there is no doubt that the CEO of the Best Western GB will have his work cut out in the coming months today, along with the rest of locked down Great Britain, he is looking forward to watching the Channel 4 documentary this evening. Best Western GB has signed an agreement with Hallmark Hotels to bring 26 properties into the brand, representing the largest group deal in Best Western's 43-year history. The deal will increase Best Western's room count by over 2,500, adding to hotels in the mid and upscale brands within their portfolio. The company said the move is "another significant step" as it builds on a third consecutive year of "record" hotel recruitment, including a partnership agreement with another group – Corus hotels, and increased membership enquiries during Covid-19. Rob Paterson, CEO of Best Western Great Britain, said: "It was tough, competitive tender and we are delighted that they have chosen Best Western as the preferred brand partner for its Hallmark Hotels portfolio. "This is an important step in our business development and our growth plans as an organisation. We want Best Western to be the natural go-to home for independent hotels and groups in Great Britain and for us to continue to prove our worth in every hotel relationship we have. We will weather this Covid crisis together and be stronger as a collective as a result." The group said it aims to rebrand the hotels to further improve their hotels' performance which will now be delivered from Best Western's distribution channel and team. Terii Dunne, director of business development Best Western Great Britain, added: "I am delighted to have secured the largest group acquisition in Best Western's history. The quality of the Hallmark Hotels coming into our brand drives up our guest expectation, and the geographical spread means Best Western is on the map in more places than ever before. I look forward to working in partnership with the management team to maximise their membership. It's exciting times for Best Western in Great Britain." The newly branded hotels are spread throughout the UK including major cities such as Manchester, Glasgow, Liverpool and Chester. The hotels are currently branded as Hallmark hotels.