By Stephanie Ricca
Hotel and Motel Management
Dallas — Even from the highway, it’s clear that the first Best Western Premier in North America is different. The Best Western Premier Crown Chase Inn & Suites, located north of Dallas in Denton, Texas, has the familiar blue-and-yellow logo sign at the driveway entrance, but the large building sign visible from the road reads “Best Western Premier” in raised letters.
Nearly a year after Best Western president and CEO David Kong first laid out the company’s descriptor strategy initiative–which would classify each property as a Best Western, Best Western Plus or Best Western Premier–the first official Premier property in North America is welcoming guests.
Once the descriptor strategy makes its official public debut in February, all North American properties will hold one of the three classifications, which originally were based on AAA diamond ratings. Best Westerns are by and large two- or three-diamond properties, Best Western Plus are three-diamond and Best Western Premier are â€œthree-diamond-plus,â€ said Ron Pohl, SVP of brand management and member services for Best Western.
All Best Westerns will continue to compete in the midscale segment, and along with the descriptors will come product finish differences and amenity differences [see sidebar]. The goal, Kong has said throughout the development process, is to clarify each property to the guest and allow each owner/member to position his or her property best among its competitive set.
The 74-room Denton property opened last October and was purpose-built using the companyâ€™s Atrea design prototype. Owner Charlie Helm is a longtime Best Western board member who owns four Best Westerns in Texas.
â€œEvery one of these descriptors is a clean-up,â€ Helm said. â€œIf you as a guest knows what youâ€™re getting, then youâ€™re fine with it. But we needed to be able to better communicate what people were getting.â€
At Helmâ€™s Best Western Premier, some of the amenities that characterize the Premier level include 42-inch, flat-screen televisions in all guestrooms, laptop safes in the closet, upgraded bedding, window treatments with four elements, makeup mirrors, soffits, 17-pound-weight towels and premium-grade coffee for the in-room coffeemakers.
Food and beverage is another important characteristic of Premier properties. At the Premier Crown Chase, the lobby opens up into a well-appointed lounge that seats guests for the daily hot breakfast service and for full bar service in the evenings. All Premier properties must have some additional food service, whether itâ€™s through the hotel or through a franchised restaurant partner.
The hotel also has ample meeting space and an outdoor pool and waterfall feature that is a big attraction not only to families, but also as a meeting reception venue, said director of sales Monica Glenn.
Once members voted in April to pass the plan (in a 60:40 vote, Pohl said), the company needed to assign each current property a descriptor based on its AAA diamond rating, then work with any owners who wanted their property to have a different descriptor than it was assigned.
The goal all along, Kong has said, is to clarify each property to the guest, but also to allow owners to maximize the benefits of their individual properties and markets. Some owners elected to keep properties at a certain level because they already had pricing power and market leverage, while others chose to upgrade their property to the next descriptor. For those aspiring Premier properties, Best Western conducted individual product improvement plans and design visits.
Pohl and Mark Williams, VP of North American development for Best Western, said that by February, the 2,300-strong Best Western portfolio will include about 20 Premier hotels and about 850 Plus hotels. The rest will retain the Best Western descriptor. Moving forward, most of the 24 pipeline hotels that are scheduled to be built with the Atrea design prototype will become Premiers, Williams said.
South of Dallas, near Waco, the new-build Best Western Atrea Colonnade Parkway, will convert to a Premier property in the short term. All the elements are in place at the 82-room hotel, which opened in July.
What sets these properties apart from a Best Western Plus? To the eye of the guest, not much. For the up-to-date Best Western Plus properties in the portfolio, itâ€™s largely a matter of competitive positioning.
Thatâ€™s the case for the Best Western Plus Duncanville Inn & Suites, south of Dallas, which just added its new Best Western Plus signage three weeks ago.
The 70-room, new-construction property opened in 2007, and the rooms and public spaces are every bit as nice as those Premier properties. But for GM Pankaj Lad, who is a Best Western governor along with his father, the Plus descriptor made the most sense.
â€œWe felt that right now, the Plus is aligned with our competitive set,â€ he said, citing the nearby Holiday Inn Express. â€œWe’re geared toward business travelers, and now with the â€˜Plusâ€™ in our name, they see something new.â€