There's not a whole lot of hard news coming out of this week's Best Western conference in Orlando. During an economic downturn, hotel chains are loathe to introduce many new bold initiatives, especially ones that will cost franchisees—in this case, members—very much money. That said, a Best Western meeting is decidedly different from any others in the industry.
While many attendees at franchise conferences are owners of multiple properties, or are executives of companies with multiple holdings, those who come to Best Western conferences tend to be entrepreneurs who wear a variety of hats—owner, manager, chief sales person, front desk clerk and even pool cleaner. As P.G. West, the current chairman of the Best Western board and owner of the 77-room Best Western Turquoise Inn & Suites in Cortez, CO, told his fellow members at this morning's general session, “I'm an owner-operator in every sense of the word.” Indeed, he said he's the man at the hotel who, among other things, cleans the pool when his maintenance man is not on property.
The other striking thing about Best Western is the individual nature of each hotel. Until the chain wisely implemented its descriptor strategy last year, the diversity of the chain was both its strength and its curse. Some travelers booking rooms with the brand viewed it as a crapshoot: Are they booking a top-notch property or a marginal one or something in between, they wondered. The Internet and crowd-sourced travel information have changed that equation, giving travelers more confidence in their choices, but Best Western is still an enigma to many potential guests.
However, the flip side is the power of diversity and individuality among the chain's thousands of hotels. Of the years, many travelers have become more sophisticated and more daring in their traveler choices. They're willing to take a chance on a somewhat unknown hotel quantity because their gamble may pay off in a unique, well-run property with great accommodations and, more importantly, an innkeeper and staff that show genuine hospitality.
Isn't that really what the suddenly-hot boutique hotel segment of the hotel industry is all about? Many boutique hotels present surprises to guests who book and check-in. These are the travelers willing to take a chance for the possibility of a great night's stay.
So, given that paradigm, one can argue that Best Western is the original boutique hotel chain. Every hotel in the chain is different, and the best ones provide guests with pleasant surprises, along with all the basics of good hotelkeeping: cleanliness, service, amenities and that most appreciated commodity, hospitality.