I think after seeing Best Western's annual convention this week, I've now covered at least one similar event from all the major branding companies (Wyndham, Carlson, Choice, La Quinta and IHG) that hold conventions with franchisees. It's a great opportunity to see how these companies work, to meet and talk to executives and owners, and to get the short-term news stories and longer-term ideas and sources for more in-depth features down the road.
But I left Vancouver feeling like I knew less about Best Western than I did its brand company counterparts after their conventions. Last year in D.C. for IHG and Oahu (tough job, I know) for La Quinta, in Vegas this year for Choice and Wyndham and in Orlando for Carlson I and the rest of the trade and occasional consumer media representatives were invited to attend and cover just about every facet of those events. Occasionally there's a closed meeting or session because of proprietary data or systems being explored or explained, and that's understandable. But in general, there are very few trade secrets among all these companies since so many owners have properties from multiple franchisors.
At each of those other conventions, we had access to all the general sessions, the trade shows, the educational and breakout sessions. In Vancouver, we were invited to the opening reception Monday night, the opening general session on Tuesday and a media Q&A session with the executives that afternoon. Most of us left town Wednesday morning, while the final two days of the convention went on for the nearly 2,500 members in attendance.
Sure, I loved coming home to my family, but with more access I could have learned a lot more about how Best Western operates and provided better coverage to our audience of hotel owners and operators. I would have loved to have seen some of the other parts of the event, like when members are polled about upcoming issues, and other sessions detailing specifics of the advertising plans and new revenue management tools. A walk through the trade show is always a great way to see what products, services and trends are getting the most attention from owners.
I'm not begrudging Best Western and I truly appreciate the hospitality and access I was given, I just think a more open invitation would better serve the membership organization and reap far more public relations rewards than risks.
Yes, I know Best Western is unique in comparison to its franchise counterparts, and I'm sure there's plenty of contention during some of the polling sessions, but heated debate and democracy are probably what makes the organization so successful. I just wish I could have seen it.
Next year, after being invited to the entire event, check back for my blog when I complain about having to be there the entire time—or when I get completely shut out. : )
(And while I'm at it, I'd love to get an invite to any similar events from Starwood, Marriott or Hilton.)