ExCeL London - 30 Sep - 01 Oct 2021
18 October 2021 - Virtual
28 October - London, UK
ABTN speaks to Tim Wade, Best Western's head of marketing, about hotels with personality.
Best Western has recently had a relaunch - how has it been going?
It's been going fantastically well. In terms of the relaunch we wanted to put Best Western on the map. To go out there and do something very different in the hotel market place and really make Best Western stand out. Best Western by it's structure, being made up of independent hotels, is very different from the chain hotels. We wanted to stand out against them, and do something really different, so we devised ‘hotels with personality'. The campaign is about celebrating the individual hotels and their personality.
There's been huge growth in the hotel chain sector, but it's growth amongst hotels that are generic and formulaic. We're the opposite of that. I think it's a really positive culture, especially in Great Britain, that we like our independent retailers. We really want to tap into that mindset and own that independent territory. That's what hotels with personality has been about.
It was designed as a long-term investment in the brand, but we've had short-term results as well. Sales are up 30% year on year, since we launched the campaign, a mixture of corporate and leisure growth.
The people in the adverts for the Best Western relaunch were all from hotels - did they enjoy it?
They liked the cameras and the glamour of being filmed and then watching themselves in the adverts. We sent them a copy of the advert before it was launched so they could watch it and i think a lot of the hotels got together and did events.
[Using our own people] was critical for us. We were launching ‘hotels with personality' and what really makes a hotel is the people that work in them. We wanted to showcase the great people that work in our hotels as well as the great independent things that they do, such as growing their own wine and having their own deer park - all those things that we've got in Best Western which are pretty special.
How is the business travel sector at the moment for Best Western?
We've historically been fairly strong in the corporate side of things. Our business is split more towards corporate than it is towards leisure.
The recession has changed things as leisure carried on growing and corporate stuttered along. Probably now we're at a 60/40 corporate/leisure split.
Has it been difficult to keep your corporate clients?
Working with the key corporate booking agents and key clients, we've had to work with them through the recession period to ensure that we are offering value to those people. Yes, there's been decreases in volumes out there, but we've maintained relationships and we've built relationships.
A big part of the relaunch campaign was about getting to those key people and telling them about the changes to the brand, and standing out from the crowd. We did quite a lot of activity for those people - we went round 2,500 agents. We wanted to engage all people in the relaunch.
Have you seen any green shoots in business travel in recent months?
Certainly this year, and particularly since April when we launched the ‘hotels with personality' campaign, we've seen more than green shoots. We've definitely seen a return, not to the previous levels, but definite growth year on year.
The corporates are definitely back, although I think large corporates are coming back slower than the small businesses, the SME (small and medium enterprise) business.
Are you worried about public sector cuts?
It's certainly something we're taking note of and factoring into our forecasting and planning. We're expecting major cuts. Those corporate booking agents who are dealing with a lot of government business, we're seeing declines from. But we're happily replacing it with other sectors.
Do you expect it to be replaced with growing corporate business?
On the evidence we've got now, I think yes it will. Whether it's fully replaced, I think time will tell. I think a lot of it will be replaced on the accommodation side. I think the meetings side will be tougher... which is a big area of our business.
How are you encouraging business travellers to stay at a Best Western?
I don't think we've seen people downgrading from five star to four star to budget, I think people have just stopped travel, cut back on travel. Our approach from a brand perspective is about delivering quality services, such as free internet access in all hotels.
We think Best Western is a pretty strong proposition. The brand aspect of ‘hotels with personality' - business people as much as anybody want a hotel that has some soul about it.
As part of the relaunch, Best Western also introduced stricter quality controls and more frequent checks on standards - how has that been going?
We are reviewing standards and have a very strict policy. Hotels that meet them we get on with very well and hotels that don't meet them we have conversations with. There is a process in place to manage that and hopefully to improve the hotel, and if it comes down to it and it doesn't improve, we have to say goodbye to those hotels, which we have done. We've said goodbye to a number of hotels.
I think the quality of the hotels is absolutely fundamental. The brand launch is important, but it's got to be backed up with the quality. We are stopping at nothing to get those great quality hotels and bring new quality hotels into the brand.
Has the number of hotels in Best Western changed in the last year?
There are 271 hotels. We've probably stayed fairly static for the last couple of years. We've brought a few new members in, but at the same time we've, for whatever reason, lost a few members and got rid of a few members.
We've seen a rise in enquiries to join Best Western on the back of the campaign - that's been one of the key measures. We want to continue to grow and get some more quality hotels into the brand. It's a big focus for the coming year.
Best Western hotels are mostly three and four star - how do you differentiate the hotels?
We're mostly mid-market. We do have Best Western Premier as a sub-brand - it's about those really high quality hotels. You have to be a minimum of four-star. In that would fit the really top-end independent hotels.
Would you ever think of launching a budget brand?
We wouldn't have Best Western budget, but there are discussions around this. Best Western in North America has launched a three-tier system: Best Western, Best Western Plus and Best Western Premier. It really segments the different hotels and helps customers identify the different levels. We wouldn't call it Best Western budget, because that's not the market we're competing against, but it would help us to showcase the four-star and top-end hotels. There are discussions about rolling these three brands out in the UK, but at the moment it is only in North America.
How long have you been with Best Western?
Were you working in the hotel industry before?
No, this is my first time in the hotel industry. I was in a mixture of retail, financial services and telecommunications before.
Did coming from outside the hotel sector help in your current role?
I think I've got a different approach. There's a lot of hotel marketing out there that is everybody trying to do the same thing to the same people. I see a lot of marketing communications out there that are same old, same old. I think I come from a different perspective and can bring different expertise to it that makes us think that we want to stand out and do something very different to everybody else, and not go down the same route as everybody else. I think that background of not being in the hotel industry helps me to do that better.
It was a steep learning curve when I first started, and I'm still learning now, which is great. It's an interesting, diverse and fairly complex industry. It's fascinating.