Skift Interview: Best Western CEO Explains the Right Way to Use Big Data
Best Western CEO David Kong speaks at the hotel group's 2012 convention. / Best Western
The Best Western brand is present worldwide in the form of converted or independent hotels. Building seamless technology for customers and operations is a tough task, but superior quality will eventually breed positive branding.
Best Western CEO David Kong is betting on high-quality service and smart data strategies to help the hotel group get over a rather large branding bump.
Best Western is nowhere near one of the hottest hotel brands today, but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming one the largest hotel groups in the world. It’s also using technology to make operations smooth and customers happy.
It recently partnered with JDA Software Group to gain insights from its reservation and occupancy data and continues to update its mobile apps for guests. Best Western also plans on launching an iPad app to complement its iPhone, Android, and Blackberry apps by the end of this year.
Earlier this month, Kong spoke about how the brand uses big data to drive brand loyalty at the panel, ”A View from the Top: Hotel Industry Executives,” at the Lodging Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. Speaking at the conference, Kong explained his approach.
Kong: Big data has become very important to business decisions nowadays. The amount of data we’ve collected is massive and the cost of analytics has gone down dramatically. Big data should be used to fine tune any company’s strategy. I’ll give two examples of how we’ve used big data successfully at Best Western.
Our website, bestwestern.com, and many of your websites drive tremendous revenue and is a very effective tool to protect our market share form the OTAs. We have used big data relating to web traffic, page views, upstream and downstream, leakage, etc. to optimize search results and increase the revenue production from our website.
We all have a lot of data on reservations and occupancy. This data is used by Best Western to do a more effective job in forecasting demand and implementing yield optimization tactics to maximize our revenue.
Speaking from personal experience, big data needs to be used carefully and doesn’t always work as intended. For example, I was in Las Vegas three times last year and someone sent me an offer to return, however, I don’t actually like Las Vegas and that offer is useless to me. The point is, using big data to predict guest behaviors and stimulate demand may not be the best way to leverage the information.
By contrast, using stay history in loyalty programs may be beneficial. For our Best Western Rewards program, we’ve put in marketing communications triggers based on stay activities. For example, targeting someone who has two more stays to make Elite status with an offer has been proven to work effectively. Another example would be a reactivation offer for someone whose points are about to expire due to inactivity.
Skift followed up with Kong after the conference where he shared a few more insights on Best Western’s digital products and branding strategy.
Skift: What impact do Best Western’s digital products have on business?
Kong: The Millennial generation is far more in tune with using technology. People use iPads, iPhones, and different devices to do research and bookings. We have to be relevant, which is why we’ve spent a lot of money investing in our infrastructure. Those investments are paying off in a nice way. Everyone knows that mobile is the future.
Skift: What branding elements do you focus on, and how do you plan on moving forward from here?
Kong: That’s a million dollar question. I think the very first thing you have to do is meet expectations. We have to make sure we live up to customers’ expectations and that our products and experiences meet or exceed what they expect. And if something goes wrong, we make it right. A lot of hotel do not do that right.
Some of what we’re talking about is marketing: Making sure the website and guest experience meets expectations and that the loyalty program is truly engaging. That gives people a reason to stay at our hotel.
On the sales side, people want to do business with people they like. Forty-four percent of AAA’s mid-market business goes to Best Western. Why does AAA give us such a high proportion of their business (if they don’t like doing business with us)?
I know we don’t have the coolest brand out there, but we get the basics right. We have a lot of marketing initiatives and I think over time the brand is going to improve. We’ve gone through a rough patch, but we are certainly going through a resurgence.