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Larry Cuculic wants to convince developers Best Western offers a credible (and profitable) route into the lifestyle hotel sector. A brand relaunch will help, but is that enough for a chain that's perhaps better known for its roadside motels.

Global franchising giant Best Western Hotels & Resorts is switching its focus towards lifestyle properties, looking to gain a bigger share of urban business travelers.

With its motel origins, the group has become well known for its roadside Best Western and SureStay brands — its DNA, according to its new president and CEO. But the group, which has 4,700 hotels across 18 brands, isn’t immune to pandemic influences and like many of its rivals sees the value in offering guests more experiences, rather than just a bed.

“We recognize our sweet spot, or DNA, is Best Western,” said Larry Cuculic, who was promoted to the top job in December last year. “We have such significant growth, because those are our proven brands. They know they can leverage our platforms, our sales, marketing and loyalty programs.”

A case in point is its Best Western Premier hotels, which have seen a 30 percent boost in mid-week business, year-over-year. The company also said that in February 2022, hotel room nights contracted were up 8 percent compared to February 2019. And hotels in London and Paris were reporting corporate booked hotel rates had surpassed pre-pandemic levels.

“People value face-to-face meetings,” he added. “And as one business traveler who’s competing with another gets back out there on the road, his competitors will have to do the same thing.”

A Prototype to Test the Waters

It seems Cuculic wants to make his mark as new CEO. As expected, he wants to make luxury-brand WorldHotels a success because it’s a recent brand (Best Western bought the chain in 2019). But closer attention is being paid to its urban-focused Vib brand.

Best Western launched Vib way back in 2014 as an “urban boutique hotel concept focused on style, technology and engagement,” but relaunched it last month. Cuculic thinks the model is more relevant than before, so much so he’s breaking free from traditional business practice to prove it.

Best Western operates an asset light model, with a membership model primarily in North America, where hotels independently owned and operated. In Europe it has affiliate organizations that are partners, and hotels again are independently owned and operated.

But, out of character, the group has invested in two properties: it owns Vib Tempe in Arizone, and partnered with another ownership group for Vib Denver, which opens in the city’s RiNo Art District next month.

“We believe in this brand, and want others to see how successful it can be,” he said. “We want those to be prototype hotels so that others can see how well they are operated, and how profitable they can be,” he said.

Vib Tempe features a large lobby, rooftop lounge, a “hub-esque” bar that sells local ales and beers, and for the all-important food and beverage angle it’s teamed up with Cousins Maine Lobster.

Cuculic also wants potential Vib owners and developers to take note of locations. “You want that Vib to be located where there is that mid-week demand. The ones we’ve just invested in Denver and Tempe are exactly that. The one in Tempe is surrounded by corporate headquarters, including Carvana.”

It’s one reason why CitizenM, a group that also likes to build its own hotels, is building a property next to Meta’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California.

Lobster rolls are one thing, but guests look for authenticity, and the CEO thinks his hotels have already grasped the concept of leaning into local experiences, citing ski or guide packages offered by Best Westerns in Vermont and Grand Canyon. “We encourage all of our hoteliers to be a part of their community, so they’re not just a standalone hotel. If they’re going to add value, they should be involved in the community,” he said. However, there’s a distinct line between tourism and living like a local.

In keeping with current loyalty trends that involve guests wanting more flexibility from their program, Best Western launched a pay-with-points feature in January.

Many of the boxes are ticked, but as Cuculic’s predecessor David Kong noted in May last year: “If you are a developer looking for opportunities with the highest growth, you’re going to gravitate toward boutique and lifestyle hotels.”

The challenge for Cuculic is demonstrating Best Western has enough cool factor to pull them in.


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Tags: best western, business travel, business traveler, ceo interviews, corporate travel, future of lodging, lifestyle hotels, travel management

Photo credit: Vib Best Western Tempe, Arizona. Best Western

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