|By Jon Chavez, The Blade, Toledo,
OhioMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Feb. 28, 2013--The Grand Plaza Hotel downtown, which had gone 13 months as an unaffiliated hostelry, has joined the Best Western International chain as part of its new Best Western Premier upscale hotel contingent in the United States.
Signage identifying the 14-story hotel at 444 N. Summit St., as a member of privately held Best Western will go up in about three weeks. But the 28-year-old hotel, which has now had eight names over its history and underwent a $10 million upgrade in 2008, already has been added to Best Western's international reservation system.
"It's good to have a flag," Noah Kim, the hotel's general manager, said of the new affiliation. Mr. Kim said the affiliation with the chain was a mutual decision by the owners of the hotel and Best Western officials who got together about six months ago.
The Grand Plaza, which is now officially the Best Western Premier Grand Plaza Hotel & Convention Center, had been seeking a new parent after it lost its affiliation with the Crowne Plaza chain in October, 2011. Without an affiliation and an international reservation system, the 241-room hotel had a harder time being found by prospective customers.
Meanwhile, Best Western has been looking to add upscale hotels to its Best Western Premier banner, which it launched in the United States in 2011. Best Western, headquartered in Phoenix, had been looking for a way to differentiate the quality of its hotels and established levels of amenities in 2011 to distinguish its hotel properties from one another.
It came up with three categories -- Best Western, Best Western Plus, and Best Western Premier -- to set its properties apart. A Best Western Premier must have a minimum three-diamond rating from the Automobile Association of America, and 33 specific amenities or services above those required for a Best Western hotel.
"Traditionally, all our hotels were under the Best Western brand. But it got a little tricky for people in knowing and meeting expectations about what they're going to get at a hotel. So we introduced these descriptors that spell out what level of amenities they will get at the hotel," said Laura Cherry, a spokesman for Best Western International.
The chain, a collection of independently owned hotels operating under a collective corporate umbrella, has an extensive international footprint with more than 4,000 hotels in 100 countries.
It launched the Best Western Premier concept 15 years ago in Europe, and it was so successful the chain decided to expand the concept to the United States two years ago.
"Doing that helps our European clientele coming to the U.S. understand what level of service they are getting here," Ms. Cherry said. "This just makes it clear to folks that when you have a Premier hotel, you're sure to have a fitness center, a restaurant on site, and a different level of room amenities."
Best Western Premier properties do not rise to the level of some four-star hotels that offer guests bathrobes, slippers, and mini-bars.
But Premier level hotels must offer a restaurant serving breakfast and dinner, premium linens, deluxe bath amenities, a 42-inch flat panel TV with HD channels, an in-room safe, premium clock radio with an MP3 connection, an oversized fitness room, and a sundry shop in addition to amenities and services offered at Best Western or Best Western Plus hotels.
Mr. Kim said about the only thing the hotel had to upgrade was the clock radios. It already met nearly all the other requirements.
Room rates for Best Western Premier hotels vary by location, but a quick online check found rates of $101-$130 per night for the Toledo hotel.
The Grand Plaza is the 22nd U.S. hotel to join the Best Western Premier network. Ms. Cherry said to become a Premier hotel a property must pass a design review but because of its upgrades in 2008 the Grand Plaza easily passed the review.
David Loeb, a hospitality industry analyst with Robert W. Baird & Co., said the Best Western brand is well-known globally but that its hotels tend to all be lumped together even though they can vary widely. The Grand Plaza probably had a clearer distinction of its quality when it was a Wyndham or even Crowne Plaza, he added.
"There's a broad spectrum in the kinds of assets they have and the Premier is at the top end of that. But generally speaking, the brands are probably somewhat close in terms of general perception," he said.
"I can understand the confusion. But what counts for Toledo is what shape is the hotel in and what condition the hotel is in when guests visit," Mr. Loeb said.
Since opening in 1985, the downtown hotel has been called the Hotel Sofitel, the Marriott Portside, the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza, the Crowne Plaza, the Wyndham, the Toledo Riverfront Hotel, the Crowne Plaza again, and the Grand Plaza.
After the hotel lost its Crowne Plaza affiliation in 2011, its owner, Paradise Hospitality Inc. of Fullerton, Calif., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Santa Ana, Calif. As part of a bankruptcy reorganization, Paradise Hospitality's sole shareholder, Dae In Kim, a Korean businessman, initiated a plan to improve sales and cut unnecessary costs.
Paradise Hospitality, which bought the hotel in 2007 for $7.5 million, left bankruptcy in 2012 but it had to find a new affiliation and had discussions with the Double Tree, Marriott, Sheraton, and Best Western chains.
Contact Jon Chavez at: email@example.com or 419-724-6128.
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