|By Jeff Higley H&MM Managing Editor - December 1998
Las Vegas—Words such as “scuzzy” aren’t welcome in the lodging industry, but that’s the word Best Western International officials are using to rally the organization’s members around a new focus on quality.
Using the results from a global research project on quality conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, attendees of the Phoenix-based company’s annual convention heard a verbal barrage of comments that challenged them to upgrade across the board.
“It is not a pretty picture,” said Jerry Manion, Best Western’s chief operating officer. “The message is clear: Best Western’s image is dropping.”
Best Western, ranked No. 4 in Hotel & Motel Management’s 1998 Top 100 Hotel Companies Survey with 301,820 rooms at 3,784 properties worldwide, is in the midst of a quality initiative. Joe Striss, the company’s director of quality assurance, told H&MM in October that in the next two years, about 8 percent of Best Western’s members will fail two inspections and eventually have their memberships pulled because of quality concerns.
The PricewaterhouseCoopers report unveiled at the convention concluded that consumers and travel agents rate Best Western average to below average on meeting their expectations. Inconsistency among the chain’s properties is one of the chief reasons consumers are decreasing their stays with Best Western, according to the report.
“Inconsistency is a problem [at Best Western],” said Cristina Ampil, director of research for PricewaterhouseCoopers.
The report said that while Best Western has managed to slightly improve its position in the United States, brands with better image ratings—such as Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn and Comfort Inn—achieve higher revenue per available room. That means Best Western members may not have maximized revenue potential during the most profitable period in U.S. lodging history, the report said.
This comes as no surprise to many members, who voiced their opinion during the often - spirited open forum at the convention.
“It’s hard to vote on [a proposed 8.5 percent dues] increase based on past performance we’ve seen of cleaning out the system,” said Bill Parker of the Best Western At The Junction in White River Junction, Vt. “[To paraphrase the movie “Jerry McGuire”] show us some action and we’ll show you some money.” The inconsistency issue took the spotlight after a national travel writer reported that she stayed at a “scuzzy” Best Western property. The potential negative publicity from such a comment can’t be taken lightly, Best Western officials said.
Don Seaton, Best Western’s chairman of the board, said there are cries at every open forum about getting substandard properties out of the system. The irony is that the “scuzzy” motel mentioned is still in the system, he said.
That could change, however.
“You’ve told your board in the strongest possible terms on several occasions that we need to clean house,” Seaton said. “Properties that can’t or won’t renovate and meet standards need to be removed from the system.”
The purging of substandard properties most likely won’t begin until the company finds out whether members voted to increase the annual dues. If members do not approve the increase, quality control could take a hit, according to officials.
Mike Scholz, vice chairman of the company’s board of directors, said the importance of taking care of substandard properties can’t be underestimated. “An overwhelming majority [of Best Western properties] meet or exceed current standards,” he said. “Best Western is only as good as a customer’s last experience.”
John Van Duyn, a member of the board of directors, presented a program that featured four properties that maintained or developed high-quality standards through renovations and reconstruction—the cornerstones for a consistent brand.
Bob Galligan of the Adams Inn in Quincy, Mass., told attendees the best way to maintain the competitive edge is to remember that a Best Western property is not just a simple real-estate investment—it’s a business.
“Protecting your investment means cleaning up your own act and not putting up with less than that from other members,” he said.
Best Western’s Global Research Steering Committee drafted strategic recommendations for consideration by the BWI board to address the quality issue, including: