Ever since he took over as CEO of Best Western Hotels & Resorts in 2004, David Kong has been a man on a mission to transform the company, and the process continues with the recent acquisition of WorldHotels, which added 300 hotels to its global portfolio.
In Singapore for the first time, the soft-spoken, self-assured hotelier spoke to Yeoh Siew Hoon about Best Western’s journey and what’s ahead, as well as his views on technology, OTAs and alternative accommodation.
David Kong: “I worry about everything. Only the paranoid will survive.”
Q: How would you describe Best Western today, from what it was when you took over in 2004?
It’s a different company today. In 2004, it wasn’t keen on expanding globally, the quality of hotels wasn’t that great, the brand was moving downstream and as a midscale player, it was struggling to keep up. One condition of my joining was global expansion, building quality and rebuilding the company.
Q: What were the first steps?
We focused on quality. In a 12-year time span, we separated from 1,200 hotels as part of our commitment to quality. We took a big hit but that gave us the quality foundation to grow from. We hired top talent and we started focusing on things important to grow revenues – e-commerce, revenue management – we rebuilt all the revenue engines.
This team has stayed intact all this time and that’s critical – once you get the right people on the bus, you can get going.
We started evolving the brands and now have a total of 16 brands including boutique brands such as Viib and Glo.
Today, half of the portfolio is outside the US – which is mind boggling – and Asia is a big part of that growth. (The company operates over 4,100 hotels and motels worldwide.)
Q: Technology was a big part of the transformation, I understand.
Yes, we distinguished ourselves in the area of how we managed technology. We were the number one website but we threw that out, and started from scratch. It wasn’t built for the future, wasn’t flexible enough for how fast things move nowadays. It took us a year to rebuild the whole platform and now we have a globally responsive site – one platform that powers everything, tablets, smartphones, regardless of screen, it is optimised and served from the same content repository.
Read the full interview here.