Hotel News Now
PHOENIX — With plans to add nearly 300 hotels to its global portfolio by the end of 2022, BWH Hotel Group — the parent company of Best Western and its various related brands — is focusing on international growth as its primary driver heading into 2023.
Speaking with Hotel News Now during the 2022 Lodging Conference, President and CEO Larry Cuculic said the company has built out a solid foundation for future growth, and he hopes that will help propel it into new countries and markets.
"I think there's a tremendous responsibility for the brand to grow internationally," he said. "It's important to our North American hoteliers to have international travel — international inbound. We're very fortunate that we have terrific partnerships throughout Europe and Asia, and we're going to leverage those relationships and their knowledge of their markets."
Cuculic said he couldn't "pick one territory" as the place where Best Western executives have seen the best growth potential.
"Where we have seen growth is Scandinavia, Asia — the Vietnam market, surprisingly," he said. "That was not on my radar, but the Asia team has been able to build out some terrific opportunities and projects."
Brad LeBlanc, senior vice president and chief development officer, said Best Western remains "an iconic name around the globe," which aids in development efforts.
"As you step into Europe, as you step into Australia, as you step into East Asia, people desire it," he said. "They want it. It's kind of a breath of fresh air as they come in and say, 'This is what I want to do.'"
As of late September, BWH had opened roughly 200 new hotels across the globe since the start of 2022, and plans to add another 90 before the end of the year.
LeBlanc said an international expansion has been boosted by the company's acquisition of WorldHotels, a collection of luxury hotels that spans the globe. But Cuculic said it's also important not to lose track of how the company has been able to drive organic growth.
"If you take Italy as an example, we have more branded hotels in Italy than any other brand," he said. "We have that international reputation that we think is so important, and we've got great partners throughout Europe and Asia that have had a renewed emphasis post-pandemic."
Best Western's key international openings so far in 2022 include branded hotels in England, Austria, Ukraine, France, Germany and Thailand, along with hotels in Italy and Sweden joining the company's various soft-brand collections.
Cuculic said the company's unique structure — being a membership organization rather than a typical brand franchiser — has helped immensely in the current environment.
"We are responsive to our members," he said. "We listen to our membership, but at the same time, I think they recognize the importance of maintaining the brand reputation and good will."
Cuculic took over as chief executive of the company late in 2021, taking over from the outgoing David Kong after working as the company's general counsel. Cuculic said his existing experience with the company helped ease that transition, particularly due to the uniqueness of its membership structure.
"I had [members'] trust, which I think is tremendously important when you start a position like this," he said.
Cuculic said the next steps for the company will be to continue to adapt its offerings for a new generation of hotel owners and developers.
"As we evolve as an organization, we're very fortunate that we have a tremendously strong foundation of Best Western, Best Western Plus and Best Western Premier hotels," he said. "We've got that foundation now, and we're going to continue to build it out to build upward into those other segments and types of hotels."
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