Best Western CEO doesn’t see himself as an agent of radical change

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Skift take

A major operational disruption at BWH Hotel Group is unlikely under the leadership of new CEO Larry Cuculic. The company’s recent performance figures show why.

Cameron Sperance

Don’t expect something drastically different just because there’s a new CEO in charge of parent company Best Western BWH Hotel Group.

Larry Cuculic took over from longtime CEO David Kong earlier this month as the head of the global hotel company. Kong’s 20-year tenure was noted for growing the company from one brand to 18 and forming parent company BWH Hotel Group. There was also an unsuccessful attempt to change the structure of the company’s nonprofit membership to better position itself against competitors like Marriott and Hilton.

Cuculic, who has been with the company for 12 years, is focusing more on rebuilding BWH from the pandemic on its existing line of brands and corporate structure rather than immediately launching a wave of change.

There’s a good reason for this: The company’s North American performance in November was consistently above 2019 levels, and even mid-week bookings – usually an indicator of business travel – eclipsed. pre-pandemic performance for several weeks per month.

“I don’t plan to make any personnel changes at this time,” Cuculic said in an interview with Skift. “I of course intend to work with the board to review our 2022 business plan and our key performance indicators to make sure we are all aligned. “

BWH had entered the high-end industries over the years with boutique and lifestyle brands like Aiden, Glo, Vib, Sadie and the flexible BW Premier Collection brand. Some of the brand additions have allowed existing BWH hotel owners to increase their daily rates and attract new clientele.

Competitors like IHG Hotels & Resorts CEO Keith Barr often discuss additions to the brand, like filling in the missing rungs of a ladder, but Cuculic believes his own ladder is full.

“We don’t see any new brands on the near horizon,” he added. “I think we are well positioned across all segments of the chain at this point, and our development team is focused on developing these brands.”

The new CEO of BWH Hotel Group is also unlikely to revisit Kong’s earlier plan to shift the business from its non-profit membership model to a for-profit one. The private, non-profit BWH operates on a model where the company licenses trademarks to owners who become voting members of the organization.

Company management previously presented this stalled plan as a way to make BWH more competitive. But Cuculic defended the company’s membership structure while noting that today’s brand lineup is different from the for-profit campaign.

“We now have a wide range of offers. That has changed over the past 12 years, and we are now proud to offer something in all market segments, from economy to luxury, ”said Cuculic. “Having this range of offerings is important for our customers, but it is also very important for developers so that they know that these options exist. “

Moment of growth

No plans to add new brands does not mean Cuculic remains inactive during the pandemic recovery.

He sees plenty of growth opportunities with BWH’s existing brand list, particularly through conversions, a type of deal where the owner of an existing hotel takes on a new brand deal.

Executives at every major hotel company, from Marriott International to Choice Hotels, see conversions as a major growth driver emerging from the depths of the pandemic due to loathing lenders to entirely new hotel projects.

“The biggest trend for 2022 is conversions,” Cuculic said. “Conversions will be the highlight of everyone’s pipeline as lenders remain extremely cautious.”

There is also likely to be more focus on building brand awareness of the Best Western Plus, a brand that is typically aimed at business and leisure travelers. Cuculic indicated that there is potential to strengthen the brand’s appeal to business travelers, which makes sense given that the hospitality industry as a whole sees more opportunities to cater to the type of traveler. road business normally attracted to the Best Western Plus segment.

“It’s a brand that we’re extremely proud of, but we believe there is potential for this brand,” Cuculic said. “As business travel rebounds, we think it’s important for them to know that we are focused on providing the amenities they expect. “

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