Guest interaction is BWI’s trump card
Guest interaction is BWI’s trump card
16 OCTOBER 2012 7:18 AM

Technology that removes the interaction between hotel staff and guests threatens to “marginalize” the hotel business, Best Western’s David Kong said during the company’s annual convention.

LAS VEGAS—David Kong understands how much of an impact smartphones, iPads and other technology has on everyday life. They’ve made people and businesses more efficient and help ensure nearly instantaneous communication.

Yet despite all the advantages these devices have brought, there’s something about them that still troubles Kong, president and CEO of Best Western International, about such technology, especially as it relates to its use in the hotel industry.

“Humanity seems to be disappearing,” he told the more than 2,500 Best Western members during a general session at the company’s annual convention last week.

He worries hoteliers are in danger of losing touch with guests if they venture too far down the path of allowing customers to check in and go about their daily business without coming in contact with hotel staff.

“We are in the hospitality business,” Kong said. “Is there such a thing as virtual hospitality? Of course not.”

Delivering the highest level of personal service to guests of Best Western properties was a recurrent theme during the membership company’s convention. Executives repeatedly said anticipating a guest’s needs and doing everything possible to make each Best Western property a home away from home will differentiate the company from its competitors.

“Good service is not good enough,” Kong said. “Our guests have lots of choices, and just about all of our competitors have increased their standards.”

He added: “Doing the basics is no longer enough to differentiate ourselves.”

Guest touchpoints
Devang Amin, board chairman of Best Western and an owner of five hotels, including three Best Western hotels, echoed Kong’s comments. Hotels sell experiences, he said, and that’s what each Best Western property must also do.

“When it comes to customer care, we’re all in,” Amin said.

Best Western must focus on personalizing the hotel experience to each guest, he said. “Each of our guests is unique in their own way.”

A key aspect of this personalization of service is the condition that hotel staffs interact with guests as much as possible, Kong said. As such, the company intends to stay away from technology that would allow the guest to check in directly to their room.

Such an action could “marginalize the business,” Kong said.

“There are certain brands that will go that way … But it’s not the route we want to take,” Kong said during a question-and-answer session with journalists following the general session.

“I don’t see Best Western going down that path. In fact, I see it as just the opposite.”

Financial benefit
Amin said all this focus on guest interaction will have tangible benefits for Best Western operators.

“Guests will remember,” he said, “and next time they travel, it will be (to) a Best Western. Market share is there to be taken. … If one person fails at any level, we all pay a price.”

As it stands, Best Western has been noting solid performance of late, Kong told the Best Western members. The company’s revenue-per-available-room index is at 111.2 year to date and net roomnights sold is up 6.6%. Global sales revenue has increased by 11.5%.

Strong financial results are a direct result of showing genuine interest for the needs of guests, said Scott Gibson, chief information officer and senior VP of distribution and strategic planning.

“When customers have a choice,” he said, “they will stay with people who care.”

And focusing on guest interaction will continue to drive results for Best Western, Kong said. “I feel our opportunities are unlimited.”

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