Best Western’s New CEO Wants More Business Travelers

Skift grip

Larry Cuculic wants to convince developers that Best Western offers a credible (and profitable) path into the lifestyle hospitality industry. A version of the brand will help, but is that enough for a chain that’s perhaps best known for its roadside motels.

Matthew Parson

Global franchise giant Best Western Hotels focuses on lifestyle properties, seeking to win over a larger share of urban business travelers.

With its motel origins, the group has become well known for its road brands Best Western and SureStay – its DNA, according to its new chairman and chief executive. But the group, which has 4,700 hotels across 18 brands, is not immune to pandemic influences and, like many of its rivals, sees the value in offering guests more experiences, rather than a single bed.

“We recognize that our sweet spot, or DNA, is Best Western,” said Larry Cuculic, who was promoted to the top job in December last year. “We have such significant growth because these are our proven brands. They know they can leverage our platforms, sales, marketing and loyalty programs.

A good example is its Best Western Premier hotels, which have seen midweek business increase by 30%, year over year. The company also said that in February 2022, contracted hotel nights increased by 8% compared to February 2019. And hotels in London and Paris were reporting that rates for hotels booked by companies had exceeded levels. before the pandemic.

“People appreciate face-to-face meetings,” he added. “And when one business traveler competing with another gets back on the road, their competitors will have to do the same.”

A prototype to test the waters

It looks like Cuculic wants to make his mark as the new CEO. As expected, he wants to make the success of the luxury brand WorldHotels because it is a recent brand (Best Western bought the chain in 2019). But more attention is given to its urban accent Vibration brand.

best western launched Vib in 2014 as an “urban boutique hotel concept focused on style, technology and engagement”, but relaunched it last month. Cuculic thinks the model is more relevant than before, so much so that he breaks away from traditional business practices to prove it.

Best Western operates an asset-light model, with a membership model primarily in North America, where hotels are independently owned and operated. In Europe, it has affiliate organizations that are partners, and the hotels are again independently owned and operated.

But, out of character, the group has invested in two properties: it owns Vib Tempe in Arizone and has partnered with another property group for Vib Denver, which opens in the city’s RiNo Art District next month.

“We believe in this brand and want others to see how successful it can be,” he said. “We want these to be prototype hotels so others can see how well run they are and how profitable they can be,” he said.

Vib Tempe has a large lobby, a rooftop lounge, a “hub-esque” bar that sells local beers and beers, and for the all-important food and drink angle, it is associated with Maine Lobster Cousins.

Cuculic also wants potential Vib owners and developers to take note of the locations. “You want Vib to be located where there is that midweek demand. The ones we just invested in Denver and Tempe are exactly that. The one in Tempe is surrounded by corporate headquarters, including carvana.”

It’s one of the reasons why CitizenM, a group that also likes to build its own hotels, is building a property next to Meta’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California.

Lobster rolls are one thing, but guests crave authenticity, and the CEO thinks his hotels have already grasped the concept of leaning into local experiences, citing ski or guide packages offered by Best Westerns around the world. Vermont and the Grand Canyon. “We encourage all of our hoteliers to be part of their community, so they’re not just a standalone hotel. If they want to add value, they should be involved in the community,” he said. However, there is a distinct line between tourism and living like a local.

In line with current loyalty trends where customers want more flexibility in their program, Best Western launched a Pay with Points feature in January.

Many boxes are checked, but as Cuculic’s predecessor, David Kong, noted in May last year: “If you’re a developer looking for the fastest growing opportunity, you’re going to look towards boutique and lifestyle hotels.”

The challenge for Cuculic is to demonstrate that Best Western has enough of a cool factor to attract them.