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Wendy Ferrill, Best Western International’s managing director for worldwide sales, is on a mission. This year, the hotel brand is undergoing major changes as part of its 65th birthday. Ferrill and her team, in particular, are working hard to launch Best Western’s new Product Descriptor Program in North America, which is designed to help travel counselors, consumers and buyers select the right Best Western hotel based on the purpose of their client’s travel.In what major ways has Best Western changed recently, and what does this mean for travelers as well as agents?Best Western International recently launched a Product Descriptor Program in North America, which will help travel counselors, consumers and buyers select the right Best Western hotel based on the purpose of travel. The descriptors distinguish between minimum services offered at each hotel. All Best Western hotels offer certain standard global amenities, that include high-speed Internet access, breakfast when available and, of course, a compelling sense of place. The new hotel categories include Best Western hotels that are midscale and offer guests a great value without the cookie-cutter hotel experience. These hotels are typically rated as AAA Two- or Three-Diamond hotels. The second category consists of Best Western Plus hotels that are upper midscale and feature contemporary furnishings in comfortable and spacious rooms and common areas. These properties offer all of the amenities of Best Western hotels and are all AAA Three-Diamond hotels or the equivalent. The third category encompasses Best Western Premier hotels that are upscale and offer guests real luxury at the right price. They have an atmosphere that’s both refined and stylish. All furnishings, fixtures, amenities and facilities are of the highest quality in the category. These hotels exceed AAA’s Three-Diamond rating.We introduced the new descriptors because we recognize that people travel for different occasions, and Best Western offers hotels that are appropriate for each of those occasions. While our large and diverse portfolio has proven to be beneficial, agents, consumers and other partners have told us that they need more tools to help navigate our portfolio. Best Western, Best Western Plus and Best Western Premier descriptors will help agents and travelers find the right hotel for their needs, and set clear expectations at the point of booking.What prompted Best Western to begin focusing on appealing to travel agents/agencies?Travel agents are critically important for Best Western, and we consider them to be our valued business partners. This year, with the launch of Best Western, Best Western Plus and Best Western Premier descriptors, we have strategically resourced senior sales people to go out and meet with more agents face to face for training and collaboration.How does Best Western currently work with travel agents, and how is this going to change within the next few months?Best Western offers a competitive compensation structure with lots of bonus opportunities for travel counselors themselves. Our engagement on these fronts will only continue to deepen as these relationships have always been, and will continue to be, very important to us. We have never wavered in the relevancy of these partnerships to our business.In terms of booking travel for their clients, agents will still use the ‘BW’ chain code in the GDS, but the Plus or Premier designator in the name of the hotel will also be visible.What types of services does the brand offer to travel agents and agencies in order to better market the three descriptors and types of hotels?Best Western offers a training program specifically for AAA/CAA agents called the Best Western Academy. This program will help AAA/CAA agents determine which type of hotel is right for each client depending on the type of trip he or she may be taking. Across all of our types of hotels, many amenities that travelers pay for elsewhere are included in Best Western’s room rate, such as: high-speed Internet access and, usually, parking and breakfast.
How is Best Western marketing to corporate clientele? And to leisure clientele?Both leisure and corporate clients advised us throughout the descriptor process. While they may look for different features at their accommodations, both groups appreciate knowing exactly what they can expect when they check in.The response from corporate clients has, so far, been overwhelmingly positive. Since we made the announcement about the descriptors, we’ve seen growth in the number of requests for proposals (RFPs) in which Best Western has been included. In addition, we’ve seen an increase in the number of our hotels that are included in each RFP, which is a great indicator of how well this change has been received by our corporate customers.Our leisure clients have provided great feedback as well. They have told us that the descriptors help eliminate the confusion that sometimes resulted from Best Western’s diversity of properties. They confirmed that the descriptors are an easy way for them to find the right Best Western hotel across the midscale market and to know what to expect when they get there.With the new descriptors in effect, how exactly is the company planning to attract more clients through this program?Best Western introduced a new advertising campaign that launched earlier last month targeting a very broad universe of travelers and travel professionals. Our new television campaign features a new spokesperson, as well as our member hoteliers and some of their great properties. In each spot, our spokesperson visits the three different types of hotels, demonstrating that there is the right type of hotel for every type of trip and traveler.