Interviews

Best Western’s CEO on driving customer loyalty

David Kong, President and CEO of Best Western, shares his thoughts on how properties can grow a return customer base in an increasingly competitive marketplace
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David Kong

Best Western Hotels and Resorts recently celebrated 30 years of its award-winning loyalty programme, Best Western Rewards (BWR) - which has grown to nearly 40 million members since its inception in 1988. BWR is recognised as an innovator in the industry. Here, David Kong shares the brand’s customer retention strategy and his thoughts on the future of hotel loyalty.

Click.: What is a typical work day for you?

Kong: I like to get an early start to make time for a morning workout and ensure I’m available across the time zones. Typically, I’ll wake up at 5am to work on emails and phone calls from Asia and Europe before heading to the gym. Once I’m in the office, my working day is usually a full day of meetings, so making the most of my morning is important.

Despite a busy schedule, I always try to find the time to stay connected with my family; whenever possible, I love to FaceTime with my grandkids before they go to bed. When the day’s meetings are over and I’m back at home, I’ll often find myself fielding a few more phone calls and emails. After all, as my day is ending, the morning in Asia is just getting started.

Click.: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned since being in the industry?

Kong: I have always recognised that change is constant in our lives and business. The biggest learning through the last five years is that change is taking place at a faster and faster pace. Since we can’t escape change, I believe that we need to be proactive in not only anticipating it but in evolving our thinking. I have always been an advocate of thinking like a disruptor and acting like a start-up, and this could not be more important in the hospitality industry today.

Click.: What do you think drives hotel loyalty today?

Kong: First and foremost, it’s the customer experience that drives hotel loyalty today. A memorable hotel stay is no longer just defined by a clean and updated room. So much of the guest experience today is how the hotel makes that person feel. There are many components that drive that customer experience, from design elements that create unforgettable selfie-moments, to superior service and memorable interactions with hotel staff. For our boutique brands, we have a dedicated team that teaches the hotel staff how to create an exceptional guest experience, from how they should dress to the best ways of interacting with guests.

Click.: What has been Best Western’s key strategy for retaining customer loyalty?

Kong: We have to get the basics right. That starts with a clean and comfortable room, as well as attentive and helpful service - it’s all about the customer experience. A big and robust loyalty programme with lots of earning and redemption options is also critical to retaining customers.

Click.: What are the programme’s key benefits?

Kong: Today, Best Western Rewards members can enjoy more benefits than ever. The programme provides generous redemption options, for example a US$25 retail gift card can be redeemed for only 6,000 points. Members can also access free nights at any of Best Western’s 4,000+ locations around the world. In addition to easy and hassle-free redemption, our points never expire. We provide exclusive discounted member rates and offer frequent promotions to reward our valued members for their loyalty.

Click.: How do you envision hotel loyalty evolving in the future? How will Best Western adapt?

Kong: Hotel loyalty programmes will be even more important in the future. At Best Western, we continue to expand earning and redemption options through our growing portfolio. Today we offer thousands of hotels in key locations around the world and across every chain scale segment. Aside from more robust earning and redemption options, we have used big data to improve the guest experience and to make stays more rewarding. As we look to the future we will continue to adapt to guest expectations, improving the experience and rewarding loyalty.

Click.: If you could go back to the start of your career, what one piece of knowledge would you take with you?

Kong: A career should be a marathon, not a sprint. Early in my career, I struggled when I saw others with less work ethic progress ahead of me. Today I am grateful that I was not promoted too quickly. In a career, it’s important to take the time to develop the necessary foundation, knowledge and expertise. Without it, failure and burnout become inevitable. By treating a career like a marathon we are able to broaden our horizons and find a work-life balance and a solid foundation that enables happiness and success.

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Hero image: credit to Proxyclick, Unsplash

Topics
Takeaway
  • Best Western Rewards has grown to nearly 40 million members since its inception in 1988
  • A memorable hotel stay is no longer just defined by a clean and updated room. So much of the guest experience today is how the hotel makes that person feel
  • Retaining customer loyalty starts with getting the basics right. That means ensuring a clean and comfortable room, as well as attentive and helpful service
  • David predicts that hotel loyalty programmes will be even more important in the future. Moving forward, it’s important to continue to adapt to guest expectation, improving the experience and rewarding loyalty

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