Having started with just six properties in India in 2007, Best Western India at present has 29 properties in operation and under development. Sudhir Sinha, President and Chief Operating Officer, Best Western India shares the experience of India expansion of the brand.
Ramanjit Kaur (RK): Elaborate on the inception of Best Western India?
Sudhir Sinha (SS): Best Western is an iconic brand which was started in 1946 in North America, as an informal guest referral system amongst properties. Over the years it has graduated to become the world’s largest hotel chain with 4000+ properties in over 80 countries and territories worldwide and hosting over 400,000 guests every day. Best Western India was got incepted the year 2007, when Cabana Hotel Management Pvt. Ltd got the mandate of Best Western for India. Having started with six properties at present the brand has 29 properties in operation and under development in India. We target for 100 properties by the year 2017, which we are quite confident of achieving, given the fast pace of growth we have been witnessing in the past couple of years.
RK: Share the portfolio of services offered by the Best Western?
SS: Best Western today represents the best brand promise for international travelers looking for mid-scale to upscale properties providing international standards of lodging experience worldwide. We offer our member properties the unique advantage of retaining their independence while providing the benefits of a full-service, international lodging affiliation offering a global reservations system, marketing, advertising, purchasing, training and quality standards.
RK: What inspired Best Western to take the franchise route to expand its presence in India?
SS: Globally Best Western has always provided Brand Franchising services and is considered leader in the hospitality industry in this regard. And given the huge diversity in the Indian hotel landscape we thought it appropriate to start with our Brand Franchising services before stepping into the Management services. We find business families in India who have been into hospitality for generations and on the other hand we also have owners/promoters from different industries starting their first hospitality venture. In these circumstances, Brand Franchise gives each owner the independence to retain his uniqueness while benchmarking his property with the expectation of the international travelers.
RK: What is the USP of Best Western? How it is different from other players in the hospitality sector?
SS: With 4000+ independent owners maintaining the same minimum standards across different geographies, catering to diverse guest profiles and setting global benchmarks in customer care, that’s our USP. Best Western has managed to harness the unique strengths of such large portfolio in most spectacular manner by providing the most technologically up-to-date tools, resources and training modules to its member properties.
The online revenue management tools, central reservation system, guest loyalty programs and preferred relationship with Multinational Corporations and Travel Houses worldwide drive substantial value-addition to each of our member properties.
And in most of these arenas Best Western has set the ball rolling so the other players are always just trying to catch up with us while we leapfrog the competition with constant innovation.
RK: What practices and initiatives have you introduced in Best Western?
SS: Best Western Rewards is one of the most successful guest loyalty program in the world, which allows guest to earn points across our 4000+ properties and offers attractive redemption options, including free room stay.
To engage with the travel fraternity, we have Best Cheque®, which provides Travel Agents hassle free commission in single cheque, for all bookings made at the over 4000+ properties of Best Western.
In North America, we partner Harley Davidson and NASCAR to provide the enthusiasts access to special packages. In Asia, we are working with the leading international banks and credit card companies to provide their premium and elite customers preferential tariffs.
We have BW Travel and Unit Cards which allow guests to travel cash free and help avoid the associated risks.
Starting 2011 we have also launched the mandatory Green Practices across all our worldwide properties which include written practices for the recycling program; energy conservation program; water conservation program; and local conservation program.
RK: What are the eligibility criteria for selecting the franchisees of your company?
SS: We look for minimum 60 keys with average area of 550 to 600 sq. ft. covered area per key. We look at an investment of around Rs 25 lakh per key for the Best Western, Rs 35 to 40 lakh per key for Best Western Plus and Rs 50 lakh or more per key for Best Western Premier brand.
RK: How many franchised hotels do you presently have in India and abroad? What are your target locations to expand Best Western in India?
SS: As stated earlier, we currently have 29 properties in operation and under development. We are scheduled to open Managed properties in New Delhi and Navi Mumbai this year and taken together with our other hotels opening in key cities like Ahmedabad, Ajmer, Indore, Neral and Zirakpur (Chandigarh) by the end of 2011, this year promises to be the inflexion point in our India growth story. Apart from this we are in the process of discussions for properties in Shimla, Chennai, Coimbatore, Visakhapatnam, Siliguri and few other Tier II cities with good business potential.
RK: What kind of training and support will a franchisee gets after partnering with your company?
SS: When we associate with any property we provide entire gamut of technical services, training, recruitment, purchasing, vendors and marketing services to the property. We have highly experienced team of industry veterans well versed in projects, pre-opening, sales and marketing to support them for their successful commissioning and operations.
RK: What are the future plans of the company in terms of expansion through franchising?
SS: We have target of 100 properties by 2017 with 50 per cent of the portfolio being mid-scale Best Western properties, 30 per cent upper mid-scale Best Western Plus properties and 20 per cent upscale Best Western Premier properties.