On March 28, David Kong celebrated 15 years as CEO Best Western, a record term for major hotel groups. A look at his professional experience and Best Western's direction over the last 15 years.
More than 40 years in hospitality
As David Kong likes to tell, he began his career in the hotel industry as a bus driver. Today, he is at the helm of one of the biggest hotel groups worldwide. During this time, his experience illustrated his loyalty and the commitment of hospitality industry professionals. Born in Hong Kong, he is a graduate of the Travel Industry Management School at the University of Hawaii's Mānoa campus followed by the Kellogg School of Management. He then worked in supervisory positions at the Hyatt and Omni Hotels & Resorts chains and in the hotel division of an audit firm. In 2001, he joined Best Western where he held executive positions marketing and development before becoming CEO in 2004.
David Kong holds a record of longest term among today's CEOs in the TOP 20 biggest hotel groups. Christopher Nasseta follows with 12 years at the head of the Hilton group and Keith Barr has held the position of CEO IHG for 10 years.
Best Western in the Kong era
In 2004, when David Kong became CEO, the American group Best Western is the 7th group worldwide in terms of number of rooms with more than 311,383 keys. The group is pursuing its franchise development strategy by leveraging its unique brand when others have already built up a significant brand portfolio. North America and Europe concentrate close to 92% of the hotel supply.
Although the brand's image has gradually been modernized, differences in positioning within Best Western hotels are detrimental to higher-range hotels. The equation becomes as follows: make this segmentation visible to consumers without losing the enormous notoriety of Best Western, which was then the world's leading chain in terms of number of rooms. In 2010, the solution was found (with an idea that inspired others). David Kong transformed Best Western into a family of brands. The brand's core remains that of its origins, with establishments ranging from economy to mid-range and located near highways, while the 2 new entities, Best Western Plus and Best Western Premier, gave labels to properties offering mid-range and high-end services. In France, the Best Western Premier brand properties were presented as "hotels with added soul", thereby opening the franchise to historic properties with a strong identity.
From 2014, other brands made their foray to develop on new segments:
- Boutique-hotel brands Vib and Glo,
- Best Western Premier Collection then Best Western Signature Collection in the very upscale range where the group still had a weak presence.
- Aiden Hotel and Sadie Hotel which address independent hoteliers that wish to modernize their property.
In 2016, Best Western also launched a new franchise model through its 3 brands (SureStay, SureStay Plus, SureStay Collection) to reach independent hotels in the economy segment that were not qualified to join the Best Western network. One way to exploit the potential of 12,000 hotels that are mostly in the United States. Finally, Best Western consolidated its its presence in the luxury segment by buying WorldHotels group and its 3 brands (WorldHotels Distinctive, WorldHotels Elite and WorldHotels Luxury).
Quantitatively, according to our latest world ranking, the group shrank in terms of number of rooms to 11th place but the group strengthened its presence on all segments (16 brands in 2019) and achieved excellent financial results, in particular an average RevPAR of 110 euros over the last five years. Geographically, even if in 2019, the vast majority of rooms is still in Europe and North America (89%), Best Western has doubled or tripled its number of rooms and hotels in Asia - Pacific and the Middle East - Africa.
Strong growth in the hotel supply by 2025
During our interview at the Worldwide Hospitality Awards, he indicated wanting to open 200 hotels yearly in Europe and 300 on the other continents, for a total of 500 hotels per year.
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