Best Western is the world’s largest hotel chain, with 4,200 hotels in 80 countries and territories. It is a membership association of independently owned and operated hotels that provides marketing, reservations and operational support to its members.
Best Western was founded in 1946 by MK Guertin, a California-based hotelier, with 23 years of experience in the lodging industry. Best Western International began as an informal referral system among member hotels and by 1963 was the largest chain in the industry, with 699 member hotels and 35,201 rooms. In 1964, when Canadian hotel owners joined the system, Best Western took the first step toward global expansion. Since then the company has entered Mexico, Australia and New Zealand and Asia.
The company announced last week it will form a Dh2 billion Middle East partnership with the Zainal Mohebi Group. The first venture will be the $55 million (Dh19.8m) 220-room Best Western Residences in Bur Dubai.
Dubai has been undergoing an unprecedented growth in tourism in the past five years, so why has it taken you so long to set up business here?
A move into the Dubai market has always been on the backburner, but growth should be strategic and controlled. We want to take baby steps as there is no point in rushing and failing. I keep asking Mohammed Mohebi – Chairman and CEO of Mohebi Investments, part of the Zainal Mohebi Group – if the bubble is going to burst, and it seems that it is not. I think the authorities are very focused and are steering the city to success. Today Dubai has 30,000 rooms and by 2010 it expects to have 100,000. If you are a business thinking, ‘Where should I put myself?’, then Dubai has to be up there. In Dubai you achieve what you want to in a shorter space of time. You need to be focused in terms of expansion – we want to have 1,200 rooms in Dubai by 2010.
Dubai is famous for its five-star hotels, so do you feel there is an opening in the market?
Dubai is different from other places as you have a saturation of five-star hotels and the rates are exorbitant. If I am looking for a room I require the following: clean room, good bathroom, good electronics for internet access and good service – but not over-service. A four-star hotel is very different from a five-star hotel as you do not have too many extras. The swimming pools and the gyms are just white elephants more than anything else. We provide bed and breakfast and these two have to be excellent. The breakfast has to be the best. You cannot provide just fancy hotels and then run out of space for other hotels because then it’s too late.
What is the Best Western business model, which has made the firm so successful?
It is simple: we work with local partners, which is a win-win situation for both sides. We offer the licence to develop the brand and product segmentation, according to what hotel we are looking at. We also provide staff training and quality assurance. The philosophy is value for money.
How has the Asian market grown in the time that you have worked for Best Western and how do you see the Middle East market developing in the coming years?
I have been in the business for 31 years and worked for several other companies before Best Western, mainly in operations, markets and development. When I started we had four hotels in Asia and now we have 120 – and my target is 200 by 2010. As I have said before, the growth has to be strategic. The Middle East is maturing as a market, and we have a different business model to other firms as we provide three-star to a maximum four-and-a-half star service. So we will grow with the market and it will be a success.
What future plans do you have for the UAE and the Middle East?
The Best Western Residences in Bur Dubai will open in 2009 and we plan to open two or three more hotels in Dubai before moving into Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah and Abu Dhabi. We also have plans for Qatar and Oman. During the next five to 10 years our focus will be on the Middle East.
As a company with more than 60 years experience, what benefits can Best Western offer the customer?
Our customers range from economy to business class. The difference we have is that we are part of an international chain and distribution is already there.
We have the quality, security and distribution to give the customer exactly what they want. We deal with 750 company accounts and have a loyalty programme with eight million members.
We are affiliated to 18 global airlines and our customers can access all these facilities. The chances of survival are so much greater with a brand. We have 26 sales offices around the world – the newest two will open in Bur Dubai and Dubai Media City this year.
How long has the Dubai deal been in the making and why did you choose Zainal Mohebi Group as your partner?
We have been working on this deal for six months. You need a partner to grow and expand the brand. We feel we have the right partner committed to the development of hospitality and tourism. Together we will provide a one-stop-shop for our customers. Before that we need to be visible in the UAE and together we will be investing the time and money to raise the company’s profile. That is the only way to survive.
What is your impression of the tourism industry in Dubai and how can you enhance this?
Well, you cannot go anywhere in the world these days without reading, hearing or seeing something related to Dubai. It is just staggering the amount of different developments that are being built. I think people do not have that much choice between five-star and three-star. So I think Best Western can be beneficial in the fact that it will over the years, in Dubai and other parts of the UAE, give more choice to tourists and business people.
What will be the rate of a hotel room in Dubai?
We are looking at $300 (Dh1,100) at the moment, but this could change nearer the time of the opening. We’ll have to see.
Glenn de Souza, Vice-President International Operations for Asia, Best Western
Glenn de Souza, who has more than 30 years of hotel experience, is responsible for the management, development and expansion of the Best Western brand throughout Asia. He joined the company in 2002, after holding numerous managerial positions with chains such as Accor, Omni, Sheraton and Holiday Inn International. He is based in Bangkok and was previously Best Western’s Managing Director for Asia from 2003 to 2005. De Souza has led hotel’s development as well as sales and marketing efforts, while supervising the implementation of member support programmes and services.
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