WorldHotels announces plan to add 50 new properties in 2023
The WorldHotels Group plans to open 50 new properties worldwide this year, including 14 in the Asia-Pacific region, executives at the group said at its annual conference in Bangkok.
"We will increase our visibility and build customer relationships," group CEO Larry Cuculic told the 110 global managers and leaders attending the conference at the Carlton Hotel Bangkok Sukhumvit.
In 2019, Best Western Hotels & Resorts acquired the WorldHotels brand, adding about 300 hotels and resorts to its global portfolio.
The deal helped rapidly expand Best Western's diverse properties with an e-commerce platform and expand its portfolio.
WorldHotels says its key strengths are in its partnerships, a loyalty program, and sales and marketing.
Last year, WorldHotels had 50 hotels in the Asia-Pacific region, with a combined 19,400 rooms. It also had a strong development pipeline in the region, specifically in Vietnam where several projects were underway.
WorldHotels Asia-Pacific strategy this year will see it focus on Southeast Asia due to emerging star Vietnam. Vietnam is expected to continue to be its priority despite the government's tougher regulation on hotels, resorts, and condotels.
While there is plenty of potential for Thailand, several resort spots are de-branding themselves. These indications are regarded as possibilities, according to executives at the meeting.
They confirmed that two new projects will open in Thailand this year.
Ron Pohl, president of WorldHotels, said the company would focus on raising its profile and investing in technology this year:
"We are going to concentrate on a few essential points. First, by working with international PR firms, we hope to raise our profile's visibility and the number of hotels joining our group. Second, we must make investments in technology, since it is vital to the operation of the company. This year, we've made an investment of US$85 million in technology alone. To build the revenue management platform, we collaborated closely with Sabre Hospitality Solutions. As a result, we can guarantee that the backend system will better serve all hotels.”
The Nation had exclusive interviews with Cuculic, Poh and vice-president Olivier Berrivin.
I was wondering if you are one of the very few CEOs in the global hotel industry with a background in law.
Cuculic: Yes, I was a lawyer before. It teaches me to think strategically, and that skill set is transferred to my new responsibilities. Being a lawyer allows me to be involved across all responsibilities, including brand management, financial matters, and so on. I used to look at everything from a lawyer's viewpoint, but now I look at things differently from a business perspective because I have a lawyer who works for me. There is still a part of me that will never forget that I am a lawyer. I am maybe more conservative by nature, I think.
You came to Thailand in 2015. What are the most important changes you've seen in Bangkok and in the hotel business since then?
Cuculic: The growth of Bangkok is evident as you can see all the buildings outside. It is phenomenal how the city can grow as much as it has in the several years that I have been here. In terms of the hotel business, I think the hotel industry here in Bangkok has grown tremendously because of the demand for travel. Lots of people want to visit Thailand.
Berrivin: The number of hotels joining WorldHotels is increasing, and there are also more international hotel chains coming to Thailand. Back then, five years ago, Thai hospitality was No 1, as people knew it as the land of smiles. However, we rarely see the Thai flavour in the huge hotel chain service, whereas we try to retain that best quality in Thai hospitality at all levels.
When WorldHotels was acquired in 2019 and then got hit by COVID-19, what were the biggest changes in how you ran your business and managed it?
Cuculic: We were there when they needed us the most. We were very thoughtful with our hoteliers, making sure that they had the support they needed to sustain themselves through the pandemic. We did whatever we could to support them in terms of providing them advice and the brand standard, which would help the safety department not just welcome customers but take care of their health and well-being. So we are establishing the program to provide hoteliers with the protocol to get through the pandemic. So we did that very differently, and we adapted it very quickly. We work with the hotel to make sure that they have that kind of support. We understand if some hotels want to close. Because of the pandemic, we worked with them and knew the epidemic would end eventually. We were really focused on the relationship between the hoteliers and us. We also focused on sales as best as we could because there were still some sales opportunities … Some of our hotels turned themselves into safe lodging for Covid victims who needed a place to stay for a period of time, or a place for quarantine. Also, in Europe, some of our partners turned themselves into refugee housing units; they were escaping from Ukraine. That’s a good story to tell.
Pohl: What WorldHotels had I think you wouldn’t see from other hotel chains. All hoteliers in the conference room this morning could pick up the phone and call Olivier, me or Larry anytime and we answered the phone. This is not a push it down to someone else in the organisation [style of management]. We are available to any owners, any general managers who want to call us.
You once went on a "listening tour" to hear what your employees had to say. Did you do that while you were here? So far, what have you learned?
Cuculic: No, I haven't, but that is a great idea. I probably should have done that. When I took over the job, I went on a listening tour across North America. All the hoteliers can come and provide me with some feedback, and I will create the atmosphere that will help the employees feel free to give me their real comments. If they want to criticise the marketing team, then the marketing team should not be in the meeting. I just want them to know that they can tell me the truth without any pressure or hurting someone’s feelings.
As I heard your speech at the conference, it gave me that vibe of winning spirit. Can you tell me how to pass that on to your employees?
Cuculic: I am a very social person. Every day I will walk around the building and put on a smile. I interacted with them and asked, ‘How was your day going?’ I enjoy that interaction of getting to know people. I even held the campaign, ‘Lunch with Larry’, which allows me and employees to have lunch together, one on 25 employees, and last week we just talked about rock and roll during lunch. We just want to make sure that we care about them and that they are making a difference. I also encourage a work-life balance, and I think it is tremendously important that you take care of your family. The other thing you have to do is have a plan to take care of your employees; make sure their compensation is fair; make sure they have a benefit program; and everything else … you have to go beyond the smiling face.
WorldHotels is getting a lot bigger. Can you tell me what makes independent hotels want to join your group?
Pohl: The short answer to that is you got the support of the global organisation behind them without all the costs they would have if they tried to do it themselves ... The independent hotels could have a loyalty program, but how many people are going to be a part of that? The cost is too expensive to do it on their own with limited returns. Connect to [us] and now you have access to 55 million rewards members. We have invested $85 million dollars this year just in technology alone, so you have all of these resources available for hotels, including education and training for the staff that help you navigate all of that, so there is no downside to doing it. The service at WorldHotels is very flexible. We want to do what makes you more profitable, not just charge you.
One last question is: How does Thailand play a role in WorldHotels' portfolio?
Berrivin: One of our top priorities is to open as many properties as we can. We have one more hotel that will be opening soon in Phuket. We just want to make sure that we have the right products in the right places. We do not want to develop too much so that we don't create unnecessary competition.