HotelsAsia managing director Erwann Mahe talks about growth in crisis for Best Western Hotels & Resorts.

Rules of appreciation for this hotel chief? Value growth, grow value

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With borders now reopening, Erwann Mahe believes that Southeast Asia will return to recovery and growth mode in the second half of 2022.
With borders now reopening, Erwann Mahe believes that Southeast Asia will return to recovery and growth mode in the second half of 2022.

How is 2022 shaping up for Best Western Hotels & Resorts in Asia Pacific?

We saw a nice glimpse of recovery in 4Q 2021, but Omicron came and led to a slow first quarter. Then there’s the war between Ukraine and Russia, which adds complexity to a climate of uncertainty.

Best Western is not just a midscale hotel in the middle of the city but it can be a cool resort anywhere in the world.– Erwann Mahe, Asia managing director

But on the positive side, Southeast Asia is reopening, so that will be a big help for the business. We also need all the restrictions to be uniformly lifted across the regions, so people will feel comfortable to travel again. People are already dreaming of travel, and I think they will do it as soon as they can. We’ve seen travel spike in Europe and the US, and we will see it too in Asia.

We’re in a transition period now in 2Q, and then by middle of the year we all are pretty much free to travel normally as before.

Going forward what do you see are the opportunities?

In the region, some countries have been affected more by the pandemic while some are in the recovery phase. Countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Japan, which are less dependent on international travel, occupancies are already back to decent levels. And you have the case of Thailand or Bali, which are still struggling because there's so much dependence on international travel that is still not there.

Looking at 2022 and beyond, we are still ramping up our development. In 2021, we signed 12 deals, mostly large projects, which was about one project per month.

A lot of Best Western’s hotel development is centred in Vietnam, isn’t it?

In Vietnam we're getting into a position of being better known. We built a strong relationship with owners and developers, with 17 projects signed. The brand is now established and reflecting all our global standards. We have a lot more higher-end projects in Vietnam, which is more of an upscale market there. Our brands are matching with demand – we have the Best Western Premier and BW Premier Collection, where are more flexible for more unique properties with local flavour.

When you look at Vietnam, we just opened the Best Western Premier in Halong last year and now we have upcoming projects in Venezia Binh Chau and Charm Resort Ho Tram. These projects are part of BW Premier Collection and they will certainly become our flagships. We see a lot happening on the coast within three hours of Ho Chi Minh City.

Best Western has unveiled a flurry of developments in Vietnam, with the Charm Resort Ho Tram as among its upcoming properties in the country.
Best Western has unveiled a flurry of developments in Vietnam, with the Charm Resort Ho Tram as among its upcoming properties in the country.

As travel comes back and recovery gains pace, so is competition. How is Best Western differentiating yourself from the other hotel chains?

Best Western has always been confined to the midscale segment, but the brand has evolved in the past few years. We now have a diversified portfolio 14 brands, plus four for Worldhotels. We cover economy to luxury, but we also offer lifestyle brands, soft brands, hard brands. Thee brands are now able to adapt both to the owners’ needs as well as guests’ needs.

As we open new hotels, we can also improve the quality of the product, the quality of the management, the quality of the result that we're providing for this owner. It's great that we can explain who we are and what we do, and it’s a lot easier that can showcase our brands through the properties.

How can travel agents better understand the different brands of BWH Hotel Group?

In simple terms, we have three main categories.

We have SureStay, which is pretty much great value for money in the economy or mid lower scale sector for consumers

Then you have the pure Best Western, which spans from midscale to upscale, offerings standards and quality of service. And within that Best Western, we have Collection – these are properties which offer an authentic experience and independent spirit, so each hotel has its own feel and personality. The owners can put about his own touch, and for the guest it’s not a cookie cutter product. And we have two brands in Collection: for BW Signature Collection, it’s more midscale to upscale, and for BW Premier Collection, which is more upscale.

And then we have WorldHotels, which is more a marketing alliance, a collection of hotels and resorts in the upscale and luxury segments.

All these make up our 18 brands. And we want to show that Best Western is not just a midscale hotel in the middle of the city but it can be a cool resort anywhere in the world.

How do you see travel agents’ value and role evolve amid all these changes that we are seeing?

Among the more traditional travel agents, I think only the stronger and bigger ones survived, while a lot of smaller one either went online or sadly disappeared. But travel agents are still holding strong market share in some destinations like, if you look at Phuket, Phu Quoc and Bali, these are still destinations that are mainly contracted, whereas cities like Bangkok they're probably less now we can be relying more online. For some destinations, you need travel agents and there’s a lot of volume from them.

It’s been a year into your role as managing director - Asia of Best Western Hotels & Resorts. How has the journey been like coming into this leadership role at the peak of the pandemic?

In the initial six months, working with the team and learning about Best Western as a company while doing it all from home was the most challenging part. But what I realised after six months is I can trust the strong and dedicated team in place. We work super closely with the head office in Phoenix, and they're really helpful not just in terms of direction, but also in terms of flexibility.

After one year, I feel super confident because we have the right product, the right team, and we also have the right network because of all the new hotels developed and we have built our relationships. We're perfectly positioned to embark into an exciting era.

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