BWH Hotel Group has announced that David Kong, President and Chief Executive Officer, will be retiring at the end of 2021.
The longest-tenured CEO of the hotel industry, Kong joined Best Western Hotels & Resorts in 2001 and became its CEO in 2004. Over the 20 years since, Kong grew the group into a global powerhouse — from one to 18 brands covering the entire chain's scale segment and accommodation type, including boutique/lifestyle and extended stay.
Under his helm, the group also leapfrogged its cash reserves and net equity by more than 10-fold, and acquired both WorldHotels Collection and property management system AutoClerk.
Guest and hotel satisfaction rating also clocked record highs, where Kong grew BWH's company loyalty programme contribution to becoming the third highest in the industry.
Said Kong: “This industry has empowered me to dream boldly about the future and to pursue those dreams without hesitation. I feel blessed to have been surrounded by exceptional teams throughout my career and through sheer passion and dedication, we have chased bold dreams and achieved what many might have considered impossible.
“I feel very fortunate to have played a role in building BWH Hotel Group into the brand it is today. I have always wanted to move on at my peak. With our caring culture, our extraordinary hoteliers, executive team, and corporate staff, I have no doubt the best is yet to come for BWH Hotel Group.”
A legacy of leading, listening and caring
In addition to brand leadership, Kong, who started out as a dishwasher and busboy, leaves a legacy of caring.
“David Kong is a once in a lifetime leader whose contributions to Best Western and BWH Hotel Group are truly immeasurable,” said Ishwar Naran, Board Chairman, BWH Hotel Group. “David has always led by example and, most importantly, cared deeply about those he serves from hoteliers, to colleagues, associates, guests and communities.”
Roger Dow, President and CEO, US Travel Association concurred: “David’s legacy is the integrity of a promise, keeping your word and delivering on it."
Pat Pacious, President and Chief Executive Officer, Choice Hotels International, Inc added that Kong's success in transforming BWH from a single to multi-brand family required "a lot of listening, a lot of partnership and a lot of persuasion, but created a great outcome for his company and his members".
“What he has been able to do with Best Western is really create the consistency of the highest level of performance. David has created an environment at Best Western that encourages its owners to be their best and to create the best products," said Chip Rogers, President and CEO, American Hotel & Lodging Association.
Similar messages have poured in from industry veterans, including Geoff Ballotti, President and CEO, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts who calls David "a mentor to so many of us over the years," and as someone who "brought a sense of family to life at Best Western," said Mark Hoplamazian, President and CEO, Hyatt Hotels Corporation.
When the pandemic hit, Kong implemented a comprehensive strategy which included more than US$65 million in fee rebates to its hoteliers since March 2020, and adjusting operating standards including enhanced cleaning protocols.
He also met with President Trump and government leaders and conducted interviews with major TV networks to advocate for much-needed federal support.
"Throughout the darkness of the pandemic, David led with caring, empathy, and a steadfast resolve to overcome. He set an example of leadership through crisis that will be remembered for generations to come," said Naran.
BWH Hotel Group will announce a new CEO at the company’s annual convention on 7 October, 2021.