One Hotel Chain Stands Out From The Crowd
By Jon Langston
(This story originally appeared in the January/February 2010 issue of RoadBike. It is published here with photos that didn’t make it into the magazine.)
A few weeks ago, at the annual Indian Larry Block Party in Brooklyn, a colleague and I were kicking around the topic of motorcycle touring. The subject of hotels came up, and I mentioned that I’d recently been on a three-day ride sponsored by Best Western and Harley-Davidson. That’s where Sam balked.
“The thing about Best Westerns,” he pointed out, “is that you never know what you’re going to get.”
“Frankly,” I replied, “that’s exactly what appeals to me: no two ever seem to be alike.” With a Best Western hotel, I get the comfort and assurance of a recognized name with the homey quirks and personalized service of a mom-and-pop operation. And on that aforementioned autumn jaunt through Vermont and the Adirondacks with representatives of both BW and H-D, I learned exactly why that is.
“Most Best Westerns are family-owned and -operated,” Ron Pohl, the company’s vice president of brand management and member services, said, in explaining why no two Best Western hotels are cut from the same cloth. “Our properties are essentially independent.”
Other chains build cookie-cutter hotels from corporate master plans, and the result is they look and feel (and often smell) the same. They’re then franchised out — often to absentee investors who‘d never be caught dead in such a place. But Best Western isn’t a typical chain hotel. Where other chains franchise their properties for long-term, multiyear contracts, hotels under the Best Western umbrella are only granted franchise licenses on a yearly basis. According to Pohl, this is what sets Best Western hotels apart.
Private hotels and motel owners adopt the BW brand, he said, because of the name recognition it brings, and the quality it signifies. Best Western supplies the basic necessities and quality control standards, but the day-to day operations are the responsibility of the owners. And according to Pohl, acquiring the well-known navy blue sign with yellow lettering takes more than simply cutting a check.
In order to earn the Best Western insignia, individual properties are subject to a strict, three-tiered, quality-control program. Pohl heads a team of some 40 investigators worldwide whose job it is to stay at Best Western properties and grade them according to predetermined corporate standards. If a property fails on any account, it is written up, and the investigator works with the owner to immediately resolve the issue. With each property up for a corporate evaluation when its yearly franchise contract is up, any violations from the previous twelve months are also reviewed at that time. If a particular problem has not been remedied, or a property is far below the standards Best Western has set, the chain will refuse to reup the franchise contract, eradicating its endorsement of the property. The familiar sign comes down, the name comes off, and the motel reverts to being just another roadside stopping place. Pohl claims Best Western yanked its placard from more than 300 hotels in calendar year 2008 alone.
Pohl went on to say that for private owners, the Best Western designation is important, because it helps their property compete with the national chain hotel across the highway. He also pointed out that with chain hotels, the people behind the counter are usually nothing more than employees, while at Best Westerns, chances are said employees are also the owners, or immediate family members who also live there.
“What that means is that the person who checked you in probably has a personal stake in the hotel’s success,” he explains. “The advantage of that is if you call the front desk with a problem, I can practically guarantee it’ll be dealt with as soon as possible.”
So how does all this benefit motorcyclists? BW’s RideRewards program benefits bikers much the same way frequent flyer programs do business travelers. Best Western’s free Rewards program (anyone can join, but special offers are available to Harley Owners’ Group members, as well as other specialty organizations such as AAA members and NASCAR fan clubs) offers a wide variety of perks, including free room nights, airline miles, dining, shopping, and entertainment. However, properties that endorse the rider-friendly Ride Rewards program (www.BWRideRewards.com) promise preferential treatment to bikers, including preferred bike parking, express check-in, and in-room wipe-down towels. (Many rider-friendly properties offer even more specialized motorcycle perks, such as bike wash areas and lighted, covered, and/or secured parking.) Pohl, an experienced rider himself, knows the value motorcyclists place on these things, and is working to expand the Ride Rewards program even further. He hopes that in the future, you’ll see a special logo on Best Western signs at certain hotels that offer such perks, so bikers can easily spot rider-friendly hotels from the road.
Maybe then Sam will know precisely what he’s going to get.
Here are some additional photos from the ride: