How Best Western Plays the Long Game

Felipe Carreras, e-commerce director at Best Western International, shares the company's road map for its digital initiatives.
Customer Strategy

When Best Western Motels opened its doors 70 years ago, the company served as a referral service that linked hotels to travelers. Today, the referral service is long gone but the company, now known as Best Western International, is once again on a mission to reinvent itself.

Two years ago Best Western International embarked on an initiative to modernize its digital properties and link them with offline experiences. The hotel chain's efforts to do so couldn't come soon enough, observes Felipe Carreras, e-commerce director at Best Western International.

"Our mobile experience was really just a proxy for our desktop site-it was more like mobile with training wheels-and it wasn't the best guest experience," Carreras says. "We needed to up our game if we were going to keep up with the competitive marketplace."

To do so, the company deployed Adobe Experience Manager to launch new property websites as well as relaunch its mobile site. In July 2015, Best Western rolled out 2,056 subdomain sites under the corporate Best Western site, highlighting each hotel's unique location and nearby attractions.

And in September, the company unveiled upgrades to its mobile site and app, such as the ability to filter search results by popularity, rate, or amenities in addition to letting users check their points under the company's loyalty program. Best Western's digital and mobile push quickly yielded positive results. Within a few weeks after launching the new websites, the average conversion rate increased by 60 percent and smartphone bookings alone grew 70 percent.

"But we're not resting on our laurels," Carreras adds. "There's a lot more we want to do to improve our guest experience." Later this year, the hotel chain plans to launch a global responsive site in which both its desktop and mobile sites will be powered by a central platform (the current mobile site is a standalone site) and the sites will automatically adapt to whichever device the consumer is using. Additionally, the company is planning to add new features to its app that guests have requested, such as the ability to check in and out via the app.

Carreras also says he's interested in learning more about Adobe's Marketing Cloud Device Co-op, a cross-device system that enables brands to pool anonymized device data and create a more complete customer journey.

At the same time, Best Western is carefully weighing the benefits of new features to avoid offering something that may be trendy but has little value to its guests, Carreras explains. For instance, while feedback surveys show that guests want a check in/out app feature, "our guests aren't clamoring for mobile keys and we don't see it as a competitive differentiator," he says. "Similarly, Best Western was one of the first companies to adopt Google Business View [giving guests a 360-degree view of its hotel rooms and property] and even though virtual reality is getting a lot of play, we don't see a need for it right now."

The company has also undergone changes from an organizational standpoint as customer demands and market forces evolve. When Carreras joined Best Western four years ago, his position in e-commerce fell under the sales and marketing departments and the company's hardware and software teams reported to separate leaders.

Late last year, it was decided the company should have a chief digital officer who now oversees the company's hardware and software infrastructure as well as business technology and e-commerce decisions. "It made sense to streamline these operations and my team is a business unit within technology management so we straddle two worlds," Carreras explains.

And to further enhance collaboration within the organization's various departments, the company recently appointed a "digital outreach officer" whose job is to be a "silo buster," Carreras adds.

For instance, the sales team could be working on a challenge similar to one that the marketing team faces, but the two departments may not be aware of this.

"Because we have someone who is the eyes, ears, and mouth of technology management who also keeps track of what other departments are doing, now we can reduce the work by solving the problem once by facilitating communication and collaboration," Carreras explains.

These organizational changes make it easier to respond to technology and industry developments and communicate them to the hotel chain's directors and franchise owners who look to the corporate office for guidance. And while the company may move quickly on certain decisions, "it's actually deceptive since we plan at least five years in advance," Carreras adds. "We're playing the long game, but the marketplace is playing the short game so we're always trying to balance the two."