Deep dive with Ron Pohl, president of international operations, BWH Hotels

BWH Hotels intends to build upon its strong portfolio of approximately 4,500 hotels in over 100 countries, so THP News quizzed the firm’s president of international operations on the direction of expansion efforts.

Ron Pohl, also president of the group’s WorldHotels division, outlined why high end hotels and soft brands offer major opportunities for the US-headquartered home of the Best Western Hotels & Resorts brand umbrella.

What are your development plans for your luxury and upscale brands?

BWH Hotels is highly focused on continuing to grow and expand in these pivotal segments across global markets, especially to build on the excellent momentum we have seen over the past year. We are particularly proud of the continued growth of WorldHotels, where we have welcomed over 20 fine independent hotels into our distinguished luxury and upscale collections across several regions, from the Americas to Europe and Asia.

How has your 2019 acquisition of WorldHotels influenced your development direction?

The addition of an upper upscale and luxury brand such as WorldHotels allows us to attract new customers, guests and developers, enhances the image for BWH Hotels and positions us to compete on the world stage. Bringing WorldHotels into the BWH Hotels portfolio has opened the door for exciting new development across global markets. Our recent and forward-looking development pipeline for WorldHotels has seen us expand our presence in key markets like Canada, Spain, Greece, the United States, and across Europe and Asia. BWH Hotels is one of only a handful of global hotel brands offering a portfolio that spans from luxury to economy, that is attractive to both developers and corporate travel buyers.

Are you looking at any particular global regions to accelerate your luxury, lifestyle and upscale growth?

We have our sights set on continuing to grow these segments across all key global markets, especially where we see opportunities to expand upon our existing presence in top business and leisure travel destinations. Adding to that, we are especially focused on bringing our BWH Hotels brands into new and emerging markets, where we can introduce our signature hospitality and service tenants to new guests. Coming into 2023, we experienced tremendous growth in new markets for WorldHotels, launching our Canada portfolio with nine hotels and welcoming our first WorldHotels properties in Greece with Makedonia Palace, Spain with Alhambra Palace, Brazil with The Majestic Ponta Negra, and Mexico with Hotel Boutique. We also announced a multi-branded resort project with the Charm Group in Phu Quoc Vietnam, and we are expanding our upscale boutique brand, Aiden, in the Scandinavia region, as well as in India and across the United States of America, and we look forward to continuing that momentum.

Do you have any specific targets for additional hotels in the four and five star space?

Particularly for WorldHotels, we are looking closely at growing our portfolio of four- and five-star hotels in Central and South America, where we see many independent hotels looking to align with a soft brand. WorldHotels has incredible presence and awareness across Europe and Asia, and we continue to attract great hotels. We are looking to complement our robust portfolio with special attention in Latin and North America. These regions contain incredible independent hotels and resorts looking to partner with a global brand such as BWH Hotels, specifically WorldHotels. We have some exciting projects on the horizon.

Your soft brands have been surging of late, why is this and how do you intend to continue it?

We have seen an increased demand in independent hotels wanting to align with global hotel companies to form a mutually beneficial partnership. With our WorldHotels soft brand, our independent hotel and resort partners bring so much to the table in the way of exceptional hospitality and service, as well as incredible experiences in-house and within their local destinations. WorldHotels offer the marketing strength that independent hotels cannot achieve alone. Additionally, in most regions of the world, our industry is in a conversion cycle. This creates an opportunity for owners to invest in their hotels and reposition them into the upper upscale or luxury tier. That, coupled with associating with a brand like WorldHotels, allows them to maximise their return on investment. It is why we are doubling down on continuing to grow our soft brands like WorldHotels and we strongly feel that with what we bring to the table in the way of partnership and support, we stand poised to offer benefits to our independent partners that other soft brands cannot.

What prospects do you see for the boutique hotel sector within your group?

We see tremendous growth and expansion opportunities for our boutique brands like Aiden and Vib especially as we continue to track the increase in demand globally for the unique lifestyle experiences that our boutique brands deliver. With Aiden, we were thrilled to announce at the beginning of this year that the brand doubled in size with 30 new hotels being added to the portfolio in Scandinavia, coupled with the launch in India. Furthermore, Aiden is set to grow by over 200% in the years ahead with new properties debuting across global markets, adding to properties in key destinations such as Australia, France, Italy, South Korea, and across the United States.

Do you see more potential for newbuilds or conversions within your group?

We see a great deal of value in both and are actively leaning into each side within our development pipeline. In today’s economic climate, with the exception of APAC, there is certainly a bigger emphasis on conversion opportunities. This is where brands like Aiden are pivotal – providing hoteliers with an opportunity to reposition an existing asset into a modern and boutique hotel experience that resonates with today’s travellers.

Why did you change the group name from BWH Hotel Group to BWH Hotels this year?

The name BWH Hotels is more representative of who we are. We are proud of our heritage as a hotel hospitality company with a collection of independent and entrepreneurial owners for more than 77 years. BWH Hotel Group sounds more like a financial group that owns and operates hotels.

What criteria do you use to choose suppliers on each hotel project?

Quality is our first priority, but we also view every hotel project as an opportunity to create something special. Guests today want unique experiences influenced by their destination and we prefer to employ local vendors to support the region. Of course, we adhere to brand standards across all areas of operations to ensure the quality of the hotel aligns with the specific brand; however, we respect regional differences and recognise that the cookie-cutter approach is not always preferred.

How do you see the BWH Hotels group progressing over the next few years?

We are continuing to lean into growth across all chain scales as we commit to expanding our core legacy brands under the Best Western Hotels & Resorts umbrella, as well as our boutique and soft brands. We have also seen significant momentum in our extended stay segments with the recent launch of Home by BWH, where development will be rolling out over the next few years. As a leading global hospitality company, BWH Hotels is also leaning into critical programs such as our newly launched ‘because we care’ global sustainability initiative, where we are focused on addressing the world’s most pressing challenges through the brand’s commitment to social and environmental responsibility across three core pillars: earth, people, community (EPC).