Larry Cuculic, president and CEO
Cuculic became president and CEO of BWH Hotel Group in December, after having
spent 12 years as the company’s senior vice president and general counsel.
BWH Hotel Group is comprised of three hotel companies - WorldHotels Collection, Best Western Hotels & Resorts and
SureStay Hotel Group - with 4,700 hotels across 18 brands in more than 100 countries
and territories worldwide.
How do BWH Hotel Group’s operations today
compare to early 2020, pre-pandemic. And has the pandemic created any permanent
changes in the way the company operates?
The hospitality industry has endured an
incredible challenge, and I am tremendously proud of how our organization and
our hoteliers responded to the pandemic. Our board of directors together with
our senior executive team worked quickly to ensure BWH Hotel Group could
support our hoteliers through their hardships and protect our company’s
financial position. As a result of our responsive and aggressive austerity
program, we are now fortunate to be in the strongest financial position in the
company’s history and we will leverage this position of strength to increase
revenue delivery to our hoteliers.
As the industry continues its rebound, I am
committed to ensuring that we are driving superior revenue to our hoteliers,
providing industry-leading support, capitalizing on new development opportunities
and providing superior care to our guests. We will deliver on these goals by
continuing to strengthen our award-winning loyalty program, increasing brand
revenue delivery, exceeding guest expectations when they stay at our hotels
and driving our development efforts across key markets in North America and across
The hospitality industry is changing as the
lines blur between hotels and short-term rentals, accelerated by the pandemic
as more people are able to work remotely or combine leisure and business
travel. What is BWH Hotel Group doing to adapt to new consumer demands?
While the pandemic has had an impact on remote
work, a combination of business and leisure travel is something we have seen in
the industry for some time. Some of our brands in the boutique segment such as
Aiden and Vīb offer open spaces, modern lobbies and cocktail bars where our
guests choose to work during the day and socialize in the evening.
with approximately 4,700 hotels around the world, many of our properties are in
destinations ideal for a blend of leisure and business travel, and many of our
properties provide business centers, meeting space and enhanced technology to
meet business needs. We continue to monitor the evolving needs of our guests
and we will continue to do everything we can to meet and exceed those
We’ve seen an accelerated adoption of
contactless technologies – self check-in, chatbots, QR codes, etc. – in the
last two years. How far will BWH Hotel Group go with automation in the hotel
experience? What roles do you think will always need to be fronted by a person?
While contactless technologies are being
adopted where there is a tangible benefit to our guests, we believe that guests
still desire a friendly face and personal interactions that “connect.” We will
continue to evaluate the level of technology that guests expect, but we will
always want our guests to know that we are there when they need us – be it at
the front desk or in the breakfast area.
How important is “book direct” for BWH Hotel
Group brands? And what can be done to capture more bookings in that way?
Guests that book direct with Best Western
Hotels & Resorts and WorldHotels enjoy the benefits of our low-rate
guarantee and are able to utilize our Best Western Rewards and
WorldHotels Rewards loyalty programs and benefits. Loyalty members drove
approximately 80% of our company’s direct online bookings amid the pandemic and
we need to make sure that we are bringing our loyalty members value on a
consistent basis. To help capture more direct bookings, we will continue to
showcase the value that our guests can receive through cost savings and loyalty
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Recently we launched the BWR Pay with Points
program which provides our valued rewards members with greater access to travel
regardless of how many points they have in their account. Through this program,
consumers who do not have enough points for a free room can discount their room
rate by using BWR points. With BWR being the only loyalty program in the
industry in which points never expire, Pay with Points is just one of many
investments we are making into our industry-leading loyalty program.
We've touched on direct, but OTAs are a
necessary part of the distribution ecosystem. What are some of the best ways of
ensuring that relationship works for BWH Hotel Group?
Our preference, of course, is that guests book
direct on bestwestern.com, where guests and BWR loyalty program members are
offered the lowest rate and can rely upon our low-rate guarantee. We recognize
that some guests may want to compare pricing on an OTA website; however, we are
hopeful that guests realize, over time and through their personal experiences,
that the lowest possible rates are on bestwestern.com and that by avoiding OTAs
they can participate in the BWR loyalty program where points never expire, and points
can be used for free night redemptions as well as our BWR Pay with Points
In the last decade, airlines have accelerated
the “unbundling” of their product. What is your view on this strategy for
hotels – for example – à la carte pricing for housekeeping, use of a pool,
early check-in, etc.
Our philosophy is that our rates should
generally be all inclusive and transparent. We recognize, however, that there
are circumstances when guests want certain flexibility, for example early check-in
and late check-out. These guest opt-in programs are an opportunity for hotels
to generate additional revenue while responding to guest requests.
What are the most critical elements of the
guest experience in order to drive repeat business? Where are their
opportunities for BWH Hotel Group to generate more brand loyalty?
We have to be able to demonstrate our ability
to care for the guest, as the hospitality industry at its core is about caring
for the guest and overdelivering on the expected experience. Amid the pandemic,
guests have come to expect enhanced cleaning standards and we were the first in
the industry to roll out enhanced cleaning protocols. Recognizing that
travelers continue to be more concerned than ever about cleanliness, these
higher level of cleaning standards and operational best practices provide
reassurance to guests interested in traveling again that they will be assured a
We also need to continue to gather the
learnings from our loyalty business to understand our guests on a granular
level. We have to know what motivates them to stay with us, so we can continue
to provide and evolve our loyalty program and hotel offerings.
How do you attract new customers to BWH Hotel Group
Scalability is key and BWH Hotel Group offers
hotels across every chain segment ranging from economy to luxury. In addition,
through the use of our loyalty program, guests have opportunities to utilize
points to save on their travel at our approximately 4,700 hotels globally. We
also recognize our guests are relying more and more on the mobile experience,
and we are investing heavily in that direction. We have been working to make
our digital experiences more user-friendly and we are also developing the ability
to accept additional forms of payment. This includes making our gift cards
easier to use by enabling them to be redeemed online and through our new Pay
with Points program, our website now allows guests to designate BWR points for
the purpose of reducing the room rate.
We are also working to continue evolving brand
perception, which will help attract new guests to our diverse portfolio of brands.
To show prospective guests the Best Western of today, social media continues to
be one of our most important tools. It allows us to create special connections
with key audiences and engage with our community of loyal guests. Through our
comprehensive social media strategy, we highlight each of our 18 brands on BW
Travel Zone and on platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.
We also engage with a network of influencers to introduce Best Western to new
audiences and spotlight our hotels across their various platforms.
What emerging technologies are you most
excited about as far as their potential to affect the hospitality industry?
We are investing heavily in the mobile
experience. We understand that more and more guests are using mobile technology
to research and then book reservations at our BWH Hotel Group hotels. We want
to be and we will be where guests can easily find and seamlessly book rooms at our
Regarding hotel revenue, we are excited about
our development of a newly designed revenue management platform that will
ensure our hoteliers recognize and leverage the ability to carefully and
thoughtfully manage rates and inventory.
And in what parts of the world do you see the
best opportunities for growth for the company?
We’re continuing to open hotels globally on a
daily basis across our brands. While the bulk of our inventory remains in the
midscale, we see increased opportunities to expand across other chain scale
segments, especially in the boutique and extended stay segments.
We are a global brand focused on thoughtful,
measured growth. BWH Hotel Group offers 18 distinct brands across every market
segment, from economy to luxury, including lifestyle and extended stay options
and we will continue to grow each brand based on traveler demand. Guests can
expect to find BWH Hotel Group properties that meet their traveling needs
wherever their travels take them.
What are the top two or three items on your
to-do list for the company in the next three years?
After just celebrating our 75th
anniversary, we will continue to evolve to meet and exceed guest expectations.
We will remain focused in the areas that we know matter most to our customers, which
include investing in technology to enhance the guest journey, ensuring that our
loyalty program offers industry leading rewards for which it is known and
providing every guest with the spirit of caring and service that is at the
heart of our brand.
You began your career in the U.S. Army. What
skills from that experience have been most useful in your career in
I served in the military for 20 years prior to
beginning my corporate career. My military service molded me into who I am
today, teaching me values of honor, leadership, commitment and teamwork. I am
grateful for my military experience, which has enabled me to truly appreciate
the value of remaining calm under pressure and thoughtful in my approach – I
recognize that every decision I make, or we make as an organization, impacts
people and their lives. That is the essence of the hospitality industry – what
I am most passionate about - caring for people.
What advice do you have for young people
- Work hard every day with integrity, honor and
- Grow and learn every day.
- Most importantly, be true to yourself and
enjoy life’s journey.
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