Erwann Mahe, the new managing director for Best Western International Operations – Asia, has a very diverse region and hefty property portfolio in his hands. Just two months into his role, he tells TTG Asia why he is looking forward to the coming months.
You are starting your new role when borders in the region are still shut because of Covid-19? How do you feel?
I am excited by the challenge of a new job, the hope that the worst is behind us. With optimism, we will see improvement.
Our hotels in the US have already seen a strong rebound with the slowdown in the pandemic, and my team and I are ready to support our hotel partners here when this time comes, which I hope will be before the end of the year.
I believe people are just waiting to travel. I am not sure if we can call it “revenge travel” but yes, I believe people will travel as soon as they can do so.
What is needed for the industry to recover and what will the road ahead look like?
People need some reassurance that traveling will be safe and easy again. The Covid-19 passport is a must to simplify the process and give people trust when the borders reopen. I am encouraged by the travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand as well as Thailand’s reopening of Phuket without quarantine in July.
For sure, recovery will take some time and each country will move at a different pace. But tourism is key to Asia and most country leaders understand it. Even slowly, each step will bring positivity, and this is what we all need now.
China is the main feeder market for South-east Asia and Japan, and its recovery and border reopening will set the tone.
So, what are your priorities?
Definitely to reinforce brand awareness and visibility in Asia, continue the development of new hotels in the region, ensure the efficiency and performance of hotel operations, and of course strengthening the relationship with our hotel owners.
We have been working closely with owners and the hotels to support them during these challenging times, where some have been more impacted than others, and in developing the domestic markets for each country.
My focus is on planning to be ready for the recovery!
Where and what are the opportunities for Best Western International?
The number of Best Western brands in Asia has grown from eight to 14, offering options that range from budget to economy, from mid-scale to boutique, from upscale to extended stay.
I believe Best Western is only at the inception of our story in Asia as the potential in the region is enormous. Despite the Covid-19 situation, we are still active in many markets such as Thailand, Japan, Malaysia and Indonesia. I have to say Vietnam is where we see the biggest opportunity with very exciting projects, and we just have hired a director of development based in Ho Chi Minh City.
There is also the opportunity to introduce to Asia new boutique lifestyle brands Sadie, in the upscale category, and Aiden, in the midscale category.
Sadie offers adventure, the best of local flair and an authentically playful spirit, while Aiden blends cool, casual charm with an eclectic neighbourly feel.
What are the challenges and what are the solutions?
The fact that we cannot travel makes it challenging, especially for the operations and development teams. While technology is helping us to stay in touch with our hotels and owners, I still feel that nothing replaces a face-to-face meeting. But this is, for now, the only option.
The second obvious challenge is the lack of business for our hotels, so we have redirected our sales force to focus on the local market. Of course, the potential varies greatly from country to country.
Meanwhile, we have implemented standards to make sure our guests feel safe, and we are always looking to make most of the hotel experience contactless.
The Best Western Loyalty programme provides members great benefits and points which never expire. We know that in this time of uncertainty, flexibility and presence are key factors to support our hotels and owners.
What more can Best Western International do for owners, partners and stakeholders?
You best understand the strength of your partners in times of crisis, and I believe that the situation has brought us closer in finding solutions that will support them until the situation improves.
Thankfully with the support of our US headquarters, we relieved some fees for our owners and we also communicated a lot more to ensure we would monitor their situation and jump in when needed.
The shift from International business to domestic business was not easy especially for countries relying almost only on International business. But I believe this will create a stronger foundation for the future.
If you have one message, what is it?
That there is a lot of good news, so be positive and optimistic.