Best Western’s Aiden adds to portfolio, poised for growth

PHOENIX—Following its North American debut in Austin, TX, Aiden by Best Western, the hotel company’s new collection of modern, suburban boutique hotels, has made its debut on the Eastern Seaboard—with a robust pipeline to follow.

With 116 guestrooms and suites, Aiden by Best Western @ Cape Point is located in West Yarmouth, MA, welcoming travelers to the charming towns, lighthouses and beaches that make up Cape Cod. David Kong, president/CEO, Best Western Hotels & Resorts, told Hotel Business exclusively that Jamsan Hotel Management, the ownership group, was looking for a differentiator. “Most of the towns in New England tend to be more traditional, rustic, so they wanted to set themselves apart, give a little personality, make it more interesting and allow people to have a different experience,” he said.

With Aiden, the property was able to do that with design and guest experiences that add some local flair. For instance, while there is a nautical theme in the hotel, Kong noted that it’s “done differently than what you would see in a typical New England hotel—much more modern, much more exciting and fresh looking.”

Backdrops behind the beds feature different designs—bridges and beach views—but the property also offers pops of color like yellow. “It’s not just the muted colors. It’s very vibrant,” Kong said.

Additionally, the CEO said, the amenities of the property—particularly F&B—set it apart. “If you look at what they’re offering in the restaurant and the coffee bar, or the ice cream parlor, they are things locals would enjoy as well as travelers to the area,” he said.

Brad LeBlanc, SVP/chief development officer, added, “This is a family-oriented market. The offerings from ice cream all the way through to an experience for the parents, it really does speak to individuality. That was the vision—to create something unique.”

And that’s important in the Cape Cod market. “It’s a neat set of competitors in that market,” LeBlanc said. “They’re all cute, all New England, but all of a sudden, there’s a new young, vibrant traveler moving into the Cape. How big is that opportunity? We think it’s pretty big. With a trendier, cooler and hipper hotel, something with personality, it opens up a world of opportunity. And there’s a whole subset of travelers moving into the Cape—maybe they vacationed there 30 years ago with mom and dad and now they’re bringing their families in; they want something different, and this hotel is unique among its competitive set that is all New England.”

It’s a success story that Best Western believes it can replicate elsewhere, with trendy Aidens that speak to the local culture. “Aiden is a good fit for most markets,” Kong said, adding that it doesn’t get pigeonholed into being a primarily leisure or business brand. “Aiden has broad appeal because it’s about personality and experience. [In Cape Cod], it’s revitalizing the whole market because it’s such a different product. But this brand, Aiden, could revitalize many different markets.”

And, certainly, there’s a healthy pipeline right now, planning to join the brand’s existing properties in Cape Cod; Austin; Seoul, South Korea; and France, about 30 miles outside Paris. The North American pipeline includes properties in San Antonio, TX; Reno, NV; Scottsdale, AZ; North Conway, NH; Arlington, TX; Colorado Springs, CO; Warm Springs, GA; and Gig Harbor, WA. Internationally, the pipeline includes markets like Berlin; Lima, Peru; and Madrid.

“The development pipeline is rich,” LeBlanc said. “I’ve been here four months and I can tell you that I’ve come to realize that Aiden is one of the biggest opportunities this company has. I’ll say that in context: I’ve been doing this a really long time and we’ve got a unique opportunity at this cycle, in this side of the cycle, to look at properties that may have been passed over, that are in great locations in great markets with RevPARs that will allow them to perform. As my team looks at that landscape and as they find those opportunities and move them to development, our pipeline is growing. With the two [in North America] open, there’s one to 20 behind it incubating in our pipeline, and that’s just the beginning. Next year is going to be a big year as we identify and find these assets that owners turn around and say, ‘You know what, I can duplicate what they did in Austin or the Cape.’”

LeBlanc credits the appetite for Aiden on a generational shift. “This is what these young travelers want: They want personality and opportunity to connect to something local,” he said. “I could name a thousand cities where this makes sense. It’s about the opportunity that’s unfolding in front of us.”

Aiden was originally conceived as a conversion brand—though the first two properties in South Korea and France were both new-construction. That, as it turns out, was a harbinger of things to come. Over the past year, Best Western has found owners are interested in Aiden for both conversions and new-builds.

“When we first launched, it was designed as a conversion brand,” Kong said. “It was a way for hotel owners who are doing renovations to use an investment to reposition their hotels, to appeal to a broader customer base and remove the average rate cap. Think about Hampton, Holiday Inn Express and Best Western Plus: People have a way to define what the average rate should be for those hotels. They can go to metasearch or OTA websites and know, but a brand like Aiden, people have no way of gauging how much they should pay. The hotel can remove that ceiling on the average rate. You can appeal to a broader set of customers, improve your occupancy. If you remove the average rate cap, you improve the average rate. Those two things will drive a RevPAR increase and, on top of that, because the hotels are so unusual and spectacular, you increase the asset value aside from just the NOI-based asset value. It’s a win for anyone who is investing and renovating the hotel.

“But since we launched it, we discovered there were a lot of independent hotels being constructed that are going this path,” he continued. “They jumped on the bandwagon because they realized on their own, they don’t have the distribution like Best Western does, they don’t have the brand contribution, the loyalty program—all of these things are important nowadays. On top of it, they don’t know how to operate this kind of hotel, whether it’s from the experience standpoint, the design standpoint or just how the staff would interact with the guest… And on top of that, the sales and marketing is so different for this kind of hotel. You think about the social media aspect, a lot of hotels that are independent in nature don’t know what to do, so to have a social media playbook on exactly what they can do to create hype is tremendously beneficial. So for those reasons, we have a lot of interest from even new-construction hotels wanting to become branded with Aiden.”

As for the future, LeBlanc said the industry should stay tuned for 2020. “It’s going to be a big year for Aiden. We have an entire North American development team focused on it, and there’s a lot of opportunity,” he said. HB