HB Exclusive: David Kong retiring from Best Western

David Kong, president/CEO of BWH Hotel Group, will be retiring from the company at the end of 2021. The industry’s longest running CEO, he joined Best Western Hotels & Resorts in 2001 and was named CEO in 2004. During this 20-year journey, Kong would transform the company, form BWH Hotel Group and shape it into a global powerhouse. He leaves an indelible mark on the entire hotel industry.

“It’s a good time for me to move on from Best Western, because over the last 20 years we built a solid foundation,” he told Hotel Business exclusively. “We have a lot of very established, proven programs and platforms that are yielding good benefits for hotels. We have built a highly competent and dedicated team. We’ve achieved a lot together. So, if you consider all that we’ve accomplished, it’s probably time for me to move on.”

The decision to move on was not an easy one for him. “You know, Best Western has been an important part of my life for the last 20 years,” said Kong. “It’s become who I am, so it’s not an easy decision. But knowing that it has a solid foundation, and that it will be in good hands, makes the decision easier.”

Ishwar Naran, board chairman, BWH Hotel Group, said, “David Kong is a once in a lifetime leader whose contributions to Best Western and BWH Hotel Group are truly immeasurable. It has been the honor of my career to work alongside David and witness first-hand his remarkable passion and dedication to our industry. David has always led by example and, most importantly, cared deeply about those he serves from hoteliers, to colleagues, associates, guests and communities.”

Industry leaders offered their thoughts on Kong’s retirement from the company. “David Kong is recognized in our industry as a leader that truly cares about people,” said Chip Rogers, president/CEO, American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA). “He has been an amazing leader and among the most respected people in this industry.”

“David has been a mentor to so many of us over the years,” added Geoff Ballotti, president/CEO, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts. “He inspired me early in my career as he has so many others to get more involved in our industry, including the American Hotel & Lodging Association, AAHOA and the U.S. Travel Association. He is someone I trust and greatly admire.”

Kong’s first step toward a lifelong career in hospitality began as a dishwasher and busboy. When he arrived in the U.S. from Hong Kong as a young adult, like many immigrants before him, he had no money, no job and no connections to offer support. Despite these challenges, he leaned into the values and work ethic instilled by his parents to rise through the ranks of the hospitality industry. These values have shaped him into the leader he is today.

“David’s legacy is the integrity of a promise, keeping your word and delivering on it,” said Roger Dow, president/CEO, U.S. Travel Association. “He’s a role model for how this industry leads to fulfilling careers, going from the frontline to CEO, as he’s done.”

Under Kong’s leadership, BWH Hotel Group has evolved into a modern and innovative hotel company. Together with his leadership team, he spearheaded a number of initiatives that transformed the hotel brand into the global hospitality powerhouse.

“What he has been able to do with Best Western is really create the consistency of the highest level of performance,” added Rogers. “David has created an environment at Best Western that encourages its owners to be their best and to create the best products.”

“David took the company through a significant transformation from a single brand to a multi-brand family,” said Pat Pacious, president/CEO, Choice Hotels International Inc. “That required a lot of listening, a lot of partnership and a lot of persuasion, but created a great outcome for his company and his members.”

“David brought a sense of family to life at Best Western,” added Mark Hoplamazian, president/CEO, Hyatt Hotels Corporation. “Everyone affiliated with Best Western has a similar family feel and I think David did a great job of nurturing that even as he was navigating and leading a very significant transformation for the company.”

The company will announce a new CEO at its Annual Convention on Oct. 7.

For more on David Kong’s career and retirement from the company—and his advice for the industry—check out Hotel Business’ exclusive cover story in the September 15th issue.