DAVID KONG, CEO of Best Western Hotel Group, will retire at the end of this year. He has held the position for 20 years, the longest term as CEO over any major hotel company ever held, according to Best Western.
Kong joined Best Western in 2001 and was named CEO in 2004, the company said in a statement. Since then, the company has operated through the Great Recession of 2008, followed by the boom time peaking in 2019 and then the drastic decline that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic.
During his term leading the company, Kong grew Best Western from one brand to 18 covering every chain scale segment and every type of accommodation including boutique/lifestyle and extended stay. He set records for RevPAR growth in 2004 with a 103 percent rise and this year with a 112.4 percent rise. Best Western’s cash reserves and net equity grew more than 10-fold since becoming CEO and its loyalty program is now the third highest in the industry.
“This industry has empowered me to dream boldly about the future and to pursue those dreams without hesitation. I feel blessed to have been surrounded by exceptional teams throughout my career and through sheer passion and dedication, we have chased bold dreams and achieved what many might have considered impossible,” said Kong. “I feel very fortunate to have played a role in building BWH Hotel Group into the brand it is today. I have always wanted to move on at my peak. With our caring culture, our extraordinary hoteliers, executive team, and corporate staff, I have no doubt the best is yet to come for BWH Hotel Group.”
Kong began his career in hospitality as a dishwasher and busboy in the early days after his arrival in the U.S. from Hong Kong as a young adult. He had little money and did not know anyone. He had to work his way up.
Now, Kong serves as a mentor to many other leaders in the industry.
“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,” said Geoff Ballotti, president and CEO of Wyndham Hotels & Resorts. “He is someone I trust and greatly admire.”
Ishwar Naran, board chairman for Best Western, called Kong “a once in a lifetime leader.”
“It has been the honor of my career to work alongside David and witness first-hand his remarkable passion and dedication to our industry,” Naran said. “David has always led by example and, most importantly, cared deeply about those he serves from hoteliers, to colleagues, associates, guests and communities.”
Kong is a recognized leader in the industry, said Chip Rogers, AHLA’s president and CEO.
“He has been an amazing leader and among the most respected people in this industry,” Rogers said. “What he has been able to do with Best Western is really create the consistency of the highest level of performance. David has created an environment at Best Western that encourages its owners to be their best and to create the best products.”
Other leaders of hotel companies and related associations gave Kong similar accolades.
David’s legacy is the integrity of a promise, keeping your word and delivering on it,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the 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.”
“David took the company through a significant transformation from a single brand to a multi brand family,” said Pat Pacious, president and CEO of Choice Hotels International. “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,” said Mark Hoplamazian, president and CEO, Hyatt Hotels Corp.. “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.”
Kong also was praised for his efforts to help Best Western owners make it through the COVID related economic downturn. Steps he took included:
- Extending more than $65 million in fee rebates to Best Western hoteliers since March 2020.
- Adjusting operating standards and enhancing cleaning protocols with the launch of the company’s We Care Clean program.
- Advocating for the needs of hoteliers across the nation, including meeting with former President Trump and government leaders and conducting interviews with many TV network to cast a light on the hardships of hoteliers and advocate for much-needed federal support.
“David not only led the company through its most devastating time yet, but he inspired hope, encouraged those around him to not be defined by their hardships, and showed others the light inside each of them to continue fighting and enduring,” Naran said. “Throughout the darkness of the pandemic, David led with caring, empathy, and a steadfast resolve to overcome. He set an example of leadership through crisis that will be remembered for generations to come.”
Best Western will announce a new CEO at the company’s annual convention on Oct. 7.