Danny Patel is the owner of SureStay Plus Omaha South in Bellevue, Nebraska.
Danny Patel is the owner of SureStay Plus Omaha South in Bellevue, Nebraska.

Asian American owner in Nebraska first to convert

AN ASIAN AMERICAN hotel owner is the first in the U.S. to join the new SureStay Hotel Group, a franchising subsidiary of Best Western Hotels & Resorts Inc. Danny Patel, a longtime member of Best Western and owner of the former Best Western White House Inn in Bellevue, Nebraska, made the switch on Dec. 1. The property is now SureStay Plus Omaha South.

On the heels of Patel’s conversion, Sue Werschky converted her Best Western Traders Inn in Poteau, Oklahoma, to SureStay Plus Poteau.

Both owners said they opted to convert rather than renovate to Best Western’s more stringent design standards.

Patel said he decided to convert after considering leaving the Best Western membership circle. “There are a lot of changes happening in Best Western. I felt this property would not be able to maintain and keep up with the brand’s expectations. The option was out there with SureStay Plus to make the transition.”

Werschky’s 70-room hotel is in a rural market. It would not be able to command the rate a renovation would have required, she said.

Patel cited one of the key reasons that David Kong, CEO of Best Western Hotels & Resorts, gave for the creation of the new hotel group.

Best Western Hotels & Resorts launched SureStay Hotel Group in September. It is the company’s first franchising business. SureStay is a white label brand, meaning franchisees’ properties bear the SureStay sign but display no evidence of being connected to Best Western. SureStay Hotel Group brands are SureStay and SureStay Plus, economy and midscale tiers, respectively. A third brand, SureStay Signature Collection, is a soft brand specifically for midscale hotels. Although a separate business from Best Western, SureStay is powered by the company’s reservation, distribution and marketing systems.

In September, Kong said the SureStay venture would draw franchisees from several pools, including current Best Western members who choose to exit the system and hotels that no longer meet the standards to continue to qualify for a Best Western membership. Kong also noted there have been owners who desire to be a Best Western member, and, although they have great properties, the assets did not meet all the qualifications. In addition, SureStay developers would target independent hotels as well as franchisees of other brands who have grown disillusioned after paying high fees and getting little support in return.

Patel said his 52-room hotel is still in good hands as it continues to receive the same high level of support from Best Western corporate since transitioning as a SureStay. “It seems like I am still running a Best Western,” he said.

When unveiling the new brand and franchising venture, Kong said although the brand does not require a PIP, quality assurance is gauged by guest feedback. A hotel with less than a 3.5-star rating on TripAdvisor will not be considered a SureStay candidate. SureStay Plus Poteau and SureStay Plus Omaha South have TripAdvisor Certificates of Excellence.

Patel said he had already upgraded his property to Best Western’s new “design-excellence” standards before converting to a SureStay, but he knows of hotels that were Best Westerns and have not qualified for a SureStay flag.

“The SureStay brand promise must be in place before you can make the change,” said Patel. He said he is fielding a lot of calls from current Best Western members thinking of converting. The majority are Asian American, he said.

It cost Patel about $35,000 to convert to a SureStay. He had other choices, too. Wyndham Hotel Group had approved his application for a Baymont Inn, a midscale brand; and Choice Hotels International offered him a Quality Inn flag. Both of those companies threw in incentives that would have significantly lowered the cost of conversion, but Patel said he wanted to stick with Best Western because of its proven success and consistent record in supporting owners.

It is too early for Patel to gauge ROI of converting as it is deep winter in Bellevue and business is typically slow this time of year. He has recently seen an uptick in advance bookings, however.

It’s business as usual at the Poteau hotel, which has a lot of regular customers. Many are business travelers. The property has a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence for 2016. “It was a scary decision,” Werschky said about making the switch, but SureStay franchise representatives gave her financial incentives which helped seal the deal. Like Patel, Werschky said the company continues to be available to help navigate the change as well as market the newly flagged property.

Last week, SureStay announced it had approved 30 licensing applications in the U.S. and Canada. Shane Platt is managing director of SureStay Hotel Group.