HT EXCLUSIVE: Best Western CEO David Kong Talks Hotel Tech Transformation

With the announcement of Kong’s retirement at the end of the year, HT asked the industry veteran to share how technology has changed for the hotel industry during the last two decades.
Michal Christine Escobar
Senior Editor (Hotels)
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Just last week, BWH Hotel group announced the retirement of Group President and CEO David Kong. As the industry’s longest running CEO, his 20-year journey has given him a front row seat to massive technological changes within the hotel industry. With that in mind, HT asked Kong if he would share what technology changes within the industry as a whole and within Best Western Hotels & Resorts were most memorable during his tenure as CEO.

What are you most proud of when it comes to technology innovation at Best Western Hotels & Resorts during your tenure as CEO?

I am proud to have cultivated a culture of innovation at Best Western Hotels & Resorts, and throughout the years we have embraced technology to enhance the guest experience.

In 2005, we became the first hotel brand to provide free high-speed internet access at every hotel. Since then, we have remained at the forefront of technology innovation. We were among the first to test the use of Alexa to fulfill guest requests. We rolled out a texting platform that enabled us to send pre-arrival welcome messages, provide guests with texting capabilities to communicate with us during their stay, and allow us to send post-departure communications. We were the first brand to use Google’s virtual reality (VR) technology to showcase VR tours of our hotels on our website. We also revamped, moving from a responsive design to an adaptive design that empowers our guests to use any device to book with us effectively.

David Kong wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera
David Kong (Source: PR Newswire)

Throughout my tenure, it has been a priority to protect the information of our guests and our hoteliers. For this reason, we installed a managed firewall at all Best Western-branded properties throughout North America.

Currently, we are working on other mobile technology offerings to include virtual payment solutions for our guests.

When you look at BW's tech stack today versus 2004, what changes are most interesting to you and why? 

Looking at our technology stack, the most interesting change has been the moving of our infrastructure to the cloud through Amazon Web Services (AWS). This move allows us to ensure continuity while being able to throttle resource usage based on traffic. It also provides us with tremendous data analytics capabilities. We are leveraging our partnership with AWS to leverage Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to design our next-generation Revenue Management System.

The other area that I am proud of is the adoption of an agile development environment. We don’t shoot for perfection. Rather, we focus on the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) so we have faster time to market and we keep iterating based on evolving needs.

I am also gratified that the whole technology management team is focused on down time, especially for revenue generating systems. We calculate what each minute of down time would cost us in revenue and the team is keenly aware of the repercussion. As a result, our down time is much reduced.

If you had to make one hotel technology prediction for 2022, what would it be?

In 2022 I anticipate there will be broad adoption of mobile technology in booking, messaging, payment, and marketing.

How has technology helped Best Western Hotels & Resorts navigate COVID-19?

It is fortuitous that prior to the pandemic our company had already implemented remote workforce technology (e.g., Microsoft Teams, security, remote reservation capabilities, etc.). These investments have greatly helped the corporate team in navigating COVID-19. Throughout the pandemic we were able to use this technology to support our hotels, for example conducting virtual training sessions.

What kind of technology challenges will future leaders of hospitality brands need to navigate?

The hospitality industry is notorious for being slow adopters of technology. Given the changing guest expectation in the use of technology, data security concerns and labor challenges, we have no choice but to embrace technology. Companies that use technology to differentiate themselves and provide superior service will take market share from others.

As you step back from BW, what are you most looking forward to doing during retirement? What will you miss the most about your role at BW?

As I step back from Best Western Hotels & Resorts, I am looking forward to having more time to spend with family and to pursue my personal interests. I am exploring board opportunities, advisory roles as well as providing mentoring/coaching services. 

Throughout my career in hospitality, and especially during my tenure with Best Western Hotel & Resorts, I have been empowered to dream boldly about my future. I am fortunate enough to have been surrounded by exceptional teams who helped me chase those bold dreams and make them a reality. The people, our executive team, corporate staff, and hoteliers are what I will miss the most.