| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES Best Western, the mid-scale hotel chain that operates in more than 100 countries, is planning to open an upscale hotel in Haiti to cater to business travelers.
The hotel, slated to open this summer in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Petion-Ville, will carry the Premier label, one of two new brands launched last year as Best Western courts higher-end customers and looks to remake its image.
The seven-story property in Haiti will include 105 rooms, a full-service restaurant, banquet space for up to 140 people and a spa. The company did not give details on its total investment for the property.
It will be one of the first new hotels to open in Haiti two years after a 7.0 magnitude quake toppled buildings and homes and killed roughly 300,000 people and left more than 1.5 million homeless.
"This is not typical of what everybody would think of Haiti," Mark Williams, Best Western vice president for North American development, said this week at the Americas Lodging Investment Summit in Los Angeles.
He said despite Haiti's poverty, the country had business customers from Europe and South America that would support a higher-end hotel.
"When you go into markets that a lot of people consider Third World, there's a lot of business there and a lot of people who will pay for the quality of product," Williams said.
The company started branding some of its outlets as Plus and Premier hotels about 10 months ago to differentiate properties that offer more amenities than the mid-scale Best Western brand, which competes with chains such as Carlson Hotels' Country Inns & Suites and Choice Hotels International's (CHH.N) Comfort offering.
"The segments that are the most profitable are the upscale and upper mid-scale," said David Kong, president and chief executive of Best Western. The Premier and Plus designations "free our hotels up to reach out to those segments and participate."
To qualify as a Best Western Plus, hotels must include features such as heavier towels, a wider-screen television and more elaborate landscaping. Best Western Premier is designed to compete with the Hilton Garden Inn and Marriott's MAR.N Courtyard chain. These hotels are required to have a lounge and offer on-site dining and personalized services.
Since Best Western started using the new labels, revenue per available room has improved and Best Western's inclusion in corporate travel programs has jumped 25 percent, Kong said.
Best Western, a Phoenix-based non-profit membership association comprised of independently owned and operated hotels, has more than 4,000 hotels worldwide. Of the 2,200 Best Western properties in North America, more than 800 are Plus hotels and 15 carry the Premier label.
(Editing by Matt Driskill)