By Lilia Ortiz
According to Michael Morton, vice president of operations at Best Western Hotels & Resorts®, hospitality means creating a culture of caring — taking exceptional care of people and delivering superior customer experiences.
However, at Best Western, that philosophy extends beyond its hotel guests to include its family of hotel owners and operators as well. The global hospitality brand is dedicated to creating an environment rich with growth opportunities for its hoteliers, setting the brand apart in the hospitality industry.
Morton adds, "We are a brand known for our caring spirit. Throughout the pandemic we have rallied to provide unparalleled resources and support to our guests, hoteliers and associates. We recognize that now, more than ever, people are leading from a place of empathy and caring — attributes that are core to Best Western’s DNA."
To continue delivering on its commitment to its guests and hoteliers during the pandemic and beyond, Best Western leaned into its education and training program.
"Traveler expectations are changing, and our hoteliers must adapt to the evolving needs and wants of our guests. Even the strongest leader must take the time to learn and invest in their own personal development, especially in times of crisis,” Morton said. “We are proud to offer our hotel owners the ability to grow their skills and provide their staff members with learning and development opportunities. Not only does this allow individuals to grow in their own career, but it helps them to deliver an enhanced guest experience."
The organization believes that by putting its family of hotel owners and associates first, and allowing them to shoulder new challenges, the brand as a whole can achieve even greater success.
Travis Smith, a hospitality management trainer at Best Western, says Best Western’s leadership development courses teach general managers that the service profit chain "starts at the top."
Smith shares that he recently received a call from a hotelier who was devastated to lose half of her team after they received the stimulus payout and decided to leave their job with the hotel. This was a real-life learning opportunity that allowed Smith and the Best Western team to show the value of creating a positive work environment that encourages employee loyalty.
"We knew instantly that this hotelier and their staff could benefit tremendously from the learning opportunities available through Best Western. We worked hand-in-hand with this hotel owner to walk them through the resources available to help them grow their own leadership skills, as well as the opportunities available to their staff. We believe in developing industry leaders that understand the importance of investing in their employees. As a result, most of our hoteliers have a clear understanding that making these investments in their people will pay the dividends in the guest experiences that they deliver," Smith says.
Smith goes on to explain, "If I'm the general manager of a hotel, I should be focused on taking care of our guests, but that job starts with taking care of my employees first. My job is to invest in my employees and make sure that they have the learning, development and upskilling opportunities that are necessary to do their job, which is create memorable guest experiences and build guest loyalty so that they want to come back to our hotel."
When asked how Best Western’s approach to learning and development differs from other brands, Smith says, "All hospitality brands have training, but from my experience, most other brands focus on compliance. Of course, compliance training is part of our program here at Best Western, but it’s only a piece of the broader initiative. Our entire Education and Training program is built on our core philosophy of caring, which goes far beyond mandated training requirements and instead focuses on the people that shape our brand."
One example of how Best Western takes its approach one step further is providing additional educational resources that focus on professional development through their partnership with FranklinCovey, a world leader in consulting and training.
The partnership allows general managers at Best Western hotels to elevate their leadership skills through FranklinCovey’s "gold standard" leadership development curriculum.
The program launched in December 2020 and is available at more than 2,000 properties across North America. Hotels have virtual access to these resources through FranklinCovey’s All Access Pass®, which includes Jhana, bite-sized performance support to help leaders and managers become more effective, engaging and impactful.
It is through partnerships like this that Best Western’s training excellence stands out from the competition. Smith says, "Hotel owners are entrepreneurs and many of them own hotels across multiple brands, not just Best Western. As a result they have a baseline of comparison as to what other brands are offering. It is a point of pride that these hoteliers come to us and say, ‘Best Western is standing out above the rest in providing us with access to resources that no other brands offer.’ This has been especially true during a pandemic when revenues are stretched thin."
Online training was an integral part of increasing access to learning and development opportunities at Best Western.
Before the pandemic, general managers would travel to the brand’s headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona, to receive live training and field experience. However, when traveling restrictions made that impossible, Best Western was forced to rethink how it delivered its training courses.
Since effective leadership was paramount during this difficult time, Best Western considered resources to help managers and owners get through the pandemic as an essential business need for its hotels and the brand as a whole.
Morton says, "We had to find a way to pivot and provide resources to our hotel owners in an innovative way that would help them survive this new, changing environment. Today we face new physical and emotional barriers that our hotels must overcome when serving guests."
Morton adds, "By making really great training content and partnerships available to everybody, we create better outcomes."
Best Western’s ability to replicate a similar online learning experience was no small feat.
The organization invested in technology, manpower and online resources to provide an innovative virtual training space, which reduced travel and tuition costs for its owners.
According to Morton, Best Western’s virtual professional development training — a hybrid of self-paced e-learning courses and virtual instructor-led lessons — has received stellar reviews from hotels, with 96 percent recommending the experience.
"They were all exceptionally pleased with the content and the virtual environment. We have received overwhelmingly positive feedback," Morton adds.
Best Western revamped its approach to development and learning opportunities during the pandemic by taking a holistic approach across the organization.
Morton says, "We wanted to make learning opportunities available to help team members become more efficient and effective in their roles, and equip them to advance to the next step in their career."
As part of this approach, Best Western renewed its commitment to higher education, including University of Phoenix (UOPX), during the COVID-19 pandemic. This enabled Best Western leaders to better prepare for and handle the challenges of the moment and to drive value for the brand. UOPX has been named a preferred education supplier for Best Western, and offers customized hospitality certificates that reflect the hotel chain’s needs.
Furthermore, this alliance with UOPX allows staff members at Best Western hotels to earn credits toward their degrees for their on-the-job experience, which can "reduce the length of a college education up to a semester and the costs that are associated with that semester," says Morton.
This is a great example, Morton says, of "the educational and the hospitality world coming together to create and enhance value."
Best Western’s commitment to learning and development aligns with the organization’s DNA.
"As a corporate team, we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our hoteliers and their associates around the world. And when any of them are going through hardships, we are there to lend a helping hand and support them through their challenges. Similarly, when any of them are achieving successes, we are there to champion them and celebrate their accomplishments. Ultimately, their success is our success, so it is our responsibility as a brand to help them flourish."
Morton adds, "We don’t just measure success in terms of revenue, our main focus is on providing a positive environment in which employees feel cared for, recognized, supported and celebrated."
Although every hospitality brand in the world had to implement training on how to operate during the pandemic, Best Western was one of the first brands to launch an enhanced cleaning protocol at its properties. At the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, Best Western launched the industry-leading We Care CleanSM program, which ensures an elevated level of cleaning standards and operational best practices at its properties, addressing everything from guest room and common area cleanliness, to streamlined processes that minimize contact between guests and associates while maintaining industry-leading customer service.
Additionally, the brand was among the first to partner with the American Hotel & Lodging Association on the Safe Stay program, an industrywide initiative focused on enhanced hotel cleaning practices, social interactions and workplace protocols to meet the health and safety challenges presented by COVID-19.
Best Western supplemented its in-house initiatives with the Safe Stay program to equip employees not only to handle the pandemic but also to prepare them for what comes next.
According to Smith, Best Western is "looking down the road, post-COVID."
He adds, "We're making plans, and we're making investments right now, today … so that when the economy recovers and people start traveling, and the hotels start filling, we’re going to have the tools, the resources and the training that provide our hotels a competitive edge in the marketplace."
Best Western has also partnered with the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute and the National Restaurant Association to fortify its learning and development opportunities.
"We provide training and upskilling at every single level within the organization," Smith says.
Likewise, Morton adds, "We want every employee at every Best Western, to have access to some of the best learning available to help them in their professional and personal lives."
He concludes, "Even if they don't stay as a staff member at Best Western for their entire career, or if they leave the industry to go on and do something else, we hope that the opportunities and experience we provide will always stay with them.
"I think everybody should work in hospitality, at least once in their life, because it teaches you how to show empathy and how to take care of others — skills which will serve you well for the rest of your life."
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