Best Western International, Inc claims to be the world's largest hotel chain, with over 4,000 hotels in nearly 80 countries. The Phoenix-based chain operates more than 2,000 hotels in North America alone. Best Western has a marketing program involving placement of free Wi-Fi access hotspots in its hotels. Since year 2002 Best Western International created an upscale brand for some properties located in Europe and Asia: Best Western Premier.
Unlike other chains, which are often a mix of company-owned and franchised units, each Best Western hotel is an independently owned and operated franchise. Best Western does not offer franchises in the traditional sense (where both franchisee and franchisor are operating for-profit), however. Rather, Best Western operates as a nonprofit membership association, with each franchisee acting and voting as a member of the association.
Best Western charges a rate that is based on an initial cost plus a fee for each additional room. Best Western also publishes a list of standards that each hotel needs to maintain. Instead of long term contracts, each hotel renews its membership on a yearly basis - and the renewal rate is well over 90%.
The hotels are allowed to keep their independent identity. Even though they must use Best Western signage and identify themselves as a Best Western hotel, the hotels are allowed the option of using their own independent name as part of their identity (for example "Best Western Adobe Inn"). In USA the properties can either be traditional roadside motels, motor inns, or full-service hotels. There are also many smaller "mini-chains" that are owned by the same management within Best Western; a good example of this are the Best Western Midway Hotels found in the Midwestern United States. Outside USA the properties are mainly hotels.
Best Western began in the years following World War II. At the time, most hotels were either large urban properties, or smaller family owned roadside hotels. In California, a network of independent hotel operators began making referrals of each other to travelers. This small and informal network eventually grew into the modern Best Western hotel chain founded by M.K. Guertin in 1946.
The name "Best Western" was a result of most of their properties originally being located in the Western part of the United States west of the Mississippi River. From 1946 to 1964, Best Western had a marketing partnership with Quality Courts, the forerunner of the chain known today as Quality Inns, whose properties were located mostly east of the Mississippi River, and thus not in direct competition with Best Western. While this partnership made sense geographically, it did not go over well in the long run, and was abandoned. In 1964, Best Western launched an expansion effort of its own operations east of the Mississippi by using the moniker "Best Eastern" for those properties with the same typestyle and Gold Crown logo as "Best Western." By 1967, the "Best Eastern" name was dropped and all motels from coast-to-coast got the "Best Western" name and Gold Crown, a move that would further enhance an already successful marketing brand into the "World's Largest Hotel Chain" by the 1970s.
Best Western's "Gold Crown" logo was introduced in 1964 and would continue with a few minor revisions over the next 30 years until it was replaced by the current blue and yellow logo in 1994.
Best Western used to call itself a cooperative membership association, and as such could be seen as a co-op. Around 1985, it gave up on using the "cooperative" terminology after the courts kept insisting on calling it a franchisor despite its nonprofit status. The most dramatic example of this was Quist v. Best Western Int'l, Inc., 354 N.W.2d 656 (N.D. 1984) , in which the North Dakota Supreme Court decided that Best Western was a franchisor and had to comply with the appropriate laws and regulations.
Best Western pulled out of New Zealand early in 2007, after deciding New Zealand was not big enough to support. Seven properties remain in New Zealand but are operating under Best Western Australia. New Zealand had at its peak 72 properties in the chain.