Hospitality Hall of Honor
M.K. Guertin (1891 - 1970)
|Back to Full Inductee List|
|Founder of Best Western Hotels|
|Best Western was founded in 1946 by M.K. Guertin, a California-based hotelier with 23 years of experience in the lodging industry. His idea of an informal referral system between hotels has grown into the World's Largest Hotel Chain®, a title maintained for more than 30 years with more than 4,000 independently owned and operated member hotels in 80 countries and territories. Thanks to Guertin's vision of a brand built on the collective wisdom of its membership, Best Western has become an iconic institution that hosts 400,000 worldwide guests each night.|
The Guertin family emigrated from Anjou, France to Quebec in 1653. Guertin was born on Jan. 18, 1891, in Liberty, Texas (pop. 800), a sleepy river community northeast of Houston. His mother, Cecelia Key, was a direct descendent of Francis Scott Key, author of the American national anthem.
After some schooling, Guertin apprenticed in the printing trade, eventually becoming a stenographer. In 1923, he left his home state of Texas for California, where he quickly became involved in the fledgling motel business. He managed advertising for three Long Beach properties owned by his sister and, in 1925, founded the nation's first motel association, the Southern California Auto Court Association.
In 1933, Guertin pinned $2,000 to his undershirt, headed out to buy Long Beach's Cherry Court Motor Lodge, and took a step toward changing the hospitality business forever. His 1938 purchase of the Beach Motel would become the world's first Best Western Hotel. But the "perfect storm" that would enable Guertin to build his brand began brewing with the conception of the U.S. highway system in the 1940s and 50s.
On a road trip from Long Beach to Tacoma, Washington, Guertin noted which motels were placed within a "tank of gas" drive of one another. He then published a guide that can rightfully be called the precursor to today's GPS. Guertin also talked with moteliers en route about agreeing to standards of cleanliness, respectability and service, so that referrals could be made freely and without hesitation.
Today's Best Western members remain true to their historical profile: entrepreneurs helping each other, with no one compromising his unique vision or understanding of local need.
Still, it may be that Guertin's deepest footprint lay elsewhere. His revolutionary business agenda — to provide marketing and supply-side support while giving owners maximum flexibility to address local demand — has impacted hoteliers and guests alike. The model is directly responsible for Best Western's broad and rich property portfolio; whether a castle or a cabin, each Best Western Hotel is committed to providing a comfortable and reliable experience to business and leisure travelers alike.
Moreover, Guertin's innovative approach has been a boon to hotel developers nearly everywhere in the world. In a letter written in 1947, M.K. Guertin reported to members the cost of organizing and operating Best Western. He noted that he had inspected 507 motels and driven 4,956 miles in 29 days. The total cost of this inspection, including "meals, postage, printing, telephone, mimeographing and thumbtacks," was approximately $2,200. Guertin stated: "As the big job of organizing is over and we now have volunteer workers in every district, the cost of operating the association should not amount to more than $10 or $12 per month."
Today, Best Western continues to offer developers brand membership with low entry costs and the most practical ownership transfer mechanisms in the business. As a result, Best Western has become a brand of choice among both ambitious first-time investors and the savviest development groups. Best Western's totally company revenue is now estimated at $7 billion.
M.K. Guertin died on April 14, 1970, in his adopted home of Long Beach. At the time, he was still actively engaged in crafting Best Western bylaws and policy. Roy Coxwell, a charter member of Best Western, described "Mr. Motel" as "a great guy, a terrific promoter with a first-class imagination." Guertin's daughter, Ernestine, added, "Best Western was made successful by its members—the ones who operated their own properties and took the time to become familiar with the programs."