BEST WESTERN SEES STARS WITH WARNER

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Best Western International is going Hollywood.

The Phoenix-based hotel chain this month inked a key alliance with Warner Bros. Family Entertainment, giving Best Western first choice for hotel promotional tie-ins to all Warner Bros. family films in the next three years.

Capitalizing on a growing hotel industry trend of building promotions around films and other types of family entertainment, Best Western's pact is also the first long-term marketing alliance between a hotel company and a major film studio.

"Alliance is the buzzword of the '90s in all industries," said Hugh Thrasher, managing director of CompassTeam, a Dallas travel management consultancy. "Movies and hotels are part of entertainment. It's great synergy."

The promotional agreement excludes the use of Warner Bros.' stable of classic Looney Tunes characters.

But Best Western hopes to expand the Warner relationship to brand and product placement opportunities in movies; ads on Warner Home Video releases; and offers of Warner videos for checkout at its hotels or on the chain's pay-per-view systems.

Best Western plans three or four film tie-ins yearly, and is also contemplating future tie-ins with Time Warner's Six Flags theme parks and Warner Bros. Studio Stores.

"We are traditionally strong in the family market and we want to be stronger," said Tom Bogart, Best Western's managing director-systems marketing.

The hotel chain kicks off its new relationship with the Dec. 21 release of "Richie Rich," starring Macaulay Culkin; new Best Western TV commercials break Dec. 26 promoting a "Richie Rich" theme sweepstakes for a luxury Best Western stay.

The promotion is open to those who register at any of Citgo Petroleum Corp.'s 9,000 locations.

Lord, Dentsu & Partners, Los Angeles, handles Best Western's ads. Deare Marketing, New York, does marketing tie-ins for Warner Bros. Family Entertainment.

Best Western is stealing a page from the marketing playbook of Choice Hotels International, which began movie promotions in 1990 and has been much copied by the industry. Choice has done three Warner movies to date-"Gremlins II," "Batman Returns" and "Maverick." But Choice isn't looking to long-term alliances for film-related promotions.

"We are not willing to tie ourselves to any specific studio," said Betsy Bromberg O'Rourke, VP-corporate relations for Choice, based in Silver Spring, Md. "We're interested in working with the best film opportunity."

The Warner alliance will help Best Western, the world's largest hotel brand with 3,400 individually owned properties, gain a higher profile with consumers. It also will help the chain stretch its advertising budget, estimated at $17 million next year.

In the past two years, Best Western has modernized its logo, upgraded the standards for its member hotels and introduced new advertising with the tagline "Your best bet is a Best Western."

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