If you told me I was going to sleep in a Best Western and like it, I’d probably have laughed.
Why do I say this? Well, you know how you’re little and you just accept whatever is placed before you?
“Santa bought the same wrapping paper as Mommy this year.” OK.
“Don’t touch the stove, it’s hot.” OK.
“Let’s get in the car and go to Target.” OK.
“You’re sitting with your brother as we fly to Spain in business class.” OK.
In this post, I’m going to talk about how this Best Western won over a hotel snob like me. This isn’t a review, but rather an interesting story to share. It’s proof that you don’t need the fanciest materials to make a memorable customer experience or exceed expectations.
Why I underestimated Best Western (and most mid-priced hotels) for so long
For you to understand why I am writing this post, you need a super quick debriefer on me. As a kid, I did a lot of traveling with my family. It was almost always expensed to the company they worked for. That meant that I grew up thinking certain things were normal when they’re not.
Turns out always flying business class is not “the norm.” Neither is staying in 4–5-star hotels.
You might think this is ridiculous, but I genuinely thought every hotel had a concierge to help with dinner reservations, provide tips for tourists, and to draw maps by hand for directions.
Sadly, it wasn’t until college that one of my friends from childhood had to have a strong heart-to-heart with me. I grew up in a privileged life.
But it is this hard truth that makes me qualified to write this article. Because for someone who grew up in luxury hotels, I managed to fall in love with a Best Western. And it was all because of the clever branding of a specific Best Western in southwest Denver.
How extinct dinosaurs breathed life into a Best Western
For three weeks in October, my husband and I went on a road trip around the country. I did not think that this was something I would enjoy, but it ended up being the most memorable experience, and it did wonders for our creative blogging process. I planned the route and booked hotels (and compromised on budget a lot).
So, when my husband came to me with a Best Western for Denver – of all places – I rolled my eyes and practically shut it down right from the start. Until he said, “it has dinosaurs”.
The man knows me too well.
Hubby-The-Frugal managed to find a hotel that celebrates Colorado’s rich dinosaur excavation history by incorporating dinosaur fossils into literally every place within the hotel. The ratings were pretty good, the location worked, and it easily fit within our budget. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and booked it.
Fast forward about a week into the trip and we are pulling into southwest Denver’s Dino-Themed Best Western. From the outside, it looks like a tired building. Not ramshackle or anything, just like it was an old building with a faded coat of paint. There is a dinosaur statue in front, with paint peeling and a fence around it to stop vandalism. In my mind, not exactly a great start.
And then we walked inside.
A unique dinosaur theme turned a tired hotel into a must-see destination
Opening the door transported me into a paleontologist’s library, or one of the elaborate romantic traveling tent set-ups from the 1930s. The wall behind the front desk was an entire stegosaurus fossil. In the same foyer, were two HUGE dino skulls. The snack station even have a dino-themed name (which I wish I wrote down or captured with a photo).
Turn left from the foyer and you enter what is typically a very boring lounge. A place that has to exist to look good in photos and be listed as an amenity, but a space that is never actually used. Except for this place.
The couch and chair were the big overstuffed leather suede type. The sort that belonged to your grandfather. The coffee table was actually a huge traveler’s trunk. And lining the walls were antique-looking bookcases with glass doors, loaded with fossil replicas above nameplates. Above the fireplace was another massive skull.
Across from the couch and trunk, there was a cutout from the wall. I’m not sure what the original purpose of this strange cutout was. Perhaps something was to be served or discussed there.
But the managers of this particular Best Western use this odd building feature to host a fossil expert who visits the hotel every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday morning. The expert brings in genuine fossils for discussion. More on this later.
The dinosaur theme didn’t stop in the lobby
Going down the hall, you would expect ugly or dingy wallpaper from the early 1990s. But instead, this Best Western was decked out with rustic wallpaper that fit in with the fossil/archaeology motif. The walls also held framed photos as you would expect in a hotels. But rather than stock photo florals or abstract art, these frames held illustrations of fossil excavations or dinosaurs that lived and breathed hundreds of millions of years ago in the arid expanses of Colorado.
Like a lot of old low-to-mid-range hotels, this one did not have an elevator. I was a bit annoyed by this factor until I saw the stairwell.
A huge mural of dinosaurs graced the wall. The staircase was wide and the banister was a lacquered wood. The squeak of the stairs would have been unsettling in most hotels, but here it was charming. The age of the staircase matched the deliberately chosen vibe of the hotel.
When we got to our room, our room number was written on a plaque. As you likely guessed, the plaque fit in with the dino décor too. Rather than being large sans serif numerals printed on a solid square sign, our door number was set upon a background made to look like the layered fossilized rocks that riddle Colorado and the Dakotas.
Though the hotel is old, this Best Western did a good job making the room feel better than it was
The room itself was a hotel room. Bed, desk, dresser with TV, armchair. Pretty standard hotel room fare.
I immediately noticed the massive size of the end tables when we walked in. The chair was pleasantly cushy. Two dinosaur-themed framed art pieces were a nice change of pace from the weirdness of typical hotel art.
In just 15 minutes, my opinion went from “oh gosh, where are we” to “this place is so charming and cute!”
Because my opinion changed so quickly, I started to appreciate other aspects of the room I’d otherwise overlook. Huge end tables in a hotel room? That’s great! Probably bought from a liquidation warehouse, sure, but the marble tops fit the motif. Plus I appreciated not having to cram all my bedside table accouterments onto a tiny space.
Behind the armchair there was a little alcove. It was most likely the accidental aftermath of a renovation long ago, but it was the perfect amount of space to hold our suitcases.
See how the expectations of an uppity hotel snob like me can change so quickly due to excellent branding? This Best Western had a unique pitch, and the sheer charm of it made me overlook its flaws.
And I’m not even done!
The customer service exceeded expectations
The following morning, we went down the breakfast bar. We ended up really enjoying it.
The ceiling had another stegosaurus fossil, but this time it was strung from the ceiling in pieces. The furnishings matched the warm tones of the wooden chairs and black granite tabletops.
I have a lot of food restrictions, so hotel breakfasts can be challenging. But the cold breakfast options were ample, with lovely touches like chocolate chips and brown sugar for oatmeal and Nutella packets for toast.
But for most people, the hot breakfast section would be a highlight. Guests went to a separate bar to order their hot meals. Staff doled out substantial servings to hotel patrons. Most hotels in this price range provide hot breakfast as a buffet, but they won’t actually serve it to you. This is a step up.
From a business perspective, serving up the complimentary hot meals this way instead of as a buffet probably cut down on food waste, and therefore costs. But for the guests, it felt like an elevated breakfast experience that you would see in a more expensive hotel.
This Best Western paid a fossil expert to give lectures in the lobby
My favorite part of this hotel, by far, was Dino Talk. I have never, ever seen a hotel do something like this before. It’s so incredibly unique.
My husband left his work to wake me that morning. He knew Dino Talk was going to be right up my alley.
Best Western hired a fossil expert to give lectures in the lobby. This fossil expert showed up with a number of dinosaur toys and fossils. So naturally, I bounced up to him, taken in by everything on the table.
I was confused by the toys, figuring this talk was for kids. But he asked me what I wanted to know, and I asked about everything on the table.
Two hours pass.
Holy tamole – I learned so much! He brought very specific toys because he wanted to show accurate representations of certain dinosaurs. He would reference the toys while explaining a fossil he had with him, or just to illustrate a point he was making.
I learned about the first dinosaurs found in the US. I learned that the T-Rex was apparently only ever found in the US.
We chatted about feathers vs. scales, dinosaur bone structure, and currently-living dinosaur relatives.
We even talked about Michael Crichton and Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. (Turns out paleontologists generally like the movie!)
Think about this for a minute. I received a two-hour dinosaur lecture FOR FREE at a Best Western. You could probably charge $50 or $100 for this.
And that’s the cherry on top. No concierge at any fancy hotel I ever stayed in as a child ever gave me a history lesson on anything, much less dinosaurs. And this Best Western did it just because they could.
If a mid-range hotel can provide a unique experience, so can you
Here’s what I think – the people running this Best Western in southwest Denver knew they didn’t have a nice hotel. They knew their building was old, the carpets needed replacing, and the lighting was sallow and dim. It could have been – and should have been – a mediocre hotel.
But rather than accept their fate, the owners of this particular Best Western decided to strive for better. They embraced the age of their hotel and turned it into an intentional archaeological motif. It probably cost money to do this, but it was likely cheaper than a renovation. And it gave me a feeling that freshly renovated hotels alone can’t provide.
I’m a hotel snob and this place opened my eyes to how wonderful “mediocre” can be in the right hands.
Next time you stay in a hotel or go to a store, pay attention to their branding. Think about how it makes you feel and how those feelings affect your behavior.
Even if you don’t have a lot of money, your business doesn’t have to succumb to a dingy fate. Anyone can make a great impression with a little creativity and care.