BRITAIN's two biggest hotel consortia, Best Western and Consort, have started merger talks which could lead to the creation of a single consortium of about 350 independent hotels.
No decision has yet been made on what the new organisation will be called or how it will be administered, but both parties are agreed that continued competition in the same markets is fruitless.
Last week's surprise announcement said working parties would be set up immediately to work out the details. If discussions proceed as planned, members will be asked to vote for a merger in time for the 1995 marketing year.
Consort Hotels chief executive David Hayes said the question of a merger had first been discussed last September, with both organisations' boards unanimously voting to start talks at a meeting last week.
He admitted there was "a huge amount" to sort out, but said both sides were agreed on the principle of a single consortium with a combined sales and marketing budget of £3m and a greatly increased purchasing power.
"We're both always looking over our shoulders at each other, and there's a lot of duplication of effort," he told Caterer. "We can do far better in the market fighting the big boys rather than fighting each other."
That was a view echoed by Best Western's chief executive Nigel Embry: "We're wasting our resources when our aims and objectives are virtually the same. By uniting we can strengthen our marketing base and meet the opposition head on."
One of the main areas that needs to be sorted out is the question of Best Western's affiliation to Best Western International, which links its 187 hotels into a worldwide marketing network of 3,600 hotels in 51 countries.
While Mr Embry said the aim would be to renew the affiliation when it comes up for renewal next year, his counterpart at Consort was less certain, saying the subject was still up for discussion.
The links with Best Western International are the main reason for Best Western UK's higher membership fees - around double Consort's - so discussion on this point will clearly be crucial.
If it is decided to renew links with Best Western International, the question of a name will also pose difficulties. Mr Embry said he hoped they could come up with something "slicker" than Best Western Consort.
Other areas for debate include central reservations - both have recently invested heavily in different systems - and the question of where the new consortium will be based and how many staff will be needed.
In terms of membership, each has similar numbers of hotels and bedrooms, with a surprisingly complementary portfolio of locations. Average size is about 50 bedrooms.
A combined group would also provide a good cross-section of two-, three- and four-star-standard hotels. Consort has slightly more two-star hotels, while Best Western is stronger in the three- and four-star market.
A decision on whether to recommend the merger to both memberships is expected within three months.