Holiday Inn chain upgrades with style

When the Holiday Inn in Chelsea opens Thursday, you won't find the chain's typical old wall-to-wall carpeting, floral bedspreads, a front desk cluttered with hotel brochures or rows of impatiens planted outside.

Instead, you'll see hardwood flooring, columns made from hand-laid river rocks, and slender Japanese planters outside.

This newly built Holiday Inn hotel is one of the first in the USA to bear the modern version of the green-and-white Holiday Inn logo — a sign meant to convey radical changes underway. As many as a thousand of the chain's existing 3,200 hotels worldwide are expected to earn the new sign this year, with the entire chain completely revamped by early 2010.

The new look is just one part of a sweeping, $1 billion overhaul that InterContinental ihg launched last year to revive the iconic brand.

The new design "brings us 20 years forward and projects us 10 years beyond," says Steven Porter, president of The Americas, InterContinental Hotel Group, during a tour of the hotel earlier this month.

Holiday Inn isn't just slapping new signs on old facilities. Instead, it stepped up quality inspections at all its hotels, and it's providing hotel owners with guidance on how to meet new standards.

The standards cover everything, including the entrance lighting, shower rods, lobby soundtrack and customer service training.

Before the makeover process began, Holiday Inn also stopped renewing contracts of hundreds of hotels that didn't meet standards or had exterior corridors that travelers perceive as unsafe. It also devised a stylish new look for newly built Holiday Inns such as the one in Manhattan to reignite development deals.

Some elements of the plan — such as illuminating the hotel at night in the brand's signature color — will also be carried over to Holiday Inn Express to unify the brands, but the newer Express chain doesn't need as dramatic a makeover.

Not aging gracefully

Created in 1954, the roadside hotel chain flourished by franchising as the USA's interstate highway system grew.

But it's been losing share in recent years as younger chains won over customers, and aging hotels appeared too dowdy.

Drastic action was needed to rescue the brand because older hotels were starting to outlive their lifespan, says Steve Rushmore, president of HVS, the hospitality consulting firm.

"Unless you do a significant renovation to existing properties, or a have them leave the chain, your chain starts to deteriorate and becomes old and obsolete," he says.

Once an existing hotel has been renovated, passed inspections and hung the new Holiday Inn sign, Porter says owners will see revenue per available room — a typical industry measure that considers rate and occupancy — increase by between 3% and 7% above normal inflation.

The contemporary design is meant to appeal to its Baby Boomer customer base, as well as younger travelers who might pick one of the stylish, midprice hotel brands recently launched, such as Aloft, Element or Hyatt Place.

Ellen Kline, a Realtor in State College, Pa., says she quit staying at Holiday Inns about a year ago because she didn't like not knowing whether she'd pull up to a good hotel or a poor one. Now, she stays mostly at Marriott-brand hotels.

"I like to stay in a place that's clean and up to date," she says.

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