IHG Plans More Holiday Inn Upgrades

While the Holiday Inn system nears completion of its massive $1-billion relaunch of the brand, it’s already looking ahead. At last week’s IHG Americas owners and operators conference in Las Vegas, officials unveiled preliminary plans to overhaul the brand’s public spaces and food and beverage concepts.

“Every brand needs to constantly evolve,” said Gina LaBarre, IHG’s senior vice president of brand delivery. “For several decades, the Holiday Inn brand didn’t progress, and look what happened. It nearly became no longer relevant.”

What Holiday Inn is planning isn’t revolutionary in the industry, but it’s definitely a departure for the brand. While specifics of the initiative are far from settled, plans call for the creation of a Social Hub in each property, a spot where guests—Holiday Inn defines its core customers as “everyday heroes”—can relax, socialize, work and eat and drink. Food and beverage will revamped to give guests more choice, particularly during breakfast, where options will include full service, a grab-and-go offering and at many properties, roomservice.

In the evening, the Social Hub transforms into a bar where guests can eat, drink and socialize. The food menu will include a wide variety of appetizers to share as well as sandwiches, salads and entrees. “The goal is to own the evening social occasion from cocktail hour to nightcap,” said Verchele Wiggins, vice president of global brand management for Holiday Inn.

In order to effectively compete in the upscale lodging segment, incoming IAHI Chairman Bill DeForrest told the conference audience that Holiday Inn must “put the ‘full’ back into fullservice.” While DeForrest, who is president and CEO of Lane Hospitality, acknowledged that “many owners are still facing financial challenges, this is not a nice thing to do. It’s what we must do to create a brand premium and a true unique selling point.”

According to LaBarre, Holiday Inn’s product development team built a model of the Social Hub in a warehouse in Boston. The model is built from foam core so modifications can be made easily. Based on research and feedback from IAHI members who’ve viewed the concept, two or three versions of the product have already been created. Sometime next year, a Social Hub prototype will be added to a Holiday Inn in the Atlanta area for further study before a systemwide roll-out.

Additional changes are also in store at Holiday Inn Express. Following a six-month test in 30 properties, the chain will add a self-serve pancake machine to the chain’s Express Start breakfast program. Under the plan, which calls for full implementation by the end of March, operators will get the machines for free when they agree to buy the pancake batter.

Holiday Inn Express is also testing a 24/7 convenience pantry concept similar to what IHG offers in its extended-stay properties.

Holiday Inn’s ambitious relaunch project is about 80-percent complete, with full compliance expected by the end of the year, said LaBarre. The initiative launched in 2007 and focused on upgrading several key areas of the brand: quality standards, a new logo and identity markers, an enhanced guest experience and a pumped-up marketing program.

While some owners chose to exit the system rather than execute the relaunch, those who did are now reaping rewards. Wiggins told a Holiday Inn brand session at the conference that relaunched properties enjoy on average a seven-percent RevPAR advantage, with comparable increases in other performance metrics, including guest satisfaction.

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