The Highway to Prosperity

It went by with little fanfare, but last month marked the anniversary of the most important event in the history of the hotel industry. No, it wasn't Barry Sternlicht's introduction of the Heavenly Bed, or the creation of RevPAR as the key operating metric for hotels, or even Kemmons Wilson's legendary, if somewhat apocryphal, summer family vacation that led to the creation of Holiday Inns.

Rather, June 29 was the 50-year anniversary of President Dwight Eisenhower signing into law the legislation creating what today is the 47,000-mile interstate highway system. That simple, but historic bill signing enabled Americans in the 1960s and ‘70s to hit the road every summer — and a lot of weekends — to travel easier and farther than they ever could before.

More importantly, it gave the American household a severe case of wanderlust that started with the interstate highway system but extended far beyond. As Mom and Dad and 2.5 kids began to roam the 48 states (the geography of Hawaii and Alaska prevent them from connecting to the interstate system), they saw and experienced things they never encountered before, and they wanted more. As a result, air travel also increased — although even a typical vacation (or business trip) via airplane also entails car rental and additional travel on interstate highways.

The hotel business in the U.S. is more sophisticated and more successful than in any other country, a fact made possible by Ike's insistence on (and the public's willingness to pay for) a standardized and modern federal highway system.

The road network is nearly complete, yet we should never lose sight of its significance to our national economy and, more importantly, to the health of our industry.

Here are a few fun facts about the interstate highway system you might not know:

  • Given the Cold War paranoia of the time, the interstate system was actually created as part of the national defense system to quickly transport goods and people in case of war or nuclear attack.

  • About 85 percent of the 41 million Americans who traveled over the recent July 4th holiday did so by car, mostly using the interstate system.

  • Some really obscure trivia: the concrete used to build the highway network could build a wall nine feet thick and 50 feet high around the world. The system has 56,000 bridges, 104 tunnels, 15,000 interchanges, 1,500 rest areas and no traffic lights.

  • Total cost of the roadway system was $129 billion, of which the federal government paid $114 billion.

  • At 3,020 miles, I-90 is the longest interstate highway route. It runs from Boston to Seattle. The shortest, I-97 between Baltimore and Annapolis, MD, is 18 miles.

Viva Minneapolis

On an unrelated note, I've got to comment on last month's HITEC conference and trade show focusing on all things technology in the hotel industry. The event, which had 600 trade show booths and drew 4,700 attendees, was a dynamic and useful gathering, and sponsor HFTP did its usual great job in organizing and hosting the event.

But the real star of the show was Minneapolis, this year's HITEC venue. Quite a few attendees and vendors I talked to said they really loved the city and its offerings. The hotels were good, the convention center was close and restaurants, bars and shopping were abundant. And, of course, the late-June weather in Minnesota is glorious. Best of all, Minneapolis is a walking city that's also safe, clean and easy to traverse.

I understand why groups go to Las Vegas and Orlando, but they should also consider livable and manageable cities like Minneapolis for their events. The attendees, the vendors and the press will thank them.

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