Skift Take

From Tennessee back roads to Chinese mountains, the McDonalds of the hotel industry democratized hotel travel and continues to grow today, thanks to a $1 billion facelift in 2007.

They love the photo at Holiday Inn. It has the founder’s children, wearing their Sunday best, lined up in stairstep fashion and cutting a ribbon to open their father’s first motel.

It’s proudly displayed in hotels and exhibits and appears on bottled water commemorating that day in 1952. The children periodically assemble to relive the magical moment: 25 years later, 50 years, and again Wednesday.

It was 60 years to the day since they opened the first Holiday Inn at 4941 Summer, near Mendenhall.

Children of the late Kemmons and Dorothy Wilson did their best to re-create the original outfits.

Spence, Bob and Kemmons “Kem” Wilson Jr. wore bow ties. Spence and Bob wore cream-colored suits, Kemmons, gray sport coat and dress slacks. Betty Moore and Carole West wore white blouses, black skirts and white shoes and socks; their white Mary Janes are long gone. Kemmons said a pair of old spikeless golf shoes filled in for black and white wingtips.

“You can’t make this stuff up,” said James F. Anhut, a top brand management executive for Holiday Inns’ parent company.

He added, “You can’t forget the past. You can’t forget the history. You’ve got to remember this legacy. This taproot that leads back to Memphis is unique.”

From that one motor hotel on Summer Avenue at what was then the eastern fringe of Memphis, the modern hospitality industry was born. Kemmons Wilson’s Holiday Inn, the most recognizable brand in InterContinental Hotels Group’s portfolio, hit 3,375 properties this year.

The Denham, England-based company chose a Holiday Inn & Suites at 2751 New Brunswick Road, owned and operated by franchisee Kemmons Wilson Companies, for Wednesday’s photo opp.

The hotel near Wolfchase Galleria is a revamped design that came out of a $1 billion refreshing of the Holiday Inn brand that concluded in 2010. Inside are homages to the founder and a display of furniture from the first Holiday Inn room, on loan from the Memphis Pink Palace Museum.

The children cut a ceremonial ribbon in front of the latest incarnation of Holiday Inn’s famed highway sign and shared memories from six decades earlier.

They didn’t recall whether Aug. 1, 1952 was quite so hot.

Kemmons Wilson Jr., president of Wilson Hotel Management Co., said his dad had booked Memphis Mayor Edmund Orgill to cut the ribbon, but the mayor canceled.

His dad was flustered, but his mom suggested that the children do the honors.

Kemmons, who stood in the middle of the lineup, said instructions were to snip the ribbon on a count of three. “When it got to two, I cut the ribbon. I wasn’t waiting.”

The substitution of fresh-faced children for mayor probably turned out better, Moore noted. Holiday Inn made a name for itself as a family-friendly institution, pioneering a children-stay-free policy.

In an interview, Anhut and Kemmons Wilson said the parent company and Holiday Inn franchise owners are realizing significant benefits from the refreshing. The chain refurbished about 1,800 properties and dropped about 1,400 that weren’t up to newly raised standards.

Wilson applauded the hotel group’s dedication to carrying out its plan.

“This leadership team came in and they really put their money where their mouth was,” Wilson said. “The result is, we have a brand new chain. Every hotel is new or almost new. I know it’s going to pay dividends for them.”

Anhut, senior vice president of Americas brand management for the hotel group, was limited in what he could say about the impact on earnings because the company is preparing for a quarterly report to investors.

A first quarter earnings release in May said in part: “In line with our strategy to grow the presence of Holiday Inn in the leisure market, openings in the quarter included three resort hotels for the brand in the U.S. and our eighth Holiday Inn Club Vacation hotel which is located in Las Vegas. This strong activity for the Holiday Inn brand family in the quarter demonstrates the ongoing benefits from the Holiday Inn relaunch.”

Holiday Inn Club Vacation hotels are the result of a strategic alliance with Kemmons Wilson Companies, growing out of their Orange Lake, Fla., time-share development. Kemmons Wilson Companies operates eight of the vacation clubs.

“The marketplace rewards brands that keep their promises,” said Anhut. “To have this brand around 60 years from now, you’ve got to do the right things today.”


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Tags: branding, chains, holiday inn, intercontinental hotel group