Holiday Inns: Revolutionizing an Industry
18 artifacts in this set
After World War II, more Americans than ever before hit the open road for business and leisure travel. Roadside lodging options were mostly limited to mom-and-pop motels. Travelers had no guarantee that rooms would meet even limited expectations.
Recognizing that other travelers had the same demands as his own family -- quality lodging at fair prices -- Kemmons Wilson opened the first group of Holiday Inns in Memphis, starting in 1952. These one-story “Courts” looked like other motels, but their offerings quickly set the chain apart.
The first Holiday Inns franchise opened in 1954, and within ten years, 500 of these motels dotted the landscape. Guests could expect free parking, air conditioning, in-room telephones and televisions, free ice, and a pool and restaurant at each location. And, Kemmons Wilson determined, there would be no extra charge for children.
Location was key to Holiday Inns' success. Preferred sites on the righthand side of major highways made stopping convenient for travelers. In the 1950s and 1960s, the company snatched up property for future Holiday Inns adjacent to the new Interstate Highway System.
In the late 1950s, Holiday Inns developed a new "roadside" design: two-story buildings organized around a recreational courtyard with a pool and other facilities. The lobby, restaurant, and meeting rooms were conveniently located in one building.
After becoming a public company in 1957, Holiday Inns developed a network of manufacturers and suppliers to meet its growing operational needs. This cut costs, reinforced the Holiday Inns brand, and helped standardize the guest experience. Managers could order everything from linens and cleaning supplies to processed foods and promotional materials from a Holiday Inns subsidiary.
Comprehensive operational standards produced uniformity in nearly every detail of a Holiday Inn stay, including restaurant meals. Holiday Inns produced and distributed its own processed food, and issued corporate specifications for portion sizes and food purchased locally. The company’s own Holiday Press printed restaurant menus with standardized selections and prices.
A rigorous training program helped Holiday Inns regulate and maintain standard operations. The company distributed training films to each motel and communicated regularly with property managers, called "Innkeepers." All Innkeepers attended mandatory training courses in Memphis. The company opened Holiday Inn University, a complete campus for manager training, in 1972.
Inspired by Holiday Inns’ success, competing chains and independent motels began offering many of the same services and amenities. African American entrepreneur A.G. Gaston, of Birmingham, Alabama, was one of many to operate a motel based on Holiday Inns’ revolutionary concepts.
Holiday Inns Announces a Nationwide Electronic Reservation System, Press Information Kit, circa 1979
In the 1960s, Holiday Inns partnered with IBM to develop a computer reservation system. "Holidex" went online in 1965 as the world's largest commercial computerized communications network. The Holidex system, which allowed customers to book rooms instantly at any Holiday Inn in the country, was an immediate success. It centralized corporate data, streamlined operations, and set a new industry standard for reservation systems.
In 1972, Time magazine featured Holiday Inns founder Kemmons Wilson on its cover. The feature article described Wilson's work ethic and some of the business decisions that led Holiday Inns to dominate the lodging industry.
To address financial setbacks during the economic recession of the 1970s, Holiday Inns sold nearly all the subsidiaries it had assembled in the previous decade. The company partnered with travel agencies and airlines and diversified its marketing strategy to appeal to new customers.
As Holiday Inns evolved to attract new business and meet changing demands, the company retained some of its founding practices. “The Best Surprise Is No Surprise” slogan and “No Surprises” room guarantee introduced in the late 1970s and early 1980s emphasized the continued marketability of a standardized guest experience.
Holiday Inns overwhelmed the competition in the 1950s by offering standard motel features -- like free ice -- that travelers today expect wherever they stay. The company’s commitment to maintaining quality standards at every property made Holiday Inns an iconic and enduring feature of the lodging industry.