The Holiday Inn near Universal Orlando has new furnishings, pillow-top mattresses and linens, plus a signature scent.
The 390-room hotel and 14 other Orlando-area Holiday Inns are updating their image as part of a billion-dollar effort involving more than 3,300 properties worldwide. The Holiday Inn brand, once a mainstay along America’s interstate highways, has faced increasing competition in recent years and is relaunching itself in an attempt to remain relevant with travelers.
Perhaps more notable than the details of the rehabilitation is the timing: the capital investment comes amid a painfully slow recovery from one of the worst U.S. recessions on record, as many hoteliers struggle just to keep their properties out of the red.
“For me, the story is the investment that our owners made during a very difficult time in the economy,” said Gina LaBarre, vice president of brand delivery for Intercontinental Hotels Group, which owns Holiday Inn. “It’s more than just the product; it’s about how we deliver service and the guest experience within our hotel.”
Travelers have a growing number of options in the midscale-lodging market. Upscale companies like Marriott International and Hilton Hotels have extended their reach with mid-tier brands such as Residence Inn by Marriott and Hilton Garden Inn.
LaBarre said customers, particularly business travelers, were also telling Holiday Inn that it had not remained an attractive option.
All of the Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express hotels across the country are expected to complete their makeovers by year’s end, with the goal of improving the actual facilities, guest-satisfaction scores and employees’ training, the company said.
Not all properties have come along for the ride: The company, founded in Memphis, Tenn., in 1952, said it has shed 700 Holiday Inn or Holiday Inn Express hotels during the past five years. But it also has added about 1,100 other ones to the fold, for a net gain of about 400 hotels.
Holiday Inn’s effort, which includes such things as improved exterior lighting, upgraded showers and a new logo, is not so much a brand revolution as it is the latest in a series of attempts to reinvent the aging American mainstay “when the public gets fed up,” said Michael Terry, a professor in the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management.
“It’s nothing grand and glorious, for sure,” said Terry, who has worked for Holiday Inn in the past. “This is a defensive move. This isn’t an offensive move.” And the changes don’t require a large financial commitment by hotel standards, he noted.
Still, the improvements come at a good time for the Orlando-area properties. Universal Orlando’s new Wizarding World of Harry Potter is drawing hordes of tourists to the Central Florida, and those travelers who may have traded down because of the sour economy are experiencing a new version of the budget-conscious Holiday Inn.
To promote the changes, Holiday Inn launched a $100 million advertising campaign last spring called Stay You. It’s the largest global ad campaign in the brand’s history.
Remodeling during an economic slump can be a good thing, as long as a hotel can afford it. Contractors are often readily available, and the owner can renovate rooms without displacing guests during a period of below-average occupancy rates.
The Peabody Orlando, which just completed a $450 million expansion and renovation begun during the recession, considers its timing “almost perfect.” Local hotel company Rosen Hotels & Resorts recently completed a $30 million renovation of four of its Orlando properties, while the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress completed a $45 million renovation early this year.
“If you can do it [financially], it’s probably the best time to renovate,” said Alan Villaverde, the Peabody’s managing director.
For Holiday Inn, the typical property spent between $150,000 and $250,000 meeting the new standards, depending on the condition of the hotel. But the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites near Universal used the new brand campaign as the launch pad for a “multimillion-dollar” modernization project, General Manager Matthew Downs said.
“It was a no-brainer,” Downs said. “Orlando, being a very competitive marketplace, we felt it was very important to maintain our competitive edge.”
In the long run, hoteliers like Downs are hoping for a return on their investment. Holiday Inn says its renovated hotels have improved guest-satisfaction scores, while their revenue per available room â€” a key industry measure â€” has outperformed a control group’s by 3 percent to 7 percent.
“The response has just been unbelievable,” Downs said. “They love the overall look, the feel, the smell. And, of course, the service is still there.”