Holiday Inn Express just opened its 3,000th hotel: How the brand became iconic and what’s next

Nov 18, 2021

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There are few hotel brands as recognizable as Holiday Inn Express. From New York City’s bustling Chelsea neighborhood to Hong Kong and even the dusty, windswept plains of my humble hometown in Levelland, Texas, the hotel brand can be found dotting maps the world over.

Now, celebrating its 30th anniversary, Holiday Inn Express has reached a huge milestone: It’s opened more than 3,000 hotels.

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“It feels incredible,” ​​Stephanie Atiase, vice president at IHG Hotels & Resorts and global brand head for Holiday Inn Express, told TPG in an exclusive email interview. “Imagine, 30 years, 3,000 hotels and over 300,000 rooms around the world.”

It’s not by chance the brand has made it to this point. Holiday Inn changed the way we travel, starting with the very first Holiday Inn (not to be confused with Holiday Inn Express) in Memphis, Tennessee, back in 1952.

At that time, businessman Kemmons Wilson was on a mission to give family travelers a reliable place to stay — and Holiday Inn was born. By 1954, the brand became the very first to franchise and by 1956 it was the largest hotel chain in the world, as well as the first to reach 300,000 rooms.

Over the next handful of decades, Holiday Inn Built an ultra-loyal base of customers using clever roadside signs that advertised a great place to stay, expanding around the world and even becoming the first hotel to directly integrate with airline and travel agent booking systems to make travel even easier.

In 1983, Holiday Inn introduced the very first hotel loyalty program, Holiday Inn Priority Club.

Holiday Inn Express hotel room
(Courtesy of IHG Hotels & Resorts)

Fast forward to the 1990s and Holiday Inn Express, a hotel brand “aimed at smart travelers with a new service style,” is born. The internet takes over, Holiday Inn becomes the first hotel to take an online booking, a series of ownership changes leads to the eventual creation of IHG and now, 30 years and a pandemic later, more than 3,000 Holiday Inn Express locations can be found on this little planet.

Related: The award traveler’s guide to IHG Rewards Club

“Holiday Inn Express was created to challenge the travel industry with a foundation rooted in simple, smart travel,” said Atiase. “No matter how we innovate, we have stayed true to that ethos throughout our history. That means delivering what matters most to our guests: great service; clean, comfortable rooms and complimentary breakfast.”

And that consistency is exactly why people on a road trip across the U.S. or on a business trip to Europe have stayed faithful to the brand, propelling its growth over the last three decades.

“Our core experience has remained and that is why our guests are so loyal and book with us time and time again. They know that when they walk into a Holiday Inn Express, no matter the location, they will be greeted with the same consistent experience they know and love.”

Atiase is also quick to point out that, while the Holiday Inn Express experience is rooted in consistency, it’s also learning to adapt and grow. “The brand is focused on staying modern as it ages,” as she put it.

To do that, Holiday Inn Express is reexamining some of its most valued offerings, including its free Express Start breakfast offerings. Today, folks staying at Holiday Inn Express can still count on fan-favorites like pancakes and cinnamon rolls but also healthier options such as Chobani Greek yogurt and old-fashioned rolled oats.

According to Atiase, as pandemic-related restrictions ease, the breakfast buffet has returned to over 90% of its U.S. hotels.

Holiday Inn Express breakfast buffet
(Courtesy of IHG Hotels & Resorts)

In addition, Holiday Inn Express is modernizing its physical spaces with a series of programs designed to enhance older properties and maximize new ones.

Blue 2.0 and Next Gen, as they’re called, will give public spaces “an upbeat, dynamic and friendly design,” while adding multifunctional seating, power and better lighting to guest rooms.

It’s also doubling down on sustainability, joining IHG’s Journey to Tomorrow program to reduce waste, energy consumption and carbon emissions.

“One tangible way we’ll accomplish this is through the implementation of bulk bath products in our guestrooms, which will significantly reduce plastic waste,” she said.

And it’s focusing on serving more people in more destinations around the world, including signing its very first property in Japan, along with over 650 other planned openings in the next few years — all while maintaining its loyal base and working to attract a new generation of Holiday Inn Express loyalists that expect different amenities as remote work becomes the norm and travel becomes less traditional.

“Ultimately, the future of travel is facilitating more choice for consumers,” Atiase said. “More choice regarding when and where they work. More choice regarding when and where they celebrate important moments in their lives. And more choice regarding how we interact with others (in person and digitally).”

To celebrate the 3,000 hotel milestone, IHG is giving away 300,000 IHG Rewards points to one lucky person who can best explain why they love Holiday Inn Express in a video posted to Twitter or Instagram between Dec. 1 and Dec. 31, 2021. To enter, simply post a video, tag the brand and use the hashtag #HolidayInnExpress3000Contest. Ten other submissions will also win 3,000 IHG Rewards points.

As for the long-term future, it seems like up is the only direction for Holiday Inn Express to go. (Though, Atiase said a Holiday Inn Express in space would be amazing, she’ll leave space to Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.)

“My dream is that as we continue to grow and invite the next generation of guests, we will create the same level of brand love we have today, even 30 years from now.”

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