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

Nov. 18, 2021
6 min read
Holiday Inn Express and Suites hotel sign
Holiday Inn Express just opened its 3,000th hotel: How the brand became iconic and what's next
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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.

(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.

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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.

(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.”

Featured image by Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.

    Earn 80,000 Points
  • Annual Fee

    $695
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

Sometimes it's worth a large investment to reap the benefits of a great credit card. That's exactly the case with the Amex Platinum card. In exchange for the annual fee, you'll unlock access to the Amex Membership Rewards program that let you access airline and hotel transfer partners, along with new lifestyle and travel credits. This card is also incredibly rewarding for travel purchases, helping you rack up a ton of Membership Rewards points for your next award trip.

Pros

  • The current welcome offer on this card is quite lucrative. TPG values it at $1,600.
  • This card comes with a long list of benefits, including access to Centurion Lounges, complimentary elite status with Hilton and Marriott, at least $500 in assorted annual statement credits and so much more. (Enrollment required for select benefits.)
  • The Amex Platinum comes with access to a premium concierge service that can help you with everything from booking hard-to-get reservations to finding destination guides to help you plan out your next getaway.

Cons

  • The high annual fee is only worth it if you’re taking full advantage of the card’s benefits. Seldom travelers may not get enough value to warrant the cost.
  • Outside of the current welcome bonus, you’re only earning higher rewards on specific airfare and hotel purchases, so it’s not a great card for other spending categories.
  • The annual airline fee statement credit can be complicated to take advantage of compared to the broader travel credits offered by competing premium cards.
  • Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings, which requires a minimum two-night stay, through American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 back each month on eligible purchases made with your Platinum Card® on one or more of the following: Audible, Disney+, The Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, Peacock, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
  • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax. Plus Ups are excluded.
  • American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. There are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only.
  • Get up to $300 back per calendar year on the Equinox+ digital fitness app, or eligible Equinox club memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card. Enrollment required. Learn more.
  • Breeze through security with CLEAR® lanes available at 100+ airports, stadiums, and entertainment venues and get up to $189 back per calendar year on your membership when you use your Card. Learn more.
  • $695 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees