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Begun in 2008, the Holiday Inn "Refresh" Will be Completed by Late 2010;
Cost of Remake Averaging $100,000 to $200,000 per Hotel

By Jeff Swiatek, The Indianapolis StarMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

September 10, 2009 - Holiday Inn says the future of lodging is scented air, a choice of hard or soft pillows, decluttering and power showers.

The hotel chain is bringing these features and more to all 3,300 of its hotels, at a chainwide cost of $1 billion.

Dubbed a "refresh," the remake won't happen quite as speedily as advertised on Holiday Inn's TV commercials, where a baseball ground crew makes over a hotel room in seconds.

Begun in April 2008, the refresh will take until late 2010 to complete, about a year later than first planned.

In the Indianapolis area, where Holiday Inn has a major presence, only two of the 17 Holiday Inns and Holiday Inn Expresses sport the new look so far.

"Feedback from guests is great. Guests feel they're staying at a more modern hotel," said Manu Joshi, owner and manager of Holiday Inn Express near I-465 and Emerson Avenue, which opened last year and then quickly underwent a second round of refresh work to take on the new look earlier this year.

The Holiday Inn Express at Park 100 on the Northwestside also has been redone, while an update is under way on the Holiday Inn Express near Indianapolis International Airport. At other local Holiday Inns, work will start later this year or in 2010, said chain spokeswoman Caroline Sanfilippo.

The new look, which includes modernizing the Holiday Inn sign for the first time in 50 years, grew out of an 18,000-customer survey that gave Holiday Inn a different sense of what today's travelers want in a hotel.

"We learned a lot," said Kevin Kowalski, senior vice president of global brand management for the British-owned chain, which was founded in the U.S. in 1952 and now has its U.S. offices in Atlanta.

The bottom line: Guests want a "sense of arrival" in their hotel, a quick check-in experience, clean and fresh rooms and casual, friendly service.

"It's not radical, crazy stuff," Kowalski said.

Holiday Inn's modernization seems to be "more than an urgent call to arms to play catch-up with competitors that have already launched branding refresh programs," writes Cameron Larkin, managing director of Larkin Hospitality Finance, on his Dallas company's Web site. "Holiday Inn's initiative came across more as a genuine, well-researched, thoughtfully crafted rollout that promises to fundamentally redefine the . . . franchise."

With a price tag of $100,000 to $200,000 per hotel, the makeover has led to an average jump in revenue per available room of 5 percent to 6 percent and better guest satisfaction scores, Kowalski said.

Holiday Inn's owner, InterContinental Hotels Group, went ahead with the remake despite a drop-off in business and leisure travel.

"In many ways, a downturn is a great time to invest in your brand," Kowalski said. Studies show companies that do that "do better in the recovery," he said.

Tim Worthington, founder of Worthington Group hotel consultants and managers in Indianapolis, said Holiday Inn's makeover features details that guests notice, such as the scent machine in the lobby, newly landscaped exteriors and higher-pressure shower heads.

"They're just looking for a total new look. A lot of it is little things, but in my opinion, little things make the difference."

Call Star reporter Jeff Swiatek at (317) 444-6483.

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Copyright (c) 2009, The Indianapolis Star

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