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Hoping to be the new ‘Inn’ thing

Hoping to be the new ‘Inn’ thing

Holiday Inn is going upmarket with a new global rebranding, including its own patented smell, and is hoping to find a place in the Middle East market.

September 16, 2008 9:05 by

Tiffany Webber

Long known as the habitat of lonely salesmen and seedy lovers, the Holiday Inn franchise (part of the Intercontinental Hotels Group [IHG]) is going under the knife and has been globally re-launched with a “fresh” and “clean” rebranding strategy. A new logo is just the start. The look and feel of the hotels is being crisped up, and they are even getting their own scent.

The rebranding comes just in time for two new Holiday Inn Express properties to open in Dubai – one in Jumeirah and one near Safa Park, which are to join another Express in Internet City and the Holiday Inns in Bur Dubai and Barsha. Holiday Inn Express is a pared down version of Holiday Inn, designed to appeal to business travelers more than families (the Internet City one has no restaurants or pool, for example).

With a reputation as an economical choice for temporary stays, Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express have rarely been touted as upper-echelon establishments. However, with its new logo, updated color palette, refreshed environment and new customer service approach, the once shabby hotel chain is hoping for a fresh start.

“Holiday Inn is the best recognized and most popular hotel brand in the world,” claims Tom Rowntree, commercial vice-president for the Middle East & Africa at IHG. His claim that the brand is “best recognized” is based on the fact that it has more than 3,000 hotels around the world.

“We are currently opening one hotel per day and signing two,” says Rowntree. In the MENA region there are 27 Holiday Inn hotels, with 4,515 rooms. And 15 more are going to open soon. There are six Holiday Inn Expresses, with 1,124 rooms between them.

And it is popular due to its rates, which have traditionally hovered somewhere between affordable and budget. But even guests who stay at a hotel for a low price will have expectations for the quality of their stay. “Consumer demands are continually changing and we continually need to be looking at ways to improve our hotels and service to ensure we’re giving guests what they want,” says Rowntree.

Using US-based Interbrand branding agency, IHG are working to give guests just that, he says. “IHG conducted, over a two-year period, a consumer research, encompassing more than 100 different brands and more than 18,000 people,” says Rowntree. “This market research, and consumer insight from Landis [Global Market Research agency], serves as the foundation for the changes IHG is making to the Holiday Inn brand portfolio.”

Keeping up appearances. Apparently what matters most to guests are consistently good standards. “Our research showed 90 percent of what’s important to guests in a hotel stay is a modern, clean, safe property with efficient, friendly service and a great night’s sleep,” says Rowntree.

Negative feedback from guests on cluttered welcome areas, drab décor and robotic customer service has fueled the fire to spice up dingy hotels.

In order to lift the chain’s image, changes are being implemented to make Holiday Inn more “contemporary and stylish” – this translates to simple, tidy and sharp. And this will manifest itself in areas such as minimalistic lobbies with plain walls decorated sparsely, new signage (including a redesigned logo with a new plain-line typeface and “more vibrant” green color), and sensory branding such as specially created scents that are dispensed in the lobby. The Holiday Inn’s new smell will be “a crisp combination of citrus and white tea, with subtle undercurrents of herbs, perilla leaf, woods and sensual musk.”

It’s not only the sensual complaints of guests that are being addressed. Experiential critique is generating change too. Which means cutting back on the Fawlty Towers school of staffing. Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express employees will be going through retraining to live up to customer requests for better service standards. This includes staff training on more efficient service, speedy response to guest requests and a less “performed” interaction with clientele.

In mature markets, such as the UK and the US, where Holiday Inn built its popularity, many travelers are looking purely for the best rates and are a little more apt to compromise on luxury. But it is hard not to notice that as Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express look to make their entrance to markets such as the UAE which are more Fabergé than flea-pit, the timing to go up-market is perfect.

“The Middle East region has long been associated with high-end luxury hotels,” says Rowntree. “But with the introduction of Holiday Inn Express, the hotel market has been significantly expanded, catering to those budget-conscious travelers seeking value-for-money accommodation and services.” Presumably the rebranding will make Holiday Inn a little more palatable for this region’s silver-spoon clientele.

“We felt it was the perfect time to take the brand portfolio to the next level,” says Rowntree. “Holiday Inn has been an extremely popular brand across the Middle East since its introduction to the region in 1983, in Saudi Arabia,” says Rowntree. “And Holiday Inn Express in Dubai Internet City has been well received and has performed above expectations since launching last year.” It should now be completing its implementation of the rebranding.

But don’t think that all of this will come without a cost to the consumer. Rowntree says end users can expect a hike in prices. “Room rates are always determined by current market conditions and demand drivers,” he says. “We expect the new hotels to be able to command a significantly higher ‘revpar’ [that’s revenue per available room, for those of us not in the know] premium as a result of the brand relaunch, in line with the improvements to the property and guest facilities.”

IHG is investing $60m in the relaunch, and combined with funding from the group’s partners, it could cost as much as $1bn. However, Rowntree expects to generate a strong return on investment through those revpar increases across the whole Holiday Inn estate.

The relaunch, which began in April in England, is now in the process of moving across international franchises. New signage will only be awarded to hotels as they meet all the new brand standards related to quality, service, products and amenities. Rowntree says that, on average, 150 properties will receive the signage each month until the entire system of 3,188 hotels is converted around the end of 2010.

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