Question: What was the first hotel brand to offer a pool? A restaurant? A lounge? Free ice? A "Kids Stay Free" program? Online booking?
Answer: Holiday Inn.
With the first Holiday Inn opening in 1952, the iconic brand is very much alive 60 years later. Owned by InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), Holiday Inn has over 1,200 hotels worldwide; it was the first international midscale hotel brand to open in China in 1984.
So how does a 60-year old brand stay relevant? Brandchannel spoke with Jim Anhut, SVP, Americas Brand Management for IHG, who told us about how Holiday Inn made a "tough decision" to relaunch the brand several years ago, which included refurbishing properties and instituting a new brand identity.
The move resulted in 1,400 hotels exiting the system and 1,800 new ones being added. That was just the beginning. "We did a good job of listening to customers along the way," said Anhut. "We keep the brand relevant by reacting to today's needs and wants."
Listening to customers must be working — Holiday Inn was ranked "highest in Guest Satisfaction among Midscale Full Service Hotel Chains," according to the J. D. Power and Associates 2011 and 2012 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study.
Still a brand of "Firsts," the chain is celebrating its 60th anniversary by asking consumers to share their own "firsts" and possibly win one of 60 free room nights being given away every day in the month of August to any Holiday Inn hotel in the world.
The celebration also includes an invitation to guests around the world to recreate and share their "Then & Now" photos through September 30 for an opportunity to win one of four week-long family vacations at the Holiday Inn hotel of their choice, anywhere in the world. The "Then & Now" idea recreates old photos in the present day, capturing every detail as precisely as possible. Ideally, submitted photos would capture a memorable Holiday Inn experience.
The primary means for story and photo sharing is, not surprisingly, social media, including Facebook and on Twitter (hashtag: #celebratefirsts). Holiday Inn has employed social marketing before in the U.S., but this is the first time it is being used on a global scale. It's one more way the brand remains relevant.
Storytelling is at the core of the campaign; in fact, generating stories about people's "firsts" is a brand strategy that "has legs beyond the campaign," said Anhut. "We're hoping to garner stories about firsts at Holiday Inn, like a first business meeting, or a wedding reception. People remember stories and they can relate to them. They're much more natural, they're not contrived."
Stories and photos submitted during the campaign will continue to be shared with consumers via social media, but Anhut says the stories will serve a dual purpose: Not only will they be shared with the outside world, they'll also be distributed internally. "Great stories can generate pride in the company, which translates into a positive attitude at the hotels," Anhut said. That, of course, means guests are more likely to get a first-class experience when they stay at a Holiday Inn hotel.