Holiday Inn


My first experience of corporate histories began in 2010 when I worked at Global communications agency H+K Strategies in London. IHG was a significant client and their budget hotel brand Holiday Inn was about to open its 1500th hotel.


I was tasked to research the history of Holiday Inn, pitch and place an exclusive national feature, and then do whatever needed to be done to bring that feature to life. The Wilson family that launched Holiday Inn in Memphis back in 1952 are still in operation as third generation hoteliers today. Part of the Memphis hotel has been transformed into a museum to showcase how the story began. This seemed like a good starting point.


The very first Holiday Inn opened on August 1st 1952 in Memphis Tennessee by home builder Kemmons Wilson, on the main road to Nashville. Though the hotel does not exist anymore, a historical sign marks where it once stood.
Wilson initially came up with the idea after a family road trip to Washington, D.C, during which he was disappointed by the quality, consistency and lack of family and value-oriented lodgings provided by the roadside motels of that era. He therefore decided to create the Holiday Inn chain to provide inexpensive family accommodation for travellers within the United States, and an American Icon was born.

When the first Holiday Inn opened the typical room rate was $4 to $6, children stayed free, and the hotel offered a swimming pool, air conditioning and a full-service restaurant. Telephones and free parking were standard – while commonplace today, these services were revolutionary at the time and set the standard for the hotel industry and for every Holiday Inn hotel that followed.

In 1957, Wilson franchised the chain as ‘Holiday Inn of America’, with each hotel following Wilson’s standards of clean, family-friendly, affordable and readily accessible to road travellers. By 1958, there were 50 locations across the country, 100 by 1959, 500 by 1964 and the 1000th Holiday Inn opened in San Antonio, Texas, in 1968.

The brand soon found investor interest in Europe and Asia and became the largest single hotel brand in the world. By the late 1980s, the Holiday Inn brand could be found in virtually every corner of the globe.

Throughout the years Holiday Inn has inspired many popular songs such as Elton John’s “Holiday Inn” featured on his 1971 album Madman Across the Water, this was a good natured poke at the hotel chain, which was Elton’s most common place to stay during his time on the road. “Holiday Inn Blues” was featured on Neil Diamond’s 1968 album Velvet Gloves and Spit; ‘Holidae In’ features on Chingy’s 2003 album Jackpot featuring Snoop Dogg, and most recently “Hotel Room Service” by Pitbull from his current 2009 album Rebelution.

Holiday Inn in the UK is now the largest full service hotel brand in the UK with 119 Holiday Inn and 106 Holiday Inn Express hotels.

In 1990, Bass PLC of London acquired Holiday Inn, strengthening the brand’s marketing efforts and global orientation. Recognising the different needs of travellers in the midscale hotel market, Bass created Holiday Inn Express in 1991, a brand that defined everything that Holiday Inn encapsulates, minus the full-service restaurant.

The company’s headquarters moved from Memphis to Atlanta, in the summer of 1991. Atlanta now offered the corporate infrastructure, worldwide transportation access and international presence Bass thought was necessary for the company to continue its success as a global business.

In 1994 Bass launched Crowne Plaza, a move into the upscale hotel market. Then in 1997, Bass created and launched a new hotel brand, Staybridge Suites by Holiday Inn, entering the North American upscale extended stay market. Bass then acquired the InterContinental brand in March 1998, expanding into the luxury hotel market.

Further to this in 2001 Bass Hotels & Resorts, Inc changed its name to Six Continents Hotels, Inc to emphasise the global scope of the company, which operated in nearly 100 countries across six continents by that time.

More recently the company’s name changed to InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) to reflect the focus of its core business and the expertise of the company as an owner, developer, franchisor and manager of hotels.

Did you know…?

The history of Holiday Inn includes a long line of “firsts” that revolutionised the hospitality industry and set standards guests have grown to expect today. Holiday Inn was the first hotel brand to:

  • Create a national franchise organisation (1952)
  • Offer in-room air-conditioning, free in-room television, a swimming pool and an on-site restaurant (1952)
  • Sell a franchise (1954)
  • Operate a computerised satellite reservations system (1965)
  • Advertise on television (1966)
  • Launch a hotel guest frequency program, Priority Club (1983)
  • Establish a centralised travel agency commission program (1981)
  • Open a mid-scale resort offering, Holiday Inn SunSpree Resorts, focused on families (1992)
  • Establish a standardised kids eat free program (1993)
  • Develop a room-within-a-room concept, KidSuites, for parents travelling with children (1993)
  • Take reservations over the internet (1995)
  • Launch the hotel industry’s first ‘Lowest Internet Rate Guarantee’ (2002)
  • Introduce self-service reception kiosks in the midscale hotel environment (2005)
  • Partner with Nickelodeon to open world’s first Nickelodeon Family Suites by Holiday Inn hotel (2005, Orlando, Florida)

Media Relations

Following several weeks of media pitching to national travel supplements, Simon Calder, Travel Editor of The Independent finally approved the feature commission and for travel writer Harriet O’Brien to cover the story.


Travel and accommodation was arranged for Harriet, which included a stopover in Atlanta to meet the senior vice president at the Holiday Inn HQ, before travelling on to Memphis to meet Kemmons Wilson Jr and have a tour of the museum. Briefing documents were fully prepared for all parties.


This feature inspired The Independent to run a 4-page cover story on the history of Holiday Inn. The story published in The Independent Traveller plus online:

Independent Traveller front page Independent Traveller p2 Independent Traveller p3 Independent Traveller p4