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Holiday Inn in Gwinnett a prototype for update

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Face-lift for an icon

Holiday Inn in Gwinnett a prototype for update


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


The redesigned rooms sport a contemporary look, high-speed connections to the Internet and homespun photos of Holiday Inn's founder. The chain dates to 1952.

Holiday Inn, the iconic hotel chain synonymous with cross-country trips in the family station wagon, is getting a makeover to update its image for the SUV generation.

Gone are the Formica counters in bathrooms, gold sconce lighting, and cheesy pictures of country gardens and evening sunsets. At the Atlanta-based company's new prototype at Gwinnett Center, the lamps are contemporary, the artwork is vintage and the counters are granite.

Holiday Inn -- part of the InterContinental Hotels Group -- is using the Gwinnett site as a testing ground for the ways it will shape the brand's look and feel. Feedback from customers will help the chain make improvements before the next prototype opens in Texas next year.

"This represents the future of Holiday Inn going forward," said Mark Snyder, senior vice president of brand management for Holiday Inn Hotels & Resorts. "This is trend-forward."

The makeover is critical for the company. While arguably one of the most recognized chains in the world, Holiday Inn-- which was founded in 1952 -- has lost some of its luster in the public mind as it has aged, hospitality experts said. Though it consistently generated warm memories, it became trapped as an icon of a bygone era.

"They have a long history that is very positive, and they are a very stable company," said Debby Cannon, director of the hospitality school at Georgia State University. "But there is also a very dated image attached to the brand."

Tougher competition

Also challenging for the chain has been the explosion of competition. Once one of only a handful of choices for travelers, the company now competes against about 130 brands in the United States, said Mark Woodworth, executive vice president of PKF Consulting Inc.

"The consumer has a bigger menu to pick from that they never had before," he said.

The Gwinnett hotel comes complete with a minimalist lobby framed by Makore wood veneer with natural stains and rooms sporting contemporary furniture, high-speed Internet connections and showers almost large enough to sleep in.


The restaurant features 15-inch flat-screen TVs at every booth, as well as menus on portable computer tablets.

Simply put, Snyder says, beaming like a proud father showing off a newborn, during a recent visit, "It's like Pottery Barn exploded in Holiday Inn."

The update doesn't stop there. The hotel's restaurant features 15-inch flat-screen TVs at every booth, the latest in light fixtures and even menus on portable computer tablets.

The prototype has 143 rooms in a six-story building. Building up instead of out is another change the company has instituted because of market forces. The classic Holiday Inn is a two-floor building with 210 rooms, but land prices have forced the company to abandon hotels that take up a lot of acreage.

"Today it is tough to get into markets like this," Snyder said of the Gwinnett site.

A nod to history

When the company began designing the prototype, the idea was to keep the familial atmosphere that distinguished Holiday Inn while updating the furnishings and the look, said Jeffrey Welch, general manager of the facility.

So instead of the generic paintings that adorn the walls of so many hotel rooms, the company went with vintage photos from the 1950s of founder Kemmons Wilson and his family set in stylish frames above the beds. Guests at the Gwinnett prototype also will find photos of the famous green Holiday Inn sign digitized to look like an image more at home in an art house.

In addition, each room has pampering touches such as a refrigerator, coffee nook, massaging shower head and bowed curtain rods so that the curtains don't stick to your body. "It's the little touches that make you slap your head and go, 'Wow, there is a better way to build a better mousetrap,' " Snyder said.

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