The Everyday Hero
On the highways of 1950s America, Holiday Inn’s iconic green sign meant something special—almost thrilling. Americans were doing an unprecedented amount of traveling in the post-war years, for both business and pleasure, but overnight options were mostly limited to formal urban hotels and cut-rate boarding houses. When Holiday Inn stepped onto the landscape with its friendly staff, consistently comfortable rooms, and modern amenities like air conditioning, swimming pools and in-room televisions, it was a sign to middle class America that they had arrived.
The model was so successful, in fact, that it grew to become the norm. Once unique, Holiday Inn found itself struggling by the 1990s to differentiate itself from dozens of younger competitors, pressured from below by less expensive “express” motel chains, and squeezed from above by more accessible boutique hotels. With little to set it apart beyond name recognition, Holiday Inn had lost its core of loyal repeat guests and needed more than just a bed and a good deal to earn them back. This was the challenge they posed Ziba: to create a guest experience strategy for the Holiday Inn of 2020, that was was not only relevant to the modern traveler, but true to the values that the company was founded on.
All business, no community.
In the 50s and 60s, pulling into a Holiday Inn meant a warm welcome and a familiar space to relax, unwind and perhaps socialize, whether you were a business traveler, a family or a vacationing couple. It was about the hotel, not the room. But that’s no longer the case. An intense focus on efficiency and corporate travel had made them all business and no community. Check-in is brisk, rooms are adequate, and public amenities are disjointed and little used. Guests hurry to their rooms rather than linger, which misses a huge opportunity; the lobby, after all, is where customer services are delivered. To set itself apart, Holiday Inn had to bring back the public space.
We stay differently now than we did in the 60s, and a hotel’s public spaces have to acknowledge that. Some of us are in a rush, and others want to hang out. We like the presence of other people, but we don’t want to be forced into socializing. We combine work trips with vacation, and we check our smartphones while the kids watch TV. The line between work, relaxation and play is fuzzier than it’s ever been.
The Social Hub layout integrates functional areas with recreational amenities, to the benefit of both.
The Social Hub.
The concept that Ziba defined, called the Social Hub, responds to the multi-faceted nature of modern travel with a multi-faceted space. When a guest walks in the front door, they don’t just see check-in, but an entire, integrated common area. Instead of a series of individual rooms, they see subtly differentiated zones within a single open space, offering better sightlines, a sense of cohesion and, most important, a view of other guests. The impression upon arrival is welcoming, active and thoughtfully arranged. Guests already have a bedroom for seclusion, goes the thinking; what they need is a living room.
The Social Hub layout integrates functional areas with recreational amenities, to the benefit of both. The walled-off cafeteria is now an open bar and kitchen, that evolves from cafe to takeaway counter to cocktail lounge depending on the guest’s needs and the time of day. The swimming pool, so fundamental to Holiday Inn’s identity as a family-friendly destination, is augmented with tables and fire pits, creating a place for business travelers to unwind while parents gather and watch the kids splash. The Media Den provides an interior counterpart, with Wii and videos as well as lounge seating. The Business Center is incorporated into the Social Hub as well, to better mimic the latte-and-laptop model so common among today’s mobile workers.
The result is nothing less than a transformation of the entire Holiday Inn experience. Instead of getting just a room, guests get an entire hotel—a 24-hour open public space where things happen and people interact. They might enjoy a conversation with a fellow traveler, watch the game on TV, or simply read a book by the fire. Holiday Inn has always been expert at letting each guest stay the way he or she wants, and the Social Hub extends this ability by filling the needs of those who want activity as well as privacy.
Success: Toward a more social future.
In the spring of 2011, Holiday Inn installed the first Social Hub at a pilot location in Duluth, Georgia, working with additional partners to develop the concept into detailed plans. The result has already earned favorable coverage from AOL Travel and Ad Week, and Hotel & Leisure magazine has called the result “revolutionary.” Creating such a thorough transformation across thousands of hotels will be a slow process—only six are scheduled for 2012—but the end result will be a Holiday Inn that faces the future by embracing what made it great in the past.
Vintage Holiday Inn images used with permission from Jordan L. Smith/The Pie Shop