Hoteliers bid adieu as Holidex checks out
Hoteliers bid adieu as Holidex checks out
21 MARCH 2012 7:57 AM

As IHG continues its methodical replacement of the iconic central reservations system, hoteliers reflect on the impact Holidex had on their careers and the industry.


ATLANTA—In April 1980, Melanie Buller—just out of college—was working as a front-desk manager at the Holiday Inn Monroe Civic Center in Monroe, Louisiana. Buller’s GM, who had just returned from a week of training on a new electronic system that was supposed to revolutionize the way the hotel was run, called Buller into her office. She dropped a shoe box full of index cards on her desk and asked Buller to enter all the information from the cards into the new system.

“It was complicated. I was just kind of thrown into it … but I learned quickly,” Buller said.

That system—already 15 years old in 1980 but still in its infancy—was Holiday Inn’s proprietary central reservations system, Holidex.

Today, as regional director of revenue management for Davidson Hotel Company, Buller works with the 47-year-old Holidex regularly. It’s a patched-up version—some of its functions are antiquated, some of its processes clunky—but it’s reliable, and it gets the job done.

It won’t be long before Buller and many other hoteliers bid adieu to Holidex. Forty-seven years old is ancient in technology standards. And Holiday Inn’s parent company, InterContinental Hotels Group, is in the beginning stages of a massive rollout of REVolution, a new replacement CRS that can handle more information requests, process ancillary reservations and speak in every world language, among other features. The first phase of the rollout, which will reportedly cost IHG more than $120 million, is underway, and pieces of REVolution are already present in the marketplace.

“It’s sad, really, for a lot of us who have grown up with Holidex,” Buller said. “It’s the heartiest of all machines—it never goes down—but it’s just impossible to update it anymore. They’ve tried adding Band-Aids, but it’s time to install something that will help hoteliers keep up with today’s generation of travelers.”

IHG declined comment for this article as the company is transitioning leadership in the technology department.

Holidex history


Mike Leven, president and COO of Las Vegas Sands Corporation and former president and COO of Holiday Inn Worldwide, discusses the impact Holidex had on the hotel industry.


The Holiday Inn hotel brand formed in the 1950s and almost immediately experienced exponential growth. Like many industries, the travel industry saw the need for a better booking process. In 1963, the Sabre global distribution system was invented for American Airlines; and two years later Holidex became the world’s first hotel reservations system. Holidex was beyond advanced for its time—before the Internet, before computers, even before fax machines. It was centrally located, state-of-the-art and industry-leading.


“The Holiday Inn company that Kemmons Wilson launched was one of the most innovative there was. Holidex was first of its kind,” said Bobby Bowers, who held a variety of positions at Holiday Inn from 1979 to 1994 before joining STR, parent company of  “(Wilson) really was just a brilliant guy in terms of his ideas; he was pretty down–to-Earth and a simple guy, just a really entrepreneurial and creative guy that had great ideas.”

Since its introduction, Holidex has been an icon in the industry.

“I can remember staying in a Holiday Inn in Great Bend, Kansas, on a road trip  with my father in the mid-to-late 1960s,” said Ray Burger, who started his hospitality career in college working with Holiday Inn before going on to manage hotels for 20 years. “My father walked up to the front desk because he had to make a reservation for the Holiday Inn we were going to stay in the next night. That reservation was done on the Holidex machine.”

“I’m talking about the days when a single was $12, and you could get a double for $17,” continued Burger, who founded Pineapple Hospitality in 2005. “People didn’t have cell phones; if they wanted to stay at a hotel, they used a payphone or stopped in to the lobby. If the hotel was out of the rooms they’d rent you the coat closet, and if that was gone you had to go elsewhere.”

In the early stages, a Holidex terminal was installed at each hotel. A typical hotel had the front desk, the check-in terminal and then—in the back room—the Holidex terminal. The goal was to make managing reservations less chaotic, to have a better picture of who was coming to your hotel that night.

“There are three things anyone who ever worked in hotel management or on the front desk will recall: going to get the Holidex reservations, getting time and charges from the phone center and doing the board,” said Bob Habeeb, president and COO of First Hospitality Group. “Anybody who came into this business at that time will remember those things vividly.

“(Holidex) really was a marvel in its day, especially now when we look at having instant communication on the Web,” he said.

The Holidex terminals supplied reservations initially from other hotels and then soon after from a call center. When a reservation arrived, it would print from a large, dot-matrix-like printer onto oversized, perforated paper.

“We’d get several reservations per shift, and it was someone’s job to cut them into smaller pieces of paper that would fit onto a 3x5 (inch) index card and file that under the arrival date. We actually had file folders for the 12 months of the year and, within those, for the number of days in a month,” said Burger, recalling his days in management. “But before you did that, you had to go to the notebook with all 12 months and go to that day of the week and enter how many nights and whatever room type. The notebook had numbers representing the number of beds and you’d go to the day and mark through how many ever beds for how many ever days the reservation was for.

“It was automated as far as the guest could see,” Burger said.

Evolution of Holidex
Holidex would eventually digitize all of that manual processing. In 1965, the young CRS saw its first cutover. In the 1970s there were big changes again: Holidex began connecting to travel agencies, which enabled smoother distribution. In 1975, there were additional connections made. And in the 1980s more releases were made to the system, and it was moved onto the IBM operating system, which was built for speed.

Holidex grew in transaction volume and by that time was used by a number of players in travel. It was able to scale with Holiday Inn as the company needed it to.

“If you think back, five years ago there was no such thing as an iPhone. There was no iPad. And that was only five years ago. Today I hold more technology in my hand that was on the lunar module,” said Peter Marino, senior VP of Paramount Hotel Group. “To go back and think that there were these Telex machines and you got your reservations when you heard the clatter and then you had to rip off your reservation … it’s common today, but at that time it was genius.

“To be able to have someone in Cleveland call someone up in Memphis and say, ‘I’m looking for a hotel room in New Jersey, was genius,’” continued Marino, who first used Holidex when he was GM at the Holiday Inn Ft. Washington in Philadelphia from 1984 to 1986. “It was not shortly after then that everyone copied Holidex. In this industry there are few people that are innovators, but we are great copiers.”

In the late 1990s, Holidex Plus was implemented. There were new capabilities, of course, as well as the absorption of InterContinental Hotels & Resorts. Holidex also was the first system to support hotel Web bookings.

“Holidex, basically what generations lovingly saw as technology, has become less and less at the forefront because what a hotel cares about is how they get reservations. At one point it was wild technology—the first thing anyone had seen—but now technology is just so commonplace,” said Mark Carrier, senior VP of B. F. Saul Company’s hotel division. “You can get a stable and effective platform with any brand. What we care about is whether the transactions get delivered to us.”

Out with the old, in with the new
Even though Holidex has been a workhorse for IHG, the franchisor has decided it is time to move on.

IHG announced during its 2011 Americas Investors & Leadership Conference that REVolution would replace the old CRS and address a number of advancements. It gives IHG the ability to process inventory beyond sleeping rooms, and travelers will be able to book different components of their stay. Since IHG’s No. 2 growth market is China, and IHG expects to see significant growth out of China and Asia, REVolution is built on a more global platform and can “speak” different languages.

“Holidex was the leader. Even today it’s a great system that just really struggles with interfacing,” said Lara Latture, who spent a number of years as a GM in the IHG system before becoming executive VP and principal of The Hotel Group. “I give them total snaps for diving in head first. Standardizing the information is the goal; not having to re-enter or interpret the language.”
Still, Latture said there are many “old-school” hoteliers who will hate moving to a point-and-click (Windows-based) system and will prefer the old DOS-based command system of Holidex.

“You remember Holidex, and you remember your commands,” she said. “You had to literally be resourceful—learn, go to classes, review what you were going to have to index. Hoteliers had cheat sheets, and you would see 100 sticky notes taped all over the terminals.”

Habeeb is one of those old-school hoteliers.

“You can argue—and I’ve thought about this—you can argue that the ancient system was better than what we’re dealing with today. You always had to have a personal contact and on the phone you could upsell. Now so much happens on the Web,” he said. “Holidex was somewhat cumbersome to go in there and mess with your rates; today we mess with rates by the minute and the industry has bled off its profitability by acting too quickly and dropping rates. Back in the Holidex times, you changed your rates three or four times a year.

“The capabilities the Internet has created are incredible, and we haven’t understood how to utilize them best,” Habeeb continued. “You used to call direct or walk in; now there’s all these third-party sites selling our product, and we’re losing a lot of control. Our inventory is residing in any home in America right now in real time.

“It’s an exciting time,” he said, “but there were a lot of advantages back then.”

Hoteliers, share your thoughts or experiences with Holidex in the comments section below, or submit a photo to be posted on our Facebook page ...


  • Mark Haley, The Prism Partnership March 21, 2012 6:06 AM

    Error of fact in this article: Sheraton's Reservatron was the first computerized central reservation system in the industry, launched system-wide in 1958. Not that I was there then!

  • Mike March 21, 2012 6:30 AM

    Finally IHG is waking up to the fact the technology is something that has to change with time. Its a wonder they allowed such a system to be used all the way to the year 2012.And why is it such a great news? Outdated systems have to be rolled out and new systems phased in. This basically ONLY shows how the executives of IHG have no focus on technology. They make investors spend Billions around the world, force them to upgrade the properties literally every 36 months but for themselves ,keep using antiquated systems. A total double sided approach in their favor nothing more then that. And to imagine a reputed group of high net-worth individuals,who are educated, intelligent,tech savvy and successful in their own right to sit down and listen to this kind of news in a major conference is like a insult to the Hospitality community.Lets only hope other franchisors will start spending money and not make us use their antiquated system,which are totally inadequate in this day and age, their IT guys need to be introduced to ERP softwares like SAP to see how other industries make use of technology at all levels for efficient operations of business

  • Ray Schultz March 21, 2012 10:45 AM

    Good article!! I led the IMB Corp team that developed Holidex in the early to mid 60's. Later joined Holiday and developed the Hampton Inn brand in 1983. Retired as CEO of Promus Hotel Corp. in 1999.

  • Lloyd March 21, 2012 2:05 PM

    Having actually WORKED WITH Holidex over the years, I would say IHG has done a great job of retaining a 'backbone' which has been virtually bulletproof and modifying it as best possible to continue it's life. Leven was instrumental in it's life when he convinced the company to give FREE computer software and systems to all existing franchisees in the early 90's. This not ony enabled HIRO (revenue maximization) but also enabled DAILY revenue and statistical transmission...years before STR even had the thought. The reality is that NO SYSTEMS (until the last few years) ever offered the hope of the volume and speed that Holidex did- now that THAT time has come, IHG is moving on. Kudos to all....and farewell to a sturdy friend.

  • Tami Kaiser March 27, 2012 4:54 AM

    Great article. I was part of the team that developed and delivered the training when Holiday Inn moved from the teletype/paper-based to the electronic system in 1980 – very state-of-the-art at the time. And then again when it was integrated with the front office system. It seems those systems served the hotels well for many years, didn’t they?

  • Multi-Brand User April 5, 2012 12:39 PM

    I work in Revenue Management for a hotel management company. I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that IHG's 'antiquated' Holidex system is one of the most (if not the most) reliable of the top major brands we work with. In over a decade, I can only recall one time the system actually went down while we constantly have issues with systems of other top brands. The Holidex support is top rate with prompt responses. And, if you know how to use Holidex, you can manipulate it to do many things other brand systems cannot. Granted, Holidex is not a point and click system for dummies. But, really, who wants dummies operating their systems?

  • Wayne N. January 19, 2013 6:45 AM

    i'm new to Holidex and im doing all the research I can to learn it front to back. I was told that its quite difficult and may take me some time to learn but im rolling with the punches. Great article it was very resourceful!

  • Robert Bump December 23, 2013 6:49 AM

    I worked on the Holidex terminal shown above. I've been away from Holiday Inns since 1978, but I STILL remember the codes 013a for Johnstown NY, and 23679b for Newport News VA. The box to the right of the teletype machine had rows of buttons for Property number, arrival month, arrival day, number of nights, type of room, and "action", such as check availability, cancel, sell room, close-out, administrative message. These were used on the night audit shift as a "chat line" of the time - except you only "chatted" with one other person at a time. The earliest system did no room inventory; it was the destination hotel's responsibility to monitor that, and to close-out the appropriate room type(s) when inventory was close to depleted. As long as a date & room type were not closed out, other hotels could send reservations to the destination. Kemmons Wilson had spent a lot of money on the system, and clerks were expected to offer to make reservations for "tomorrow night's stay" while checking in guests. You NEVER were to tell a guest or a caller to call the CRS! Around 1977 the system got the ability to recall a confirmation based on the destination hotel, date of arrival, and guest last name (I think!). I always thought they should have made the ability to list all scheduled arrrivals of each day, but it never happened while I was there. Thank you for pleasent memories

  • Peter Avino November 11, 2014 5:52 AM

    I work with the Holidex System in San Juan Puerto Rico in 1970 and it was a great Tool and I work with the Holidex Plus now and its Great.

  • Will Berghoff May 18, 2015 9:59 PM

    A was an apperentice at the Holiday Inn Stuttgart-Sindelfingen, Germany 1976-1978. I still remember all the "illegal" chats during night shifts with our collegues overseas. Our guests were always impressed by the speed and reliability of the HOLIDEX reservation system. This experience really influenced my carrier for the next 30 years.

  • sruppert December 1, 2015 12:32 PM

    I started working for Holiday Inn back in 1982 while still in High School. I worked at 2 different locations in Miami, FL and 1 location in Riverhead, NY. I even stayed at the Holiday Inn Stuttgart-Sindelfigen back in 1983 while visiting family. I still have an aunt that lives on Spechtweg, just across Mahdentalstrasse. I remember learning how to send "stealth messages" without them showing up on the screen. The managers would always walk by the holidex when it was "dinging" - looking at the screen to see if they could determine what was going on. Thankfully they never found the messages we were sending around the world. With my father working for Pan Am, I had the perfect opportunity to meet many people from all over. In fact some 34 years later, I am still friends with some.

  • Phillip Hamblett September 2, 2018 12:20 PM

    I started work in the Holiday Inn Reservation Center in Memphis, Tn in 1968. The CRT terminals were all lined up in a large room with 100 or so employees who were connected to the terminal to an earphone connection. The service assistants answered any questions necessary to find the host HI and the reservations were made and printed, mailed and filed accordingly. A rotary call center sent the next available agent a contact and also counted the calls per hour on the system. I later worked for the SSA administration and we did not start using CRT's until 1976. Microfilm updated 2 times a year was all we had to look up folks and their problems! We went fully computerized in 1986-87!

  • Peter Wells January 24, 2019 1:30 PM

    A nostalgic article for me!
    I worked for Commonwealth Holiday Inns of Canada (CHIC) when they opened in London UK (1973 - 74) and it was amazing when we connected to Holidex the terminal would start printing out a massive pile of reservations. The hotels were running at maximum occupancy from day 1. Of course the down side was that you had to block off the days you were full or the system would keep taking reservations leading to some horrific overbooked situations.

  • Jeff McLawhorn November 27, 2019 9:48 PM

    Nostalgic article for me as well... I worked for Terminal Communications, Inc. in 1973, and built the Holidex terminal from a stock IBM Selectric typewriter, installed it into a desk and sold to all the Holiday Inn's throughout the world, fate would have I would move to be a Field Engineer for them and serviced them all over the Western United States. And to this day, still have stories to tell from Pocatello, Cody, Rock Springs, Albuquerque, Denver, Salt Lake... LOL... 47 years later, I am now working for CDK Global and automotive DMS networks and systems.... I have seen quite a few changes over the years .. from 110 bits per second to now in the 100s of Millions of bits per second... and still think of that little rotating ball that would print those reservations behind the front desk of Holiday Inn's!

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