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Change of signage overdue, according to brand’s owner

A regular guest at the Dillsboro Holiday Inn Express upset by phone and Internet outages at the hotel discovered it is no longer affiliated with the Holiday Inn corporate brand.

The inn’s de-listing was confirmed by a spokeswoman for brand owner and hotel chain operator InterContinental Hotels Group.

“The property in question, an independently owned and operated franchised hotel, was removed from the Holiday Inn Express system in March 2009,” Caroline Sanfilippo wrote in an e-mail. Sanfilippo declined to state reasons for the de-affiliation from the brand, citing contractual obligations.

A Holiday Inn 877-number reservation agent said he no longer had access to information on the establishment in his database.

The hotel’s longtime, regular guest, Richard Bernier, does medical sales and travels one week per month.

“I’ve been staying there for four years with no problems; they always know my name,” Bernier said. One day last March though, when he came to check in, “they didn’t have my reservation.”

Bernier had been frusturated on recent visits by the phone and Internet service being out for days at time.

“Each time they’d say it was due to a storm,” he said.

So when they didn’t have his reservation, “I picked a phone and called Holiday Inn’s customer service number. They said that hotel was no longer affiliated with them.”

Bernier had been told by the Dillsboro hotel’s management that he could still accrue Holiday Inn member points for his stays, but Holiday Inn customer service subsequently told him he could not.

“If I checked in just assuming I was earning points, I’d be in for a surprise,” he said.

Bernier wrote in an e-mail that the Dillsboro hotel had been given until April 19 to change its signage, according to contacts he had with Holiday Inn.

As of mid-July, the signs still represent the establishment as a Holiday Inn property.

“Hotels that leave the system are required by their license agreements and by federal trademark law to immediately remove all items that identify the hotel’s association with Holiday Inn Express,” according to Sanfilippo. “A written demand to immediately remove all Holiday Inn Express trademarks was sent by IHG to the licensee on June 2, 2009.”

While changing signage is not something that can be done with a snap of the fingers — and would presumably involve significant expense — the hotel still also had a table display of postcards bearing Holiday Inn’s 800 number and the Dillsboro property’s local number on its face.

One hit that turned up in a Google search indicated it was no longer affiliated with the Holiday Inn brand, but many others did not.

Julie Spiro of Jackson County’s Travel and Tourism Authority said she was made aware of the hotel’s status by a visitor.

“She said, ‘Where is your Holiday Inn Express? I’m on the Web site and I don’t find it,’” Spiro said.

Spiro said she has been unable to speak to Patel, who also owns the local Comfort Inn, though she has left messages for him. Patel also did not return messages seeking his comment for this article.

Spiro said the Comfort Inn’s Chamber of Commerce membership is paid through August, while Patel’s other hotel’s membership expired June 30. However, the chamber allows a 90-day grace period for overdue dues, she said.

Bernier said in an e-mail he felt the matter would be of public interest in that the inn commands higher room rates and benefits from brand loyalty in representing itself as a Holiday Inn.

Tina Evans, general manager of the Dillsboro property, staunchly defended it in a call seeking comment about the situation.

Bernier said he was not attempting to paint the establishment with a broad brush.

“The hotel overall was very clean and friendly. They had good staff there,” he said. “They always tried to do the best they could. I just wish they would identify themselves as what they really are.”

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