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Holiday Inn was lodged in an ironic marketplace situation-competing with a successful brand created under the roof of its previous parent.

But now, under the ownership of British ale marketer Bass, Holiday Inn Worldwide is close to catching up with that former sibling with its own fast-growing Holiday Inn Express.

When Bass bought what was then known as Holiday Corp., it purchased only Holiday Inn; sister property Hampton Inn, started in 1983, was spun off into a separate company, Promus. Since then, Holiday Inn has lost no time going after the limited-service market that is Hampton's hallmark.

Its first step was to hire Mike Leven, a lodging industry veteran, as president of the company's franchise division. Holiday Inn had plans in place for Express, but Mr. Leven, 63, quickly found flaws in the plan.

"They [Bass] wanted 120 rooms but most of the building for limited service then was between 75 and 100 rooms," recalls Mr. Leven, now president of the Americas division.

The next problem was that Bass had envisioned a small sales force of four people, which Mr. Leven increased to 15. The last piece to fall into place was his plan to speed up the franchise process.

"I changed the administrative process so that it took only 30 days to get a franchise instead of nine months," he notes.

Five short years later, Holiday Inn Express, with 300 open and 300 more in the works, is nipping at the heels of Hampton Inn.

Even more impressive is that it was done without a full-scale ad effort. Until the chain was up and operative, Holiday Inn Express relied on word of mouth.

Now, however, Mr. Leven is planning its first big ad push, with Young & Rubicam producing print ads that Mr. Leven hopes will lift Express out of the upper 60% occupancy rates into the upper 70% range at Hampton.

Since Express is now within striking range, Mr. Leven's goals are to pass its ironic rival in both occupancy and number of properties. But he's cautious about it.

"I don't know that we will," he says. "But no one thought we would have as many up as we do now."

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