Aerial view of InterContinental Hotel Grande in Belem. Photo Courtesy: Kirby Payne — Photo by IHG
Exterior and entrance of InterContinental Hotel in Belem. Photo Courtesy: Kirby Payne — Photo by IHG

IHG Hotels & Resorts is celebrating the 75th anniversary of the InterContinental Hotels & Resorts brand. From one hotel to more than 200, InterContinental has grown with the advent of technology and evolving hotel operations, but its pioneering spirit of luxury travel endures. As we look back on the legacy of this iconic brand, we speak to someone who has truly lived the InterContinental life.

"My father was the second General Manager of the InterContinental Hotel Grande in Belém, Brazil," says Kirby Payne. He moved into the hotel when he was four years old.

Hotel Grande was the world's first InterContinental, opening its doors in 1949. The building was constructed in the early 1900s and had 85 rooms on four floors.

"I remember a lot from my childhood, and I remember a lot about this hotel," says Payne, President of HVS Hotel Management and HVS Asset Management.

Hotel Grande was the center of social and political activity in Belém, and Payne’s parents became members of the bustling community." They would socialize with everyone from dignitaries to local Jesuit Priests." When Kirby Payne's father, Phyl R. Payne packed up and moved his young family to Brazil, it was in the years after World War II, and the United States government was keen to strengthen diplomatic relations and trade in Latin America.

The InterContinental brand was created in 1946 by Juan Trippe, the founder of Pan American Airways (Pan Am). Trippe took the lead in a hotel development program in South and Central America. The initial growth of the InterContinental brand is something Kirby Payne witnessed firsthand.

"As more InterContinentals began opening in South America, my dad would go to the new hotels for several weeks and help set up their accounts," says Payne. "My parents traveled a lot, sometimes I would go with them, but I was also left alone a lot," he chuckles. Payne recalls one time when his parents left him with a family in Macapá – north of the Amazon River – while they were away.

"I had to walk back and forth across the equator, which ran through the center of town, to go to a school in that village. The first language I learned to read and write was Portuguese," says Payne. By the time Payne went to college, he had attended 23 schools. "I was able to see and experience all sorts of things and travel all over the Amazon."

The InterContinental brand has always had a pioneering spirit at its core. Unsurprisingly, many of the initial InterContinental properties required additional infrastructure and facilities to help support the hotel and ensure that service exceeded the expectations of luxury travelers. Hotel Grande’s ice factory is just one example of the brand’s innovation that stands out to Payne.

"There was nowhere to get sufficient ice in the area for the hotel’s bar and restaurant, so the hotel had its own ice factory.It also had its own generator plant. I got to know every corner of that hotel,” says Payne. “On the service courtyard, there would be dozens of people washing clothes and bed linen by hand and then pressing them with irons filled with hot charcoal – that was the hotel laundry. I remember that the white bed linen and bath terry were whitened with bluing which was a centuries old method.”

As the only child of an employee living in the hotel – Payne grew close to the staff. "They all spoiled me," says Payne. "I remember some of the workers built me a little shoe-shining box, and I would shine guests' shoes for 10 cents in the lobby – I still have the box. And the maintenance crew – they built me a treehouse in the courtyard that had electricity and running water. It wasn't bad to be the GM's son."

While there were many American children during that time growing up in expat communities outside the United States, Payne admits his childhood stories are incredibly unique. After several years in Brazil, Payne's father became the General Manager of the Jaragua InterContinental Hotel in the Dominican Republic in 1958. It was one of two InterContinental hotels in the country at that time.

Rafael Trujillo was the dictator of the country then, and Payne recalls,"we were there for less than a year before we got kicked out of the country, and Fulgencio Batista [ousted Cuban President] moved into our rooms."

Payne eventually moved back to the United States with his mother when he was 13, his father stayed behind in the Caribbean, and Payne would spend summers with him. When it came time to decide his future, there were few options as far as he was concerned. "The easiest degree for me to get was a hotel degree, and that's what I pursued," says Payne. He went on to do his hotel management trainee course with IHG after serving combat in the Vietnam War. "I like hotels. I like staying in them and having my sheets changed every day. I understand the business, the experiences of people who work in hotels."

Perhaps the biggest blessing of all has been the exposure to hundreds of different cultures, languages, and places. "Think about who I was and where I grew up. There was so much diversity at the hotel – in guests and employees. I was conscious of that as a kid, and now as an adult, I can recognize my privilege," he says.

Reflecting on his childhood with its thrills and its novelty – Payne's description of it all is simply, "It was a wonderful life."

Read more about the heritage of InterContinental Hotels & Resorts here, as part of a content series celebrating the brand’s 75th anniversary.

About IHG®

IHG Hotels & Resorts [LON:IHG, NYSE:IHG (ADRs)] is a global hospitality company, with a purpose to provide True Hospitality for Good.

With a family of 17 hotel brands and IHG Rewards, one of the world's largest hotel loyalty programmes, IHG has over 6,000 open hotels in more than 100 countries, and a further 1,800 in the development pipeline.

InterContinental Hotels Group PLC is the Group's holding company and is incorporated and registered in England and Wales. Approximately 350,000 people work across IHG's hotels and corporate offices globally.

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