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ORLANDO-In a bold $20 million experiment aimed at challenging Walt Disney World’s supremacy in the family destination market, New York-based Nickelodeon and owners of the 800-suite Holiday Inn Family Suites Resort are converting the seven-year-old property to a children’s-themed hotel expected to open in first quarter 2005.

The New York-based children’s cable television network is partnering with Holiday Inn principals Henri Landwirth, a legendary hospitality entrepreneur who bought his first Holiday Inn franchise 25 years ago, former astronaut and US Sen. John Glenn and Terry Whaples, who joined the Landwirth-Glenn team in 1975.

The converted property will be renamed the Nickelodeon Family Suites by Holiday Inn. The site is one mile from the entrance to Walt Disney World and about the same distance to the 18-month-old, $450 million Gaylord Palm Resort and Convention Center. All three locations are 15 miles south of Downtown, off Interstate 4.

In a website announcement, Holiday Inn officials say the refurbished property will feature Nickelodeon-themed pools, waterslides, game rooms, food venues, live performances by Nickelodeon characters, free breakfasts and wakeup calls from SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora the Explorer and other network personalities.

The partnership is Nickelodeon’s first attempt at using its brand-name strategy in the lodging industry. Local hospitality industry consultants tell GlobeSt.com the experiment will probably succeed in winning a share of the family destination market but isn’t expected to hurt Disney’s overall marketing package.

“Disney World has been in Orlando now for 33 years and wrote the book on marketing especially aimed at attracting family guests,” says a hotel broker who deals with both Disney and Holiday Inn. “What I do see is a possible trend evolving for other area hotels to do the same thing–that is focusing their properties on the needs and wants of children, rather than adults.

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