LET'S stop right-cheer," drawled the sandy-haired American speeding in a car along a bumpy highway outside São Paulo, Brazil. What had caught his darting blue eyes was a sign on an open lot proclaiming Vende-Se. "That means 'for sale'and those are the only words I understand in this language," the American explained. Then he bounded out of the car and swiftly paced off the dimensions of the property, rattling a staccato of questions to a tag-along group of aides: "Who is the owner? What's the tax rate? How many cars go by here?" After several minutes of inspection and interrogation, he hopped back into the car and called out impatiently: "Well, let's get going. Daylight is running out, and you can't look at land in the dark."
Charles Kemmons Wilson, 59, founder and chairman of Holiday Inns, Inc., was doing what he likes best: scouting new locations for the world's largest and fastest-growing lodging chain. Wherever he may bepaddling down the Amazon in a canoe, riding along the Riviera in a Mercedes or poring over maps in his computer-crammed headquarters at MemphisKemmons Wilson is always seeking new sites. "Looking for land," he says, "is like going on an Easter egg hunt, and sometimes you find the golden egg."
Wilson has been finding so many of them lately that he seems to have a patent on the golden goose. On the average, a new Holiday Inn is opened every three daysor one new room every 36 minutes. Already Wilson has 1,405 inns in 50 states and 20 foreign countries or territories. The inns are a catalyst and a reflection of the age of mass travel; last year alone they served 72 million guests. The Holiday Inn sign, a 43-ft.-tall tower in screaming green, orange and yellow, is almost inescapable on American highways, and it is well on its way to becoming a Pop symbol of U.S. enterprise abroad.
Spreading round the world, Holiday Inns have opened in places as varied as Greece and Swaziland, Switzerland and Hong Kong, Morocco and Nassau. Last month the company opened an eleven-story inn in Monte Carlo. On his Brazil trip, Wilson closed deals to build six inns, with local investors putting up most of the capital in return for Holiday Inns' name and know-how. Over the next five years, Holiday Inns will build seven outlets in Israel alone, some of them in kibbutzim.
Putting Up the Dog. Capitalist Wilson is also moving into Communist countries. He has licensed Intertower, a joint venture of Cyrus Eaton Jr. and Occidental Petroleum, to put up 36 inns in Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia; in most cases, the governments will own the inns. Encouraged by the talk of expanded East-West trade that surrounded the Nixon-Brezhnev summit, Wilson plans to travel to Moscow, probably in July, to sound out authorities about putting up motels in the Soviet Union. Says William Stratton, a Holiday Inns franchise director: "We haven't got to Antarctica yet, but who knows . . . ?"