Carlson (often referred to by its previous name Carlson Companies) is an American privately held international corporation in the hotel and travel industries. Headquartered in Minnetonka, Minnesota, a Minneapolis suburb, Carlson brands and services, including franchised operations, employ more than 175,000 people in more than 160 countries and territories. The company's 2012 sales, including those from franchised operations, totaled $37.6 billion. It is one of the largest family-held corporations in the United States.
Carlson was founded in 1938 as the Gold Bond Stamp Company by Curt Carlson, who used a $55 loan to start his venture. Founded during the Great Depression, he used "Gold Bond Stamps", a consumer loyalty program based on trading stamps, to provide consumer incentive for grocery stores.
Gold Bond stamps were used as customer incentives in many supermarkets and gas stations (and other businesses) and they could be redeemed for a large array of merchandise, from a set of steak knives up to a mink coat. During the 1950s, Carlson was the largest supplier of mink coats in the United States. Sales were brisk until the late 1960s when trading stamps began to lose popularity.
The company was renamed Carlson Companies, Inc. in 1973 as they diversified into the hospitality, corporate incentive and travel industries.
In 1962, Carlson purchased their first Radisson Hotel in Minneapolis. CCI (as it was known internally) then went on to purchase T.G.I. Friday's in 1975 and Country Kitchen International in 1977. In 1987, Carlson founded Country Inns & Suites By Carlson. In 2000, Carlson acquired the Park Plaza and Park Inn brands.
The original Radisson acquisition was a vintage Minneapolis hotel, named for French explorer Pierre Radisson. Mr. Carlson and nine local businessmen friends bought it jointly, each holding ten percent. The other owners later dropped out one by one, Curt Carlson buying up each person's share until he owned the entire hotel. It was demolished in 1982, considered as being too old and deteriorated to renovate profitably. However, Carlson had built an associated hotel a few years earlier, the Radisson South in south suburban Bloomington, which was thriving. That, and the success of a Radisson Inn built near the company headquarters, motivated Carlson to construct a new Radisson on the downtown site of the demolished hotel. Thereafter, the chain grew rapidly by franchising the name and taking management contracts for new hotels throughout the USA.
By the early 1980s, Curt Carlson had acquired over 50 diverse businesses, most of them small and some not running profitably. Under the administration of president Edwin C. "Skip" Gage, husband of Curt's younger daughter, the majority of those small enterprises were sold. The company then purchased the MacDonald Plaid Stamp business (a public company listed on the New York Stock Exchange) and merged it with the Gold Bond Stamp business to become the largest trading stamp company in the world.
In 1994, Carlson Travel Group and Paris-based Wagonlit Travel signed an alliance to form Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT)— one of the world's largest business travel management companies.
In a return to their roots, the Carlson Companies started an electronic consumer incentive program named GoldPoints.com in 1997. The program later was modified and became goldpoints plus, the incentive program of Carlson Hotels. (Effective March 31, 2011, Club Carlson replaced the goldpoints plus hotel loyalty program.)
In 1998, Curtis L. Carlson named his daughter Marilyn Carlson Nelson as his successor; a year later he died. Hubert Joly became Carlson's president and chief executive officer in 2008 and served in this capacity until August 2012, when he was succeeded by Trudy Rautio. Rautio most previously served as the company's CFO. In May 2013, Diana Nelson assumed the chairmanship of the board of directors, succeeding her mother, Marilyn Carlson Nelson, who also continues to serve on board.
In 2016, HNA Tourism Group acquisition of Carlson Hotels
Carlson's subsidiaries include:Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group
Carlson Wagonlit Travel
Country Inns & Suites
Park Inn by Radisson
Park Plaza Hotels & Resorts