College Campus Hotels for the 21st Century

An "Old" Hotel Type Gets a New Twist

By Paul Breslin Managing Director, Horwath HTL | December 11, 2016

Co-authored by Oliver Tang, Analyst, Horwath HTL

Generally, any hotel that uses a nearby educational institution as the primary demand generator can be considered a campus hotel; however, the scope of this article focuses on hotels that are directly affiliated with an educational institution, often a college or university.For each campus hotel project, developers should fully understand the school's vision to create a property that not only meets the design requirements and educational purposes, but is also economically sustainable. On the other hand, operators should have appropriate revenue management practice, leverage school's internal resources, and manage student employees with extra emphasis on scheduling and training.

The concept of campus hotels is not a new one. In 1923, the American Hotel Association proposed a "practice hotel" for Cornell's then newly-established hospitality program. For many years, because there are only a limited number of this kind of properties, there has not been significant study on this topic. However, in recent years, the industry has seen increasingly more joint ventures or other types of partnerships between educational institutions and developers all around the country. There are several reasons that contributed to this trend:

  • The boutique lifestyle hotel movement in the hospitality industry requires
    many older campus hotels to be renovated or upgraded.
  • More and more universities and colleges started offering or expanding their
    hospitality programs, and having a hotel can add practical value to these
    programs.

The hospitality industry is becoming more segmented in terms of branding, product offering and affiliated demand generators, and special considerations are required for the development and operation of each type. Corresponding to this need, the industry boasts developers who solely focus on campus hotels. For example, a Chicago based hotel chain, Graduate Hotels, has been developing college-themed hotels since 2014. SMART hotels, a hotel development company based in Cleveland, started their campus hotel specific development service in 2010.

Many educational institutions perceive their campus hotels much more than just a lodging facility; most campus hotels are considered an integral part of the school or program. Schools not only utilize these hotels in the traditional manner, but also use them to provide hands-on working experience for hospitality students. In some cases, the campus hotels have even become the activity and social center of the campus.

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Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.