Hotels Are Going Back to School

I didn’t go on much of a college tour years ago when I was applying. You see, I had my sights set on Hamilton College, applied early decision, was accepted, and the rest is history. As a result, I didn’t get to experience all the road trips to visit potential institutions of higher learning, walk campuses, and stay in nondescript local hotels.

I did, however, get to experience the tour trip when my son was applying to schools a few years ago. And like every story that passes from generation to generation, a familiar phrase popped up: “Wow, things have changed. It wasn’t this way when I was your age.” In this case, I was talking about the lodging options in and near the college towns. Times had changed—and they’re continuing to do so.

The choices that now exist for high school seniors arriving for campus tours and parents coming to visit their students are evolving. Hotel offerings in college towns are more appealing and aligned with their locations, and are now creatively connecting the campuses with their surrounding communities. The ethos of the college is infused throughout the hotel and into the adjacent village.

“…Each of these campuses has its own definition, its own identity, its own set of values, and we really embrace those,” said Sara Masterson, Olympia Hotel Management, when interviewed for our cover story (see page 30). The hotels create context, a full experience, an opportunity to be immersed within the university’s campus during a stay. And, said Masterson, “It’s often about creating an amenity, leaving a lasting impression, creating a destination”—a trend similar to the boutique hotel trend that is so prevalent in larger cities.

And there are significant investments being made to redevelop or upgrade campus lodging, guide the experience, and build school branding for not only prospective students but faculty and alumni. Whether owned by the colleges or by boutique brands, these hotels offer top-notch service and exhibit school pride. And they do it in a way that is resulting in big business, whether it’s the schools creating this momentum, or it’s hotel brands—with names like Graduate Hotels and Study Hotels, their mission evident in their names.

Do the math: As a business proposition, putting hotels in college towns is smart, as research has shown that they fare better during times of economic hardship than those in other locations, and that demand for rooms on campuses tends to be more stable. There’s always a steady stream of visitors drawn from various populations, and, say experts, that sort of demand may just make these hotels somewhat recession-proof.

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