College-town hotels adapt as business conditions change
College-town hotels adapt as business conditions change
23 JUNE 2020 8:08 AM

Business for hotels in college and university markets is being challenged by lower occupancies and different types of demand due to the pandemic.

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Hotels in college and university markets usually see a steady stream of business from nearby schools, but with fall back-to-school plans up in the air due to the pandemic, hoteliers are preparing for and reacting to slower and different types of business, sources said.

Matt Arrants, EVP at Pinnacle Advisory Group, said his company asset manages four college and university hotels in the northeast part of the U.S. on behalf of the schools, and currently, all of the hotels are closed.

Many schools have announced that they will be operating on a condensed schedule in the fall, so students will come back early and leave early with no breaks. Colleges and universities are also curtailing travel for all faculty and staff, which means “groups are gone,” Arrants said.

“Corporate demand will really be limited to essential,” he said. “Corporate or academic-related demand is expected to be minimal at best, and unfortunately, they are also limiting homecoming weekend and alumni events, parent’s weekend. We don’t expect to see any of that at any of the schools I’m working with, and so obviously that’s going to have a huge impact.”

In response, Arrants said Pinnacle Advisory Group is focusing on transient leisure guests and finding alternative uses for space within its hotels in college and university markets.

“We’re seeing some schools are using hotel rooms as potential quarantine space and then function space for classrooms,” he said. “In the cases where that’s not happening, where we’ve got extensive meeting space, we’re trying to get social groups, which are a little bit less sensitive to the COVID-19 restrictions … while still meeting the CDC best practices. Where we’ve got really big, extensive meeting space, we can … put 10 people in a room that normally would have had 30 so that they’ll feel comfortable and they can be appropriately socially distanced. Those are the changes (we’ve made) from a revenue standpoint.”

From an expense standpoint, Arrants said his company is trying to “limit exposure and control our expenses as much as possible.”

Shift to transient
Jennifer West, corporate director of Charlestowne Hotels, said all the hotels in the management company’s portfolio of university hotels have remained open throughout the pandemic, but have seen “some pretty low occupancy numbers.”

“We’re seeing very much transient business, to be quite honest with you,” she said. “It’s a lot of parents coming to either move their students out of campus housing, or most recently, we’re seeing a lot of students still coming to tour the campus. Even though they’re not doing official tours through the university or college, the parents and the students still want to see where they’re potentially going to spend the next four years. They’re still coming to drive around the campus, walk around the campus, and most importantly, check out the town.”

For the summer and fall, West said Charlestowne’s college hotels still have weddings on the books for as early as July and hope to keep those as long as restrictions are lifted on the number of people who can attend.

In April, Hotel News Now spoke with the Hotel at the University of Maryland about how it has dealt with wedding postponements and cancellations.

Sesyle Moorhead, director of catering and conference services at the hotel, told HNN the hotel is working with couples to keep costs within their budgets.

West said Charlestowne’s college hotels are hoping football events will take place, even if in a limited capacity and with other restrictions, and that hotels will benefit from fan turnout.

She said a lot of construction is still happening in college markets, resulting in some business contraction.

“We’re also partnering with the hospitals and some of the local manufacturing companies that are still operating, still bringing in people for visits—pharmaceutical companies are beginning to travel—and we’re still seeing some business from those areas,” she said.

West added that the universities have still brought in some group business to Charlestowne’s nearby hotels.

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