Identifying a hotel market with built-in demand generators is generally a stepping stone to success. Locations near universities present those opportunities, and hoteliers are actively seeking out land and assets in college towns as a way to generate year-round revenue.
“We think it is opportunistic because locations near colleges and universities tend to be recession resistant,” says Don Willingham, vice president of brand performance support and sales for Hilton Garden Inn. Since the upscale brand is heavily reliant on business travel, Willingham explains that college markets help balance out the revenue stream by attracting more weekend business.
This year Hilton Garden Inn opened up multiple properties near prominent college campuses. In May, the brand debuted a 108-room hotel in Rochester, N.Y., located near the University of Rochester and will also open the 128-room Hilton Garden Inn Durham University Medical Center in September, providing access to Duke University.
College activities such as sporting events, orientations, alumni gatherings, and graduations mean big business for nearby lodging affiliates, says Nasir Raja, executive vice president of development and operations for AmericInn. Out of the midscale brand’s nearly 220 hotels, 80 are located in close proximity to a college campus.
Raja explains that in addition to built-in demand, hotels near educational institutions tend to foster long-term relationships with guests. “Parents and families are invested in that location for four or five years,” he says. “Repeat clientele is not only a great source of revenue for us, but it’s a great source for building loyalty.”
And Willingham and Raja agree that hotels located in college markets benefit from an educated and driven labor pool of students—many who are willing to work odd hours to accommodate class schedules.
The downsides to college hotels are few and far between, and Hilton Garden Inn and AmericInn plan to strategically target these locations for development opportunities in the future. “Nearly half of our portfolio is vested with college towns,” says Raja. “We definitely see this as a key part of our future growth.”