BLOOMINGTON-NORMAL, Illinois and ALPHARETTA, Georgia—Nearly 100 college students attending Illinois Wesleyan University (IWU) have successfully experienced the “suite” life, using the Bloomington-Normal Marriott Hotel & Conference Center in nearby Uptown Normal for their student housing. The hotel recently collaborated with IWU to serve as the “Uptown Marriott Traveling Titans” location. The 228-room/suite, nine-story hotel provided Illinois Wesleyan with a clean, safe student housing solution for two semesters during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Bloomington-Normal Marriott is operated by Atrium Hospitality, which is one of the nation’s largest hotel operators.
Creativity and Communication
In the midst of this pandemic, Illinois Wesleyan, a private liberal arts college in Bloomington, Illinois, identified a housing challenge while thoughtfully preparing for the return of students for the fall 2020 semester. IWU’s on-campus dormitories needed to be reconfigured for primarily single occupancy. The university took a creative approach of contracting off-campus housing for numerous undergraduate college students who typically would have lived on campus pre-COVID-19.
Kyle Griffith, director of residential life, Illinois Wesleyan University, said, “For the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters, IWU needed more housing space close to campus that was safe and complied with our COVID guidelines. The drop in travel during this pandemic meant that we could block entire floors at the Marriott for our students.”
Griffith collaborated with E. Michelle Wu, CCEP, director, conference services, Illinois Wesleyan University, to source potential options for off-campus student housing. Through a competitive bidding process, the Bloomington-Normal Marriott was selected by IWU as an ideal partner to meet the college students’ needs. Wu worked with Dena Soden, director, national sales, Atrium Hospitality, to creatively design a customized student housing solution that leveraged the award-winning accommodations and hospitality of the Atrium Hospitality-managed Uptown Normal hotel.
Bloomington-Normal Marriott General Manager Migidi Tembo and his trained hospitality team delivered on the approach to ensure that the students’ lodging experience was a success. They worked closely with IWU Resident Advisor staff, who resided on student-designated floors at the hotel and saw to the daily well-being of students. Wu said, “Atrium Hospitality and the Bloomington-Normal Marriott demonstrated excellence in their commitment to our Illinois Wesleyan students and their housing experience. The Bloomington-Normal Marriott’s team went above and beyond in making the students feel like they were living in a community rather than simply being hotel visitors, a shared goal achieved thanks to their attention to detail and thoughtfulness. The hotel was a natural fit for this unique opportunity.”
“Suite” Life for Students
Student residents of the “Uptown Marriott Traveling Titans” location enjoyed the Bloomington-Normal Marriott Hotel & Conference Center amenities, including a 24-hour fitness center, an indoor pool, and an on-site café and marketplace. They could also access a student lounge space, laundry area, and a student-designated parking level in the covered facility connected to the hotel by an enclosed skywalk. Student meal plans were fulfilled on the college campus.
Griffith continued, “Working with the Bloomington-Normal Marriott General Manager Migidi Tembo and his team was seamless because our goals were so closely aligned. In consultation with our on-site resident advisor staff, we worked with Migidi through all the details of our semesters at our Uptown Marriott Traveling Titans location, from move-in to laundry, to study facilities, to final room checks after each student left for the end of the term. The successful experience was possible because of clear communication and our joint determination to provide an exemplary student experience.”
Clean, Safe Student Housing
The Bloomington-Normal Marriott is committed to safety standards and protocols, including Marriott’s Commitment to Clean. Use of technology is encouraged for reduced contact options, like Marriott’s Mobile App for guest check-in and check-out. The hotel’s trained team members use hospital-grade disinfectants. Guests will find access to hygiene stations throughout the property and increased frequency of cleaning of the hotel’s public spaces.
Tembo said, “We value our strong partnership with Illinois Wesleyan University. Our two organizations achieved a smart housing solution during a devastating period in our country’s history. We had a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate Atrium Hospitality’s core values of teamwork and service over the two semesters. I would describe the overall experience as a win-win-win, working out well for the university, student community, and our hotel.”