In January, The Inn at Elon in Elon, N.C., opened its doors to host its first guests. Managed by Charlestowne Hotels, the $31 million, 80-room hotel is the first on Elon University’s campus. A vision of the school’s trustees and leaders for more than two decades, the Inn at Elon is owned by an affiliated entity of the university, The Inn at Elon, LLC, and all of its revenue beyond operating costs will be directed to fund scholarships for the university’s students.
As universities welcome more students from all over the country and the world and host more frequent and larger conferences and events, the need to accommodate families of students, visiting professors, business travelers, and others increases. Gavin Philipp is vice president of operations for Charlestowne Hotels, which, in addition to The Inn at Elon, operates collegiate hotels at or near Clemson University, Colgate University, Sewanee—the University of the South, Longwood University, and the University of Arkansas. Philipp says that a reason behind the growing trend of universities owning their own hotels is the desire to elevate the quality of lodging in their secondary or tertiary market. “Until recently, the destinations collegiate institutions are located in only offered midscale and limited service branded properties,” Philipp explains. “The school can create a quality lodging product that serves as both a stronger option for them, but also provides a selling tool for prospective students, families, and such.”
Bob Shea, vice president for business, finance, and technology at Elon University, says that because the hotel is owned by an affiliated entity of the university, Elon could fully control the project’s design, construction, and operations and ensure that it meets the university’s high standards. “Among Elon’s strongest assets is its exceptional campus, which is designated as a botanical garden and regularly recognized as one of the nation’s finest environments for learning,” Shea explains. “Architecturally, The Inn at Elon fits with the university’s campus, which has been consistently recognized as the nation’s most beautiful collegiate environment. The inn is fully integrated into Elon’s campus.”
When concepting the property, the university’s team worked closely with Charlestowne’s to understand the operations side of the business. Jennifer West, corporate director of operations for Charlestowne Hotels, says that one of the challenges in managing a university hotel is overcoming the mindset that the hotel is only for school-related business. “Whether it’s a corporate meeting or the local community coming in for dinner, it’s important to draw a following from avenues other than the university exclusively,” West says.
Shea says that Elon’s leaders and trustees envisioned a hotel that could serve as a resource to the community. “Along with creating a place to welcome alumni, parents, and friends back to campus, the inn allows the university to provide lodging for visiting scholars and speakers, prospective students and their families, business recruiters, and travelers. It is designed to host such events as weddings, reunions, conferences, and community gatherings,” Shea says. “We expect high usage from regional businesses and individuals who will be attracted by the Inn’s elegant design and facilities to support meetings, conferences, and special events.”
The inn’s conference facilities, which include a 5,200-square-foot ballroom that accommodates up to 340 people and outdoor lawn space for 440 people, are open to the public and available for business meetings and retreats as well as local celebrations and events. Additionally, the hotel has 10 suites and 70 rooms with king- and queen-sized beds; an upscale restaurant and lounge, The Mark at Elon; an outdoor courtyard with fire pits; a fitness center; dedicated on-site parking; valet and bell service; and complimentary bicycle rentals for guests to explore the campus.
With all of its departments and the unique needs of its guests, Philipp says that it’s important for the hotel to have a single contact to manage all things ‘school-related.’ “It’s helpful when the university can do the same thing on their end, which consolidates the number of people handling room blocks, events, etc. at the hotel,” Philipp adds.
Because it is owned by an affiliated entity of the university, The Inn at Elon is able to offer guests distinct brand and property features that pay tribute to the university while maintaining a boutique hotel atmosphere. Additionally, guests at The Inn at Elon partake in “A Stay with Purpose”—the property’s program to direct revenue to Elon LEADS, the university’s fundraising campaign that seeks to raise at least $250 million by 2022. The inn itself was made possible by the philanthropy of Elon alumni, parents, and friends, including a lead gift of $2.5 million by Trustee Mark Mahaffey and his wife, Marianne, who are parents of two Elon alumni.
“As universities are expanding their amenities and as students are being welcomed from all corners of the country and world, it has become critical to have a place where parents and families of students feel welcomed when coming to visit a student’s ‘home away from home,’” West says. “When the hotel is part of or owned by the university, prospective students and parents are immediately connected to the university, even before a tour or their first day of classes.”