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Trend Report: Campus Rooms for Rent

By Selena Fragassi


It's the phenomenon sweeping every major city: Hotel rates are going up. In Chicago, the average per diem has increased by 16.8 percent from 2015 to 2016; in D.C., it's 12.5 percent; and even in Jackson, Mississippi, rates have gone up by 11.9 percent (all the findings according to a study by Business Travel News published last March).

As hotel rates continue to climb, people are checking out-and looking into other options for overnight accommodations. And that has set college and university campuses up nicely with a supply of sometimes thousands of beds in residence halls to meet growing demand for more affordable options.

"Price is probably our best advantage, especially when someone is looking for a deal," says Cliff Fielder, conference services manager at Western University in London, Ontario, which has 500 single rooms, 3,000 double rooms, and 900 suites available for $65 a day, seven days a week when school is not in session (early May to mid-August). With such a large unused allotment, the university has started to go after leisure solo travelers and families looking for competitive rates in a central location. "We recognized about three years ago that we have an incredible inventory of space available, so why not go out and promote and try to sell it?" he says. "It's a lucrative segment for us with continual double-digit growth."

At Western, Fielder says residence halls operate just like a hotel with beds (and linens) and breakfast offered. He and his team have particularly been successful in catering to visitors of a nearby hospital that may need to find last-minute options.

"We are pretty close to our university hospital, and have been able to offer family stays for people that are visiting for the short-term but need beds for a number of unexpected nights," he notes.

At Thunderbird Executive Inn and Conference Center in Glendale, AZ (a part of the Arizona State University Knowledge Enterprise), the property tends to attract college football fans coming in for Cardinals games as well as guests attending MLB's Spring Training season every year.

"Our guests like the quiet atmosphere and close proximity to sporting events and shopping, and they're not afraid to try a non-traditional hotel-not just for cost savings but also the experience that is memorable. We have so many guests upon checking out that say, 'I'm so glad I found you and I will be back again,'" says Patti Davidson, general manager of the property that has 120 single rooms and 14 doubles that range from $69-200 a night and are available year-round.

The inn and conference center is part of ASU's Thunderbird School of Global Management, which dates back to World War II when it was used as a fighter training base. Today many black-and-white photos illustrating that history decorate the rooms and common areas, adding to the property's charm. Davidson also believes that the individualized service at a campus is part of its success. "What's unique about being at a university is that we know how to treat the customer with exceptional service and amenities, and they grow to love and appreciate that."

Though the Thunderbird Executive Inn and Conference Center has been open since 1996, it was in 2005 that a turning point came when the property retained Flick Hospitality Group as a management company, "allowing us to strongly market to leisure travelers," says Davidson. "We really started to see an uptick in the transient market in 2012 and realized we could compete in the standard business market. Our business travelers have liked the resort-style atmosphere we have to offer and also the fact that we haven't had to compromise on amenities they expect from a corporate hotel."

At the University of Hartford in West Hartford, Connecticut, the influx of residence housing over the summer has provided a unique opportunity to go after the interns.

"We are right in the insurance capital of the country. A number of companies like Cigna, Prudential, and Hartford are literally all in our backyard," says Sales & Event Manager Molly Coryer. "It's a really good market to tap into since they are all right here, and providing rooms for their interns is where we have had luck."

At this campus, there are 20, four-person suites with kitchen, living room, and separate bathrooms available for varying rates from late May until mid-August.

"We always had a speckling of interns, but three summers ago, we decided to be proactive and invested efforts to get larger contracts as opposed to just one-off visitors," says Coryer, noting that Hartford Insurance Company is their largest client with a contract for 20-plus interns that was recently renewed for a third year.

"It's a very pretty campus, and a nice place for them to live, but we do have competition from apartment buildings in downtown Hartford that have intern housing. They are more like luxury apartments, but also a tier or two price-wise above us," Coryer adds, saying that her team's strategy for new business is to market what they do have. "We are price-conscious, safe, and have a lot of outdoor space. Plus a membership to our sports center comes with every rental. We also have complimentary parking on campus and free laundry. You can't always find those amenities elsewhere."

Of course there are challenges-in the case of the University of Hartford it's their late time window (beds don't open up until closer to Memorial Day). At Thunderbird Executive Inn & Conference Center it's visibility. "Finding our location can be a challenge because we don't have a branded name out on the street side; we are located within a campus without our own drive," says Davidson. There's also no standalone restaurant so guests have to share dining venues with the student body. It's a similar situation at Western, says Fielder. "We have to let people know that there's a potential of conference groups being there and some students that stay and do summer classes. They also have to realize that we don't have active food and beverage like a hotel." But he and Davidson say as long as they are upfront with guests about the environment they don't seem to mind in the long run.

And so far the future looks good. Almost all of the properties interviewed have moved on from just simply registering guests through their own website platforms and have started making rooms available on third party travel websites like Hotwire,, Travelocity, and Expedia.

In fact, Davidson says Thunderbird's third party online reservations have grown 26 percent from the 2015-16 fiscal year to date. "That's up more than $340,000 for us," she says, "strictly by getting our name out there." A big part is also the reviews, she says. "We pride ourselves on having all reviews responded to, good or bad, so people know what they will experience when coming to our property, which is usually pretty satisfying."

Get Connected

Thunderbird Executive Inn and Conference Center
Glendale, AZ
(602) 978.7444

University of Hartford
West Hartford, CT
(860) 768.4951

Western University
London, ON
(519) 661.3545