Why do University campuses lend themselves so well to bespoke hotel experiences?

By Frances Kiradjian

Boutique hotels are “it”. After a struggle to be taken seriously as a hospitality vertical, boutique hotels are ahead of every curve when it comes to modern day lodging. Now more than ever there is a steep demand for accommodations that one can take back home with them in the form of a story. It makes sense then, that college towns (areas with particularly high volume of travelers whether they are students, prospective students, professors & staff or parents of students) are adapting and implementing boutique in their own ways.

Prestigious schools are using hotels as their “best foot forward.” Because the university typically has direct control of the property, they can establish vibe and aesthetic that echoes that of the school. Immersing potential incoming students and their families in boutique-type luxury makes an excellent first impression, and the consistency in quality gives prospective student’s (and more importantly their parents) peace of mind.

Any hotelier will tell you location is key – this is another factor that lends to the success of boutique hotels in university towns. Not only do campus hotels maintain a very high occupancy during the school session, but the addition of bespoke lodging accommodations means the facilities are able to earn revenue from non-scholastic endeavors year-round. This makes them more resilient than most in this particular marketplace.

But why are boutique hotel developers finding a home in campus towns? Wouldn’t an Extended Stay get the job done? We think not! Franchise models are largely unsuccessful because they do not allow for the flexibility needed to meet a campus-hotel’s diverse goals and in addition, the tastes of the modern traveler have evolved by leaps and bounds. These contain lots of academic initiatives whereasthe main focus of most properties is heavily weighted on occupancy only.

Some boutique hotel brands like Graduate Hotels immerse their image and branding in collegiate pride, while others like the Luskin Center and Hotel at UCLA poise themselves to reap the benefits of appealing to people traveling for both scholastic and non-scholastic reasons. The latter properties are designed to keep the sophisticated traveler of today engaged, but not to overwhelm with school spirit. Luskin also includes a state-of-the-art conference center housed in the same building.

Managers of college properties often must tow a fine line between using the property as a hands-on learning institution and a money-making business. Properties are used as learning arenas for hospitality programs hosted by the universities, leaving more opportunity for losses due to inexperienced staff. However, we found that the benefits of a bespoke hotel near or directly on-campus vastly outweigh the potential lapses in operations.

Prestigious colleges and universities are known as much for their high tuition as their academic rigor nowadays. Boutique hotels are the perfect properties to usher in the next demographic that will stimulate the local economy. Boutiques are representatives of their communities, specialize in high-level service and typically provide a more fun experience for the occupant. With their swift climb to popularity, it only makes sense they have seen such great success in their introduction to college towns. It’s been on the tongue of many a boutique hotelier over the years but is only now really picking up traction.