REPORT FROM THE U.S.—While the fall travel season means a boon for many urban hotels, properties in more isolated college towns traditionally also report a demand uptick as students—and their parents—return to campus.
In Ann Arbor, Michigan, the University of Michigan is a steady demand driver, according to Joe Sefcovic, GM at the Holiday Inn near the University of Michigan.
“We have 9,700 kids move into the dorms at the university, and a total of 50,000 go to the university, so we see all those people moving into town,” he said “It definitely accelerates occupancy.”
Occupancy at his 225-room property—the largest hotel in Ann Arbor—was 90% during the university’s move-in weekend during 31 August.
During the first seven months of the year, hotels in the market reported an average occupancy of 69.3%, average daily rate of $88.70, and revenue per available room of $61.43, according to STR, parent company of HotelNewsNow.com.
Performance during Friday and Saturday night of move-in weekend were much stronger: Occupancy was 90.1% and 88.9%; ADR was $94.01 and $92.08; and RevPAR was $84.72 and $81.90, respectively.
Hoteliers in Chapel Hill, North Carolina—home to The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—saw a similar bump in performance, according to STR data. Hoteliers reported average occupancy of 90.4% and 80.7%; ADR of $119.49 and 118.75; and RevPAR of $108.03 and $95.88 on 17 and 18 August, respectively.
July year-to-date numbers showed occupancy of 70.2%, ADR of $110.58 and RevPAR of $77.58.
The Carolina Inn, a historic hotel located directly on UNC’s campus, sees demand increase during every major weekend throughout the school year, including move-in, major sporting events and university-related meetings, said GM Jack Schmidt.
“We sell out every move-in weekend and during seven home football games throughout the school year,” he said. “It's a good place to be because nobody is fully insulated from downturns in the economy, and universities drive a lot of business.”
Campuses not a cure-all
But not all college town hoteliers reported similar findings.
Manish Atma, owner of Atma Hotel Group, which manages a Holiday Inn Express, a Hampton Inn & Suites and a Hampton Inn in Chapel Hill, said move-in weekend is like any other.
“We do see a spike in occupancy in August when travel is a little bit slow, but it’s staggered,” he said. “It’s a normal weekend, but the difference is we get a lot of questions from the family about the town.”
Atma added approximately 70% of his hotels’ business comes from UNC and UNC Health Care, a not-for-profit health-care system associated with the university’s school of medicine.
And while Fargo, North Dakota, reported some of the country’s highest occupancy rates during North Dakota State University’s move-in weekend—96% and 95.8% on 17 and 18 August, respectively—sources could not confirm demand was directly attributable to parents visiting.
The 83-room Best Western Plus Kelly Inn & Suites in Fargo, five miles from NDSU’s campus, only filled three to five rooms with move-in-related travelers, said GM Lisa Amann. Still, occupancy at her hotel was 100% during the weekend.
“It’s not an anomaly,” she said. “It’s not something where there’s an unconstrained demand because we’re not next door to the college.”
Sandi Adams, GM at the 151-room Radisson Hotel Fargo, located in the heart of downtown, said most of her property’s business comes from meetings and conferences. She does, however, see some parents coming to stay.
“We are more of a business hotel, and we do get parents here … but it’s not something that is huge numbers and huge occupancy,” she said.
But even then, being able to attribute demand to any given generator can prove challenging, Adams added.
“It’s difficult because we don’t always know why people are here to stay.”