Spotlight on campus hotels leading economic recovery

An interview with John Schultzel, Chief Growth Officer of The Olympia Companies
There is growing evidence that campus hotels are a good barometer of economic and pandemic recovery, especially as the industry is expected to reopen in the fall of 2021 and face-to-face learning will resume. Nobody knows better than Olympia hotel management, a division of The Olympia Companies, and an industry leader who has continuously refined the concept of campus hotels over the past decade.

The company, whose goal is to truly and creatively connect campus and community, has been a leader in campus hospitality, developing and managing independent properties such as The Alfond Inn in Rollins and The hotel in Oberlin, Boutique hotels conceived and designed in collaboration with their respective universities. Olympia also has the award-winning SOPHY® Hyde Park, a preferred hotel of the University of Chicago.

The portfolio includes the Kent State University Hotel & Conference Center and the Best Western University Hotel for the St. Lorenz University. Olympia also manages college town franchise properties such as the Hilton Garden Inn Durham (Duke University) and Residence Inn Charlottesville Downtown (University of Virginia).

The Olympia Companies Chief Growth Officer, John Schultzel, recently spoke about the changes taking place in campus hotels as the company takes a look at the post-pandemic prospects for this specialized market.

Can you give us an idea of ​​how campus hotels can pioneer the restart?

Our hotel practices are influenced by the institutions they serve. Colleges and universities are currently kept at a very high level, as parents have a certain expectation of the school that it will deal responsibly with the health and well-being of their children on campus, be it in residential life or in the classroom. Exceptional testing and the promotion of vaccinations where possible reflect this focus. With colleges and universities pledging to bring students back in the fall, it shows a level of confidence that living and collecting can be done safely. Campuses have doubled in testing, tracking, and vaccination. Now some colleges and universities have announced that only fully vaccinated students will be allowed back on campus next fall.

What other changes will affect your campus properties?
Our hotels had to be partners with the institutions in terms of safety standards from the outset, in order to signal to parents that it is okay to travel again and to send their children to school safely. It also sends a message to prospective students and parents who prefer to attend a school first hand before committing to enroll. When the students and parents are back, I believe there will be a growing sense that we are marching towards recovery.

College hotels often rely on food and drink to provide common ground for the campus and community. The discontinuation or change of service severely disrupted this dynamic. The “living room” sensation that we create in public spaces is paused, so it is a welcome sight when visitors and residents share these buildings again.

Campus hotels are clearly at the heart of the community. How valuable is this as a travel return?

This is especially true in smaller college towns where the hotel is a community center. Our lobbies and restaurants at The Alfond Inn in Rollins in the winter park and The hotel in Oberlin in Ohio, for example, there are social centers where campus and community intersect. Overnight guests also spend money in retail stores and other outlets, so people in the hotels mean wealth for local businesses and the institution. The hotel in Oberlin, The Alfond Inn in Rollins and SOPHY Hyde Park were expressly developed to feel authentically and pleasantly part of the campus as alumnus, visitor or unrelated guest

This is all decidedly intentional. From the start, these properties were purposely designed to be part of the community. You can see that at Oberlin, but you can also see it at Hamilton’s Kitchen, the restaurant at The Alfond Inn in Rollins. Both restaurants are relaxed environments, no white tablecloths. At Hamilton there are farm tables that guests can bring together what they did before the pandemic and will come back after the pandemic. In an elegant city hotel like the SOPHY, the dining tables in the Mesler Restaurant & Bar overlook 53rd Street and extend as far as the community. This is where people meet, see and be seen, but also bring visitors and customers back to the neighboring shops and offices.

How have these hotels fared during the pandemic?

Everyone has weathered the pandemic differently, but all aspired to serve and provide all the resources they could. At the The hotel in Oberlin, for example, the hotel rooms were used by the college, but the restaurant stayed open and welcomed locals. By offering to-go options for Valentine’s Day and Easter, they were still able to safely attend the holidays for the community. SOPHY Hyde Park Donated rooms to medical staff at the start of the pandemic and later worked with the University of Chicago to provide students with a certain number of rooms before returning to full hotel status this spring. We know colleges are fluid and dynamic environments and that has been more evident than ever in the last year or so.

What demand do you see?
Much of the demand for campus hotels is generated by major events. We are already seeing a multitude of different approaches for graduation ceremonies on campus this spring. Advance bookings for sporting events for both visiting teams and spectators give an early indication of the attitude towards collecting, especially since many fall sports are outdoors. The prospects for campus hotels are good, so I would give them an A + according to their category.

The Olympic company

The Olympia Companies is an innovative leader in high profile real estate development, investment and hospitality management projects in the United States. The award-winning company is led by President and CEO Kevin Mahaney, an Olympic silver medalist and a leader in wealth management, business and real estate. The Olympia Company’s dynamic and experienced leadership team offers expertise in hotel development, LEED building design and construction, project management, operations supervision, branding, feasibility and market analysis, and sales and marketing. The company currently manages 19 hotel projects in the United States. The Olympic company 7 Custom House Street, 5th Floor, Portland, Maine 04101. 207.874.9990