By Josh Rigsby and Tommy Beyer
Hotels in college towns mean big business. Hoteliers salivate over the numerous high-demand events such as graduations, football games, parent weekends and freshman orientation. Capitalizing on these lucrative peak periods has resulted in many small, university-centric municipalities that now have booming hospitality industries with a significant increase in supply. But will demand follow?
In this category of hotels, we cannot blindly increase rates without stopping to consider the guest’s perception on the matter. Echoing the golden rule, we can’t say that we are putting our guests first while simultaneously alienating them with rates three or four times above rack, as is common practice for some college town properties. An increase in supply means more options for the customers, though, and egregiously pushing the nightly rate will ultimately detract from your business largely because demand is capped by the size of the school.
Oftentimes, guests have a negative mentality about hotels – in a general sense – well in advance of checking in due to the added stress they are facing with having to pay such high rates. You will see certain phrases popping up in your online reviews like ‘taking advantage’ and ‘price gouging’. No hotel wants to be accused of this, especially in a booming university town where developers will have your newest competitor opening by next semester.
So, maybe hotels should just keep rates consistent regardless of the demand. That would certainly result in happier guests, right?
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t yield manage rates. But alas, ownership and management will want to maximize revenue potential. As an operator, you have the daunting task of finding a balance of growing RevPAR without leaving guests unhappy – the ying and the yang between owner and consumer. Below are a few tips to help keep revenues flowing while building positive guest experiences. And even though these stem from my time as a college-serving hotel operator, they can work practically everywhere else.
Value or Value-Add
No hotel experience should be considered complete with the hotelier providing some form of added value – that is, something extra above the ‘value’ a guest already receives by booking and staying with you. This is particular true when a guest is paying more for his or her room where more is expected above the typical amenities and services.
In a university setting, start by decorating your lobby with an appropriate theme for the event. Next, have complimentary gifts that follow this theme waiting in the rooms. Have a welcome letter waiting for the guest with information regarding the big event that’s bringing everyone to the area. If it’s a football weekend, serve tailgate food at check-in or before the game. Have a few footballs available for guests to use during their stay – not in the hallways, of course!
These are simple additions, but they make a world of difference. Include a schedule of events, parking information and other activities to do in the area. Then get creative. At the hotel I operate, we serve donuts from a well-known mom and pop shop during breakfast. It’s a minimal investment that puts smiles on our guests because they appreciate the local flair and the freshly homemade flavor.
Never Forget the Basics
With high rates come high guest expectations. But you have to do all the simple things right during these crowded times or else that’s all the guest will be thinking about.
Ensure you have more staff than normal to provide continually excellent service levels during peak periods. Have enough hands on deck to make sure all the check-ins go as seamless as possible and that you are able to fulfill extra requests. For example, the family that requested their extra towels shouldn’t have to ask twice ever while the lady that needs her tooth brush gets it right away because that’s when she needs it.
Next comes the matter of the continental breakfast buffet where your staff should always order extra food. Paying upwards of $400 per night and not getting a blueberry muffin or strawberry yogurt because the hotel ran out is a recipe for a bad review. Remember that many groups will put four to six people in a room to cut costs, which means you will have more people than allocated for breakfast.
Satisfying the basics is a preventative measure that every hotel must take before striving to deliver the value-adds. Make sure room types are as requested, PTAC units are cooling or heating properly and the trash is removed in a timely manner. Of course, these are all things we should be doing regardless of the rate a guest is paying but we need to overprepare for a compression event. If we do everything else to perfection and fail on a simple task like the check-in process, a cleanliness issue or service issue, it’s like seeing a mustard stain on a neatly dressed, navy blue suit – it’s all you remember!
Josh Rigsby is the general manager of the Holiday Inn Express Blacksburg in the fast-growing municipality of Blacksburg, Virginia. A seasoned hospitality professional, he started in the industry as a hotel restaurant server when he was 16 as well as pursuing a career immediately following his bachelor of science in business management from Virginia Tech which he received in 2008. Since then, Josh has worked in many facets of hotel management and has developed an intrinsic understanding of operations, with a particular passion for empowerment and employee satisfaction. When not at work, you can find him spending time outdoors with his wife, dog and three goats.
Tommy Beyer has a degree in Hospitality Management from the University of South Carolina and is a Certified Hospitality Administrator from AH&LEF. For the past decade, he’s been a vital component of Newport Hospitality Group’s success, progressing from front desk associate to general manager and finally to his current role as Vice President of Regional Operations. Tommy’s keen understanding of the financial intricacies of each property have helped him to not only drive asset value for the properties he manages but also to win many prestigious awards including the Top 30 Under 30 by Hotel Management Magazine, the Stevan Porter Emerging Hospitality Leader of the Year by AH&LA and GM of the Year for the state of Georgia.