Top Of The Class: Graduate Hotels
(Image courtesy of Graduate Hotel. Image depicts the entrance to The Graduate Hotel on Roosevelt Island, NYC)
What defines a college town? Besides being home to an iconic university, the city must foster an independent spirit that matches the ethos of its student body. Graduate Hotels capture this essence as it allows guests to stay in Chapel Hill, East Lansing, etc., in an upscale environment. I had the opportunity to speak with Caroline S., a fellow Tar Heel and Senior PR and Community Manager, to learn more about this hotel brand.
(Image courtesy of Graduate Hotel. Image depicts the lobby of The Graduate Hotel in Tucson, Arizona)
What makes Graduate Hotels different from other hotels chains?
Graduate Hotels was founded in 2014 by CEO and founder Ben Weprin. Weprin believed that the hotels in many college towns were not emblematic of the dynamic destinations themselves. When you’re visiting a college town, you're traveling for these nostalgic moments in life, whether it's homecoming, a reunion weekend, visiting your child at school or dropping them off, graduations, they're these incredibly special, unforgettable moments. The first two properties were first were in Tempe, Arizona, and Athens, Georgia, and just last week, we opened the 30th hotel in East Lansing, Mich. In the collection, I think the most significant differentiator outside of the markets themselves is that each hotel genuinely celebrates the destination that it's located within. It would be a win if you'd walk into one Graduate property and not know that there were 29 others.
The design of the hotel is supposed to tell the stories of the community. For example, when you walk into the Chapel Hill hotel, you've got the Carolina blue ceilings, the first in-flight airplane hanging overhead, the front desk that's reimagined as the game-winning shot clock from the 1982 NCAA National Championship game against Georgetown, to all these little details that tell you a lot about the history of the town that your spending time in.
(Image courtesy of Graduate Hotel. Image depicts the lobby of The Graduate Hotel in Chapel Hill, North Carolina)
How did Graduate Hotels evolve during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The hospitality industry overall had a challenging time. Due to the locations and markets, Graduate was at the forefront of proactively shutting down when the universities themselves shut down. In March 2020, all 22 existing properties were closed and remained closed until we began reopening properties in June. Graduate is an owner-operator. In the hospitality realm, that's unique because someone owns the hotel many times, and another person or group operates and manages it. Because Graduates are owner- operated, we could act quickly. Once the hotels temporarily closed, we partnered with Procter and Gamble and the Cleveland Clinic to create a COVID-19 safety protocol program. When universities were re-opening, half of our properties ended up housing students, many of whom were underclassmen. The Chapel Hill property was the first hotel to house students. While housing students, we understood that we became a part of their college experience and took that seriously as we adapted campus traditions and comforts in our property.
(Image courtesy of Graduate Hotel. Image depicts the White Limonene at The Graduate Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee)
Can you please tell me about your famous Hall Pass Promotion?
Graduate is a fun and playful brand. We like to have a good time and encourage adventure, curiosity, and exploring new places. The Hall Pass promotion allows guests to have unlimited stays in July across our US properties for a flat rate of $500. When we began the promotion in 2019, it sold out in minutes. Last year, we could not have the promotion due to COVID-19. This year, for the Hall Pass promotion, we increased the quantity of hall passes, and they still sold out in under ten minutes. Our Hall Pass purchasers are passionate travelers, Roadtrippers, remote workers who want to take advantage of the flexibility remote work presents. This past year showed us that many people want to explore their backyard. Graduate Hotels benefit from people wanting to revisit places they love or experience new towns.
(Image courtesy of Graduate Hotel. Image depicts the lobby of The Graduate Hotel in Eugene, Oregon)
What's the future of tourism in the graduate brand?
We crazy enough opened six hotels last fall. This year, we've already opened two more on Roosevelt Island in New York City and then East Lansing, Michigan. This summer, we are opening in Oxford and Cambridge in the U.K. We're just really excited to get back to doing the bread and butter of what we do. It's been both fun and challenging to have students living in the hotels, but we're excited to return to traditional events like homecoming, graduations, and weddings. We also look forward to re-introducing ourselves to the communities we operate in, whether it's a new property or one that's been open for years. We want the community to shape the hotel experience.
(Image courtesy of Graduate Hotel. Image depicts The Graduate Hotel on Roosevelt Island, NYC)