Inside Look: Campus hospitality centers

Campus locales used by business guests and travelers—often providing valuable learning experiences for students
By: | Issue: December, 2015
November 16, 2015

Given the amount of innovation transpiring daily on the American college campus, it’s not surprising that higher ed institutions have become destinations for the broader community.

Outside groups host conferences, retreats, weddings and other social events at campus facilities, while travelers can sometimes find a room for the night.

These hospitality centers serve as living classrooms and functioning businesses. They provide students with hands-on learning opportunities, integrate the surrounding community into the campus and open alternative revenue streams for the institution.

At Virginia Tech, students in the Pamplin College of Business and department of tourism will staff alumni events and other activities held at the university’s Skelton Conference Center and The Inn at Virginia Tech. Students get a comprehensive view of the hospitality industry by rotating through different job functions that are based on their majors.

For example: Food concentration students will take turns in the kitchen, lobby and restaurant areas of the conference center. Students in the room division cycle through reservations, housekeeping and bellhop service shifts.

The complex, which includes 27,000 square feet of conference space, averages 60 to 80 events each week, and student workers are paid around $8 an hour.

Tom Shaver, general manager of both The Inn at Virginia Tech and the Skelton Conference Center (both of which share a building with the Holtzman Alumni Center), says his operation is technically a nonprofit—after covering expenses, all revenues go into reserve accounts used to maintain and upgrade the inn.

Virginia Tech requires the inn to pay an administrative fee of roughly half a million dollars annually to cover operational overhead, such as accounting, security, grounds maintenance and the parking facility.

Virginia Tech’s hometown of Blacksburg has few lodging accommodations outside the university. The school offers loyalty programs to give parents and other travelers an incentive to stay on campus—such as discounted rates and special reservation offers, Shaver says. Another perk: Students of participating parents eat free at Preston’s, the inn’s restaurant.

The higher ed hospitality centers pictured above provide learning opportunities for students and memorable experiences for guests—as well as long-term revenue sources for their home institutions.