Graduate Hotels 101: Experience the Charm of College Townsby Laurie Wilson
One of the most unique hotel brands in the country carries a full course load.
Founded in 2014 by CEO Ben Weprin, today there are 31 Graduate Hotels properties in university-anchored towns and cities across the U.S., from the Graduate New York Hotel on Roosevelt Island near the Cornell Tech campus to one of the brand’s newest hotels, the Graduate Palo Alto near the Stanford campus.
There are also two Graduate Hotels in Oxford and Cambridge in the United Kingdom and an additional two are under development—Graduate Princeton and Graduate Dallas, currently operating as The Lumen.
Each of the hotels reflects the culture and charm of area colleges and universities and tug at the hearts with a strong sense of nostalgia and school pride in the hotel’s design and amenities. The brand’s syllabus is designed to appeal to alumni, a parent dropping off their kids to start the school year, or families in town for parents’ weekend or graduation.
There’s nothing old-school about these properties—they feature whimsical decor and amenities. And there is storytelling, through cheeky, nostalgic decor like the pig, corn, and cow-themed wallpaper in the hallways of the Graduate Iowa City as a nod to the state’s farmlands. And room keys in all of the hotels resemble student IDs from area colleges. And some of the properties' websites include links to things like the home basketball games for the season.
Graduate Ann Arbor Presidential Suite. Photo: Graduate Hotels
“Each property celebrates the history and tradition synonymous with each destination and offers a memorable place to stay whether in town to visit the university specifically or soak up all the city has to offer,” says Graduate Hotels’ President Kevin Osterhaus.
For instance, the 294-key Graduate Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island. The hotel has good bones: it dates to 1922 as the Providence Biltmore—yes, the celebrated glass-and-brass elevator is still there, as is the building’s exterior, much-loved Biltmore sign. And, like each of the brand’s hotels, the Providence property gives a nod to the local cultural scene—framed paintings of donuts hang in some of the guest rooms (donuts are very popular in Providence) and there’s a painting of Petey, the parakeet, from the Farrell Brothers’ movie Dumb and Dumber hanging in a guest room (the Farrelly Brothers both graduated from Providence College.) And university visitors get 15 percent off the best available room rate.
“Providence is a unique location for the brand, positioned between so many incredible universities as well as such a culturally rich and historic city,” says Osterhaus. “We feel very lucky to provide travelers and locals with the fun and excitement of Graduate, all rooted in such a notable architectural and local gem.”
Sports is one theme played out in many of the properties. For instance, Graduate Chapel Hill, one of several Graduate Hotels in the South, has a replica basketball court for guests (many of whom are an alum or current students and family members), to relive the 17 seconds at the 1982 NCAA Men's Basketball National Championship.
Graduate Hotels Chapel Hill. Photo: Graduate Hotels
The brand’s ADR and revenue categories saw percentage increases in 2022 compared to 2019 for both transient and group travel, says Osterhaus. And new locations are being scouted.
The Boston/Cambridge market in Massachusetts, home to many prestigious colleges and universities, including Boston University, Boston College, Berklee College of Music, MIT, Harvard, and Brandeis, is on the radar for the brand. “Boston is certainly a market we’ve explored,” says Osterhaus, “given its rich history and proximity to so many universities. We’re continuously vetting new markets and would love to find an opportunity to bring Graduate to Boston in the future.”
The brand will also continue to diversify. “Last year, we launched a handful of initiatives including our first coffee table book, GRADUATE HOTELS, published in partnership with Rizzoli; Graduate Homes, a short-term home rental platform; and the Graduate Bookstore, where fans of the brand can purchase Graduate merch and more,” says 0sterhaus. “As we head into our 10th anniversary in 2024, there’s much more to come for our guests. We’re excited to continue evolving our offerings to meet the needs of the modern traveler and locals alike.”