University buyout fills rooms, brings back employees
University buyout fills rooms, brings back employees
14 AUGUST 2020 8:13 AM

The University of Pittsburgh has partnered with three local hotels in property buyouts for the academic year, which one GM said has helped bring back employees.

PITTSBURGH—The COVID-19 pandemic has led many hoteliers to consider alternative sources of business, and in one instance, that’s led to a partnership between a university and local hotels for student housing.

In July, the University of Pittsburgh announced plans to buy out three local hotels to ensure social-distanced student housing for the 2020-21 academic school year.

Matthew Sterne, vice chancellor for business services at the University of Pittsburgh, said the three hotels were chosen based on location, each located within a 15-minute walk from campus.

The hotels were also chosen based on their ability to provide a level of service and cleanliness that meets university standards and to working with resident assistants to give students a similar experience to living on campus, he said.

Wyndham Pittsburgh University Center
At the 251-room Wyndham Pittsburgh University Center, one of the three hotels in the buyout, occupancy has suffered “greatly since the second week of March,” said GM Coleman Hughes.

These lower occupancies, which averaged between 10% and 30%, led to the property having to furlough 59 team members because of the drastic reduction in business levels, he said.

Through the partnership, the Wyndham Pittsburgh University Center will be able to bring back 25 team members, Hughes said.

Students will be responsible for cleaning their own rooms during their stay and the hotel’s restaurant has been modified to include options students can afford and pay for with Panther Funds, which is a cash alternative used on campus.

While housekeepers won’t be needed to clean the guestrooms, Hughes said they can come back to work in a more general role to focus on sanitizing and disinfecting public spaces.

He added that roles have changed for every team member since the start of the pandemic and will continue to evolve.

“The emphasis from my perspective, from a leadership perspective, will be primarily on health and safety for everybody, our guests as well as our team members,” he said. “We’ll also look to do some things that make it interesting for our student guests on the food-and-beverage side.”

While this partnership will guarantee 100% occupancy for the academic year, Hughes said his hotel is prepared to transition back to housing regular guests once the agreement ends, and has some experience doing so as the hotel has housed students in the past on two floors of the hotel.

Effective planning and organization will help the hotel make that transition as quickly as possible, he said.

Other housing opportunities for Wyndham
The Wyndham Pittsburgh University Center isn’t the only Wyndham property to make the shift to housing students.

On a second-quarter earnings call, Wyndham President and CEO Geoff Ballotti said “our team has had great success on university lodging.”

“We picked up and filled hotels in Pittsburgh and Houston and New Jersey and most recently a La Quinta in Colorado Springs with universities that are looking to move in,” he said.

He added that “the great thing in so many of these buyouts is that they’re in for the entirety.”

“(The U.S. Air Force) just recently booked the La Quinta Colorado Springs North for both the fall and the spring semesters. They’ve booked it in its totality; it was a $2-million booking,” he said.

“The University of Pittsburgh, which booked the Wyndham Downtown in Pittsburgh … they’ve booked it in its entirety. … We’ve got numerous other opportunities either in the works or that we’re about to sign that I won’t mention on this call. But I’ve seen very few where it is a piece of the hotel and it’s been more the hotel in its entirety.”

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