For parents of University of Florida students who will soon be graduating, finding a hotel tends to be at the top of the priority list. From the sold-out rooms to the inflated standard rates, parents are booking hotels as early as a year out.
Tina Morris, for instance, booked her hotel in June even though her daughter Jamie is planning to graduate in May.
“We were concerned that there would be less availability to stay, and also, we were concerned about prices,” Morris said.
The same happened for Linda Brafman, whose daughter Emily is graduating in the fall. At the time, she didn’t know when Emily was graduating, so on July 2, she booked two separate weekends: rooms for fall and spring graduation at two separate hotels because one was already sold out.
“They sell out very quickly,” she said.
Once it was confirmed her daughter was graduating in the fall, she then had to cancel her May reservation.
“For the graduation in spring, I can probably sell these [hotel rooms] now because of demand,” she said jokingly.
With more than 10,000 students expected to graduate in the spring of 2023, the hotel industry in Gainesville eagerly opens its door to the tens of thousands of family members who are coming its way.
Dylan Roberts, the general manager at Aloft hotel in Gainesville, says the hotel is ready to “pull out all the stops” for graduation season, no matter the semester.
“Oftentimes, people are paying a little bit more to be in the city during high-demand times,” he said. “And so for us, we’re bringing them in live music, we’re opening the bar early, we’re trying to put out all the options we can so that the guests are able to have the most convenient experience possible while they are here.”
For many visitors, however, hotel rates are unjustifiable.
For example, the AC Hotel Gainesville Downtown directly across from campus will charge $300 on a regular weekend and about $820 during graduation weekend. Other hotels in the area, such as the new Hyatt Place downtown will charge $180 for a regular weekend and $649 for graduation in spring.
The days of flat rates are long gone in the hospitality world, Roberts said.
“There’s a very complex algorithm that does the pricing, and usually, what we’re just trying to do is remain within our comparable properties,” he said. “We always encourage people, the earlier you book, the better deal you’re going to get. Rates rarely go down. They 99% of the time just go up.”
Prices are set a year out for most hotels in the industry.
To spread the word about their particular hotels, managers will oftentimes offer incentives for visitors. Whether this be pre-advance purchase rates or a high-alert level of service by hotel staff, hoteliers will often have to juggle many tasks to make the stay enjoyable.
Ryan Logan, the assistant general manager at Hotel Eleo, believes in bringing a “full commitment” to hotel clients during this stressful time.
“We have an online booking system,” Logan said. “We do promotions through social media and word of mouth.”
Given the fact the hotel is on the University of Florida campus, he said the hotel charges higher on graduation weekend due to its proximity to campus and the premium service visitors can expect.
On a regular weekend, the hotel will sometimes charge around $180, and on graduation weekend, they are currently charging $632 a night for a standard king bed.
However, while most hotels in the city are comfortable with their loyal consumer base, it would be remiss for some hotel managers to not express concern about the explosion of new construction in the area.
Brad McCreedy, the general manager at the Hampton Inn & Suites downtown, said the new hotels downtown have not quite affected demand but may pose a potential challenge to the established industry.
“A lot of supply kind of has a tendency to absorb or get absorbed within the market,” he said. “When you continue to add hotels into this market, graduation only generates X number of hotel rooms. Somebody’s going to be missing out at the end of the day on what they used to be able to count on for graduation.”
For family members traveling to Gainesville for graduation, McCreedy, who has been in the industry for over 20 years, was full of advice.
“I would just make sure you have your dates correct,” he said. “That you are committed to those dates because a lot of times, not only us but other hotels require advance deposits, and then the cancellations/change restrictions are far greater over that weekend than normally.”
To relieve the stress of graduation weekend, McCreedy said to prepare ahead of time.