October 29, 2012

Parents Scramble to Find Hotels Years Before Graduation Weekend

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While students spend four years on the Hill working toward their degrees, their families may spend almost as much time trying to find a place to stay for their children’s graduation weekend.

The scramble to book hotel rooms for Commencement Weekend can lead families to stay in Cornell’s residence halls, to rent local residents’ homes or to book hotels as far away as Johnson City or Syracuse in order to attend to graduation, several representatives from local hotels said.

Some parents who “find themselves in tight spots” try their luck through a lottery system at several hotels. In a typical application, hotels ask for patrons’ contact information, which is entered into a random drawing that determines who will be able to book a room, according to Jason Humphrey, sales coordinator at the Homewood Suites.

Although hotels that use the lottery system provide parents with an equal — albeit random — opportunity to reserve rooms, merely submitting an application does not guarantee that one will be able to book a room, Humphrey said.

For instance, Hampton Inn receives more than 300 applications a year in its lottery for their 66 available rooms, according to Amy Magdon, general manager for The Hampton Inn. Because there is so much demand for Ithaca’s limited supply of hotels, many guests are turned away.

Even though Cornell boasts its own hotel on campus, The Statler Hotel is reserved for University Trustees during graduation weekend and is not open to the general public, according to Richard Adie, general manager of The Statler.

However, Cornell provides accomodations for any families willing to stay in dorms.

“Everyone who participates in the [dorm] lottery is able to reserve accommodations for their guests,” according to Cornell’s commencement website.

Parents who are willing to travel farther away from campus and do not want to grapple with the lottery system have turned to hotels in the surrounding Ithaca area.

During graduation weekend last year, the family of Hallie Mitnick ’12 stayed at the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel — an hour’s drive away from Cornell’s campus.

Though the hotel was far away from campus, the experience was not “too bad,” said Jane Mitnick, Hallie’s mother.

“It provides a breather. It’s nice to get away from all of the hustle and bustle of graduation,” she added.

Although the Mitnicks did not look for hotels close to Ithaca for graduation weekend, Jane Mitnick said that trying to find a place closer to Ithaca would have been difficult.

“There’s not a lot of choice,” she said. “It’s a scramble.”

Mitnick added that, while it would be nice if Cornell could do more to help families with finding hotel rooms, it is not realistic for the University to coordinate accommodations for everyone.

“It would be nice if they helped families find places to stay, but it is an impossible task because there are so many people,” she said.

Families who do not get a room through the hotel lottery systems but want to stay close to campus sometimes turn to renting an Ithaca resident’s house for the weekend.

Sallie and Norm Pure have rented out their Ithaca home five times during graduation weekend to families who want to stay in the area but were not able to obtain a spot in a hotel’s lottery system. Renting a whole house can often cost less than booking multiple hotel rooms, especially if the whole family comes to Ithaca, according to Sallie Pure.

“It actually ends up costing less to lease a house than to rent a couple of hotel rooms. Plus, they have the comforts of a house like access to a kitchen,” Pure said.

Graduation weekend is the only time of the year when hotels are completely full, according to Pure.

“It’s a tricky conundrum,” Pure said. “I personally think that Ithaca cannot sustain a larger number of hotels, but as long as families [in the Ithaca area] are out there and willing to rent, we can help the families of graduates. ”

With Ithaca’s hotel market changing, however, the shortages in rooms over graduation weekend may become less of a problem, according to Richard Adie, general manager of The Statler.

“There’s a new Marriott [hotel] opening downtown that likely won’t affect graduation 2013, but it will be done for 2014,” Adie said. “There’s also a Fairfield Inn on Elmira Road being built which will probably will be done in time for freshman orientation 2013.  The Holiday Inn is also making renovations to add more rooms.”

In particular, the renovations to the Holiday Inn on South Cayuga Street will create a 10-story tower with 115 new rooms, according to Hart Hotels, which owns the Holiday Inn. Although these hotel changes will not affect the Class of 2013’s graduation, they may slowly start to make a difference in hotel bookings next summer, according to Adie.

“At the very least, changes will be visible by freshmen orientation next year,” Adie said.

Original Author: Emma Jesch