As we leave 2020 behind and turn our attention to 2021, many college and university conference and event teams remain uncertain as to what their summer meeting and event bookings will look like. As the industry slowly recovers, one area more are turning towards is converting unused residence space into short- and long-term housing through an intern housing program.
Recently, Unique Venues held an informative panel discussion on the potential of intern housing as a revenue generating source for overnight venues. Kit Morse, Director of Conference and Event Services at Seattle University and Tony McGuirt, Director of Auxiliary Services at Furman University, joined team members from Unique Venues to discuss their experience launching, maintaining, and growing a successful summer intern housing program at their institutions.
What are the questions to ask yourself when considering a program like this?
Two years ago, Kit Morse and her team at Seattle University asked themselves that very question. Kit mentioned that she had read that a lot of other institutions were starting programs like this but was unsure if they had the tools to make it work. When Unique Venues offered a package to help move things along, they signed up and were grateful for the support that became the beginning of a successful program. After setting a modest goal of just one floor that would be available all summer, they soon found themselves overflowing with applicants and began a waitlist finding other areas on campus to utilize. “This became a wonderful way to get the name of the University out there and generate new revenue,” said Kit.
For Tony and the team at Furman, they were looking at ways to take advantage of the limited number of beds available while not having to use a large amount of meeting space to meet the needs of another group or conference. With beds available they could consistently sell each summer, they launched a program at first with a homegrown site and local advertising. Upon their immediate modest success, they have continued to develop relationships with local businesses while also utilizing InternHousingHub.com to more than double their applicants. “They check in and check out and while we provide services for them, it requires minimal staff and has been a profitable venture,” according to McGuirt.
How do you promote your new service?
According to Todd Wonders, Director of Technology at Unique Venues, the number of interns using search engines to look for summer housing continues to grow each year. While there is activity year-round, the peak search season remains January through early-May, with peak season being the end of January through the end of March. The best way to attract those searching is through digital advertising. Wonders points out that colleges and universities are already well positioned for top search results and have the intern housing market cornered in some ways. He is also noticing that more and more are dedicating social media pages on places like Facebook towards Intern Housing just as they would for Conference and Event Service departments.
Along with utilizing a service like Intern Housing Hub, it’s also helpful to develop relationships with local chambers of commerce, career centers at other institutions, and local businesses that you know consistently bring in relocating interns in the summer months. Some businesses are willing to put together a housing package for their interns that you can negotiate directly.
Where do you start?
Before you start any program like this be clear on what you can and can’t do at your institution. At both Seattle and Furman, housing is only available to those who can provide proof of internship and are attending their internship for academic purpose. It’s also important to recognize how much availability you have and are willing to dedicate and what to do when you inevitably run into a waitlist. For many, it’s ok to start small and grow the program over time. Learn each season from your mistakes and how to consistently improve.
At Furman, Tony and his team have developed a cost benefit analysis for potential summer guests to consider when evaluating staying at their location versus a local apartment. The convenience of living on campus as many students are accustomed to along with pricing that includes utilities and meals, not to mention the peace of mind that comes with residing in a safe location, often makes living on campus an easy choice for interns.
In Seattle, Kit’s department has created a Facebook page dedicated to summer interns; they send out emails on what’s happening on campus and around them in the city and offers any amenity on campus that is open to the guests.
With higher margins compared to traditional events thanks to less dedicated staff needed to run the program, summer housing is becoming an easy decision for more and more locations.
Ready to learn more?
It’s peak season, so there’s no time like the present to get your program started, even if you just have space for a handful of students. In some cases, we can have you up and running in just a few hours. You can learn more about Intern Housing Hub by meeting with a member of the Unique Venues team today through this link. We can advise you on the next steps toward creating your very own intern housing program and help you start your road to recovery.