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Auburn University hotel bounces back from COVID-19 slump by renovating rooms and ramping up for football season
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Auburn University hotel bounces back from COVID-19 slump by renovating rooms and ramping up for football season

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AUBURN – A downtown hospitality hub is finishing up renovations to better appeal to tourists, business travelers and Auburn University faithful.

The Hotel at Auburn University & Dixon Conference Center in downtown Auburn features 236 guestrooms and suites, as well as a restaurant, Ariccia Cucina Italiana, and a lounge, Piccolo.

The refit comes as the university hotel, the nearby Collegiate and the rest of the local hospitality industry recovers from the coronavirus pandemic, when social restrictions shut down travel for much of last year.

Ithaka Hospitality Partners manages the property for Auburn University. They split the annual profits, but the university holds the ultimate responsibility for keeping the place open.

Fortunately, the hotel didn’t need to be subsidized by the university during last year’s business slump.

“The university has an operating agreement with Ithaka Hospitality Partners to operate the AU Hotel,” said Auburn University spokesman Preston Sparks. “The university is pleased with Ithaka’s ability to operate the hotel without subsidy, particularly this past year during the challenge of a global pandemic.”

War EagleThe hotel is a popular destination of commercial travelers who come to Auburn to discuss business and research partnerships with the university, as well as parents and alumni visiting the university campus – and, of course, football fans.

They all figure into the renovation, but it’s the War Eagle faithful that got the most consideration in the renovation plans – which predate the COVID-19 business slump.

“We took the time to really listen to our guests and understand what they were looking for, as well as staying on top of hospitality trends, so that we could maximize the renovation and create a superior guest experience,” said Managing Director Hans van der Reijden. “The result is six floors of completely redesigned hotel rooms and suites unique to Auburn.”

The improvements include 55-inch smart TVs with pay channels and online options, digital improvements, wood floors in place of carpet, and movable furniture made to fit under counters and into other spots along the outside walls to free up space. Bathrooms have been upgraded, too.

Auburn – city and university – are prominently displayed on the walls. Wallpaper and work by local artists show off different aspects of local history, including old maps of the city, photos from Auburn University’s library archives and tickets and programs from the university’s illustrious football history.

Improving business

Camp War Eagle’s return this year has given the hotel a boost ahead of the return of Auburn University students in August and full houses for home football games at Jordan Hare Stadium. In fact, van der Reijden said the hotel has sold its two-day minimum packages for home football weekends this fall.

It’s those customers that van der Reijden had in mind when planning the renovations.

“We really want this to be a home away from home for them,” he explained.

Employees were kept on the payroll, albeit many with fewer hours, through last year’s pandemic. Keeping those experienced hands around has allowed the hotel to pick right back up and not suffer with hiring headaches reported by other local restaurants and hotels.

So it’s not just the brighter, improved rooms that have helped the Auburn University hotel bounce back, according to van der Reijden.

“For us, it’s a question of culture. … You need to take care of your people. Are they excited to come to work here?” he said. “I think we went out of our way to take care of our people throughout last year. We were able to manage through that period without affecting our people.”

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