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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Authenticity in Ann Arbor

On the way to northern Michigan in mid-September for vacation, we decided to make an overnight stop in Ann Arbor, Michigan, west of Detroit, home to the University of Michigan.

Fall weekends can be a no-go for hotel rooms during football season in the home of a football powerhouse like Michigan, but luckily, we came through on a Sunday, and the Michigan fans were mostly gone.

We stayed in a remake of an old hotel in downtown now called the Graduate Ann Arbor. A transformation of the 204-room Dahlmann Campus Inn, Graduate Ann Arbor opened in April, the sixth in a small chain of hotels that are riffs on the local college, its traditions, teams, students and alumni.

Graduate Hotels’ founder has said that college towns struck him as good markets for hotels. For one, he said, most suffer from a dearth of interesting hotels. And college towns don’t just draw sports fans, students and alumni, he pointed out. All kinds of travelers enjoy the abundant arts, culture and lively food scene college towns offer.

What interested me is that the six cities in which Graduate Hotels have opened and the four cities in which it plans to open are all small markets. Graduate Hotels are open in Ann Arbor; Tempe, Arizona; Athens, Georgia; Oxford, Mississippi; Charlottesville, Virginia; and Madison, Wisconsin; and are planned in Lincoln, Nebraska; Richmond, Virginia; Durham, North Carolina; and Berkeley, California.

Like other travelers, business and leisure, I was won over by a hotel stay that felt far more authentic than most. I’m not a Michigan grad, but I was charmed by the Graduate Ann Arbor’s many nods to the university. Our guest room key cards were replicas of student IDs of two Michigan alums — Gilda Radner and Iggy Pop. Maize and blue, Michigan’s school colors, were used tastefully for everything from pillows to the plaid throws on beds. Decorative bed pillows looked like the front of a cheerleader’s letter sweater — white knit with a big blue M. Little touches added fun — the cabinet that disguised the coffee station in our room looked like a card catalog. The desk and chair seemed from a vintage classroom. In the lobby, chalkboards are scribbled with notes and scientific formula (The Athens hotel’s chalkboards include the scientific formula for sweet tea.) It was all charming without being cheesy.

Each Graduate Hotels is different, partly because each school has a different personality and traditions but also because all are remodels of existing hotels or motels, chosen not for their size or style but for their location adjacent to campus. So in one town, the Graduate is a remodeled Red Roof Inn; in another, it is a historic building.

Not all have meeting space, but each does have communal, fun features: rooftop bars, Ping Pong and foosball tables, fire pits.

Of the three Graduate hotels that do have meeting space, Ann Arbor’s is the most dedicated and sizeable. It has three ballroom/meeting rooms, and the largest, at 3,300 square feet, adjoins a roomy terrace. There’s also a 24-person boardroom and several 10-person boardrooms.

I kept thinking how much fun it would be to have a small meeting there. As you waited for an elevator to go to meetings on the mezzanine, you could study photos of campus life. In the evening, you could gather with peers at a 40-foot-long communal table in the lobby or sit in wicker chairs on a covered patio next to the bar.

On breaks, you could walk a few paces and be on campus, feeling like a student again. At dinner, groups could stroll as little as one block or as many as 10 to find a good local restaurant or take in a concert or other special event on campus.

By soaking up the Graduate Ann Arbor’s collegiate and collegial atmosphere and taking advantage of its proximity to town and gown, meeting-goers would walk away enlivened by the spirit of one of America’s best college towns.

Vickie Mitchell is the former editor of Small Market Meetings. If you have ideas for future columns, contact her at