Tucked away on Polett Walk between Broad Street and Liacouras Walk sits The Conwell Inn, Main Campus’ only hotel.
Originally a set of Philadelphia row homes, the space became sorority row in the 1950s and then a multipurpose building. Teres Holdings, LLC acquired the space in the early 2000s and the Conwell Inn opened its doors on Sept. 7, 2001.
Opening days before the Sept. 11 attacks put a strain on the hotel’s debut but it managed to stay afloat during a low point for the industry.
“It was probably the worst time in the [recent] history of the U.S. [to open a hotel] but they made it work and it got stronger and stronger,” said Justin Walsh, the general manager of the Conwell Inn. “We just passed our 11th year anniversary and we’re coming up on our 12th.”
With 22 rooms, the Conwell Inn can hold approximately 70 guests at full occupancy.
“The thing we try to push is, [because we have] only 22 rooms, we can give the feel of a bed and breakfast,” Walsh said. “We will give personal attention and give the fact that you’re not a rewards number, you’re not a reservation number. You’re our guest, and we treat our guests as such. That’s what I like about having a smaller property – it allows you to do that.”
Although the hotel is on Main Campus, it is not exclusively catered to Temple-related patrons.
“It’s something [previous managers] didn’t see as an opportunity when [the Conwell Inn] opened,” Walsh said. “They didn’t see us fit into the niche of a Philadelphia hotel, we were seen as a Temple hotel, we were built to be a Temple hotel. And while we are a Temple hotel – Temple gives us a ton of business and we couldn’t survive without them – we do in fact have a ton of people that are just coming to Philadelphia to come to Philadelphia. We have a 50-50 split between [our guests] who are Temple related versus not Temple related.”
Some international guests enjoy the small perks that come with staying at a hotel just outside the busier, more in-demand Center City, he added.
“They love it,” Walsh said. “One of the primary things we see is a lot of overseas travelers who are used to using public transportation on a regular basis. Staying outside the [center of] city for $30 or $40 cheaper per night makes sense to them when they can walk two blocks and get the subway and make it into Center City. Most of our outside non-Temple related business is overseas businessmen coming to Philadelphia.”
While celebrities may stay in Center City hotels, the Conwell Inn has hosted prominent people in their own right.
“[We’ve hosted] no one crazy notable, at least no one that I’ve seen in my time here,” Walsh said. “I’ve heard stories of Bill Cosby stopping in. I don’t know how true they are but people, especially through guest speakers and guest lecturers we see notable people, but I wouldn’t say pop culture notable. We’ve had Pulitzer Prize winners and people who are recognizable in their field that are somewhat more rightfully known than pop culture figures.”
One of the challenges the Conwell Inn faces, because of its smaller size, is the ability to host large groups, especially sports teams.
“If it’s only a fencing team that needs about five rooms, it’s a piece of cake,” Walsh said. “A football team – not gonna happen. The Conwell Inn has never really been a group hotel. I’ve tried to change that. I’ve tried to bring more and more groups in. The hotel I used to work at was a group hotel with way more rooms.”
Walsh added: “The annoying thing is, say I get a proposal for a 20-room group and I only have 18 open, I’m not losing one reservation – I’m losing 20 reservations. In order to make that up I have to sell 18 individual rooms.”
Part of the Conwell Inn’s charm, Walsh said, is the individual attention the staff can give guests.
Dr. Ceridwyn King, a professor in the tourism and hospitality department, said the main advantage hotels like the Conwell Inn have is the ability to be there for guests.
“You’re seeing the rise of the boutique hotel because a lot of these global brands are very vanilla,” King said. “They’re vanilla in the sense they’re trying to standardize and keep providing superior guest experience but in doing that they lose their ability to be flexible and be responsive to consumers – boutique hotels are not bound by that.”
King added freedom to alter aesthetics makes the experience in smaller, boutique hotels more unique. She said a typical consumer could be shown two rooms in two different upscale hotels and not know the difference between them.
The Conwell Inn is beginning to make small alterations to room décor and furniture to keep up with modern day consumer expectations.
“It’s going to where it’s never gone before,” Walsh said. “We’re definitely trying to keep the old world charm but throw you new world conveniences. We’ve had box TVs since we opened and we’re switching to flat screen 27-inch LG TVs. We’re getting all new linens and draperies to brighten up the rooms and bring fresh patterns to some of the trending patterns into our rooms. We’re trying to keep the integrity but still throw some trends into it.”
Walsh added that any renovations to the Conwell Inn would all be soft since the building is relatively new.
“In terms of a hard renovation nothing is really scheduled and nothing is really needed,” Walsh said. “One of the things is the building itself, the inside of the building was only built 10 years ago. So everything is structurally brand new. A lot of it is just aesthetics.”
A soft grand reopening will be set for early March 2013.
Luis Fernando Rodriguez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @theluisfernando.